A plan to secure & sustain BC’s fresh water, the source of our health, well-being and natural wealth.
British Columbia’s watersheds are the sources of our fresh water, and the envy of the world. But our water is being wasted, degraded and overused.
Thanks to decades of corporate lobbying and political donations, big industry has been given the green light to use and abuse our fresh water, almost for free.
It's time for industry to pay its fair share, and it's time we invest in securing our critical water sources as if our lives depend on them.
Now, with climate change destabilizing our fresh water sources, adding droughts, fires and floods to the existing threats of contamination and reckless resource development, it’s time to take bold action to secure and sustain our critical fresh water sources forever.
1. Get tough on water wasters and polluters.
Good resource development should never degrade our watersheds, or waste, overuse or pollute our fresh water. Tougher rules, better enforcement, and stronger penalties will make resource companies clean up their act, and create real consequences when they fail to do so.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
British Columbia already has a suite of laws and tools for water management. However, these laws are barely more than words on paper because they are NOT being fully implemented or enforced:
NO accurate inventory of provincial water supplies exists because industries are NOT universally required to report how much water they actually use. This makes good water management virtually impossible.
The Province has completed ZERO Drinking Water Protection Plans— an essential tool for ensuring the safety of community water sources.
The fracking industry has built 92 Unauthorized Dams storing huge quantities of water illegally. There are also over 10,000 abandoned (‘orphan’) oil and gas wells with a price tag of $3 billion to clean up.
- Clearcut logging has proceeded with next to no consideration of its impacts on water, which has drastically altered the hydrologic balance of many watersheds and contaminated drinking water supplies.
As a result of the lack of rules and consequences, industries continue to profit from B.C.’s water often at the expense of healthy freshwater systems and the communities they sustain.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The BC government needs to:
1. Implement BC’s Water Laws! This means fully implementing both the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and the Drinking Water Protection Act.
Properly implementing the WSA would establish legal limits on resource development to minimize the impact on local water systems and ensure a minimum amount of water flow in rivers to support healthy fish populations and nature’s needs.
The Province also needs to prioritize and support the creation of Drinking Water Protection Plans as they provide a powerful and comprehensive tool to prevent contamination of drinking water sources.
The Province should also update all natural resource legislation to control the impacts that major extractive industries are having on B.C.’s watersheds, in particular the legislation that regulates mining, forestry and hydraulic fracking.
2. Enforce the Rules. BC must increase the number of provincial enforcement officers, increase the size of penalties for rule breaches, and ensure polluters pay and cannot declare bankruptcy before fronting the costs of clean-up.
- BC Auditor General Report: The Protection of Drinking Water: An Independent Audit
- Reform BC Mining: Water Protection
- Awash with Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of British Columbia's New Water Law
- Advancing Freshwater Protection: Tools and Opportunities in British Columbia's Water Sustainability Act
- Water Sustainability Plans: Potential, Options, and Essential Content
2. Make big industrial users pay the true cost of using BC’s water.
Our water is priceless, and it must never be sold or commodified. BC’s system of water licences and fees lets big industry pay pennies to use our water, while British Columbians are stuck paying to secure our watersheds and clean up the impacts of water extraction and watershed degradation on our fish, wildlife, lands and people. This needs to change: it’s time to stop subsidising big industry and make them pay the true cost of using BC’s water.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
BC is not investing in watershed security:
Minimal provincial capacity - the provincial government lacks the staff and resources required to do the ‘nuts and bolts’ work of water management (e.g. monitoring, planning, and enforcement).
Responsibilities downloaded without resources - First Nations are critical stewards of fresh water but receive no share of the water royalties collected by the provincial government from industry activity on their traditional territories. In the face of provincial inaction, local governments and community organizations are also playing leadership roles but receive no dedicated provincial funding for the water management responsibilities they have taken on.
Big business getting big subsidies - large resource companies pay a tiny fraction of their profits to access fresh water in B.C., especially taking into account the costs they impose on communities to manage and clean-up the impacts (like switching drinking water sources or building a new drinking water treatment plant when there are mine tailings spills, or contamination from industrial agriculture). The maximum rate B.C. currently charges industrial users is only $2.25 per million L of water, less than a pint of beer. What this looks like in practice:
- A mining company using 1200000 m3/year would pay $2500
- A water bottling company using 200 000 m3/year would pay $450
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
This equation needs to be flipped. British Columbians should not be paying for the costs of managing and cleaning up the impacts on our watersheds from large multinational corporations.
Instead, the BC government needs to:
1. Charge a Fair Rate to Big Industry. Major water extractors should be paying the true cost of using water and the revenues from industrial water use should be directed to an independent and ongoing Watershed Security Fund (see below). The Province should also enhance provincial government capacity for water management, enforcement and community training.
2. Require Water Reporting. Large industrial users should be required to measure and report their actual water use in a transparent and publicly available format.
THREE IMPORTANT CLARIFICATIONS
- Opinion: Managing BC's water resources
- British Columbia's New Water Pricing Regime
- Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation
3. Give local people the power and resources to restore and manage their local water sources.
BC’s water sources should be owned and managed by the people who know them best and need them most. By providing local people with the funding, training and authority to look after their water sources, we can create surge of good jobs in every corner of BC, and empower small towns and First Nations communities the authority, along with any funding or training they request, to monitor, manage and restore their local water sources.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
Most decisions about water are still made by provincial government officials (often far away in Victoria) with little or no input from Indigenous nations, community voices or local experts who actually live in these watersheds.
Top-down approach with limited provincial resources and staff leaves huge holes in watershed security. A much better way to manage water—recognized globally as the best practice—is to engage and support local knowledge and expertise to manage water at the watershed scale. Many regions in Canada and beyond already take this watershed -based approach, such as Ontario’s Conservation Authorities that have been around since the 1960s.
A one-off approach to watershed governance. BC has some emerging models of new approaches to watershed governance, such as the partnership formed between the provincial government and five First Nations in the Nicola River Watershed, the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and the Cowichan Watershed Board (see box). However, these are isolated examples in a large province. All regions of B.C. deserve to benefit from this better approach to water management.
The Water Sustainability Act has provisions allowing communities to play a more active role in watershed management and have a greater say in decisions affecting their watersheds. NONE of these provisions have yet been implemented by the Province.
Rural economies historically dependent on resource extraction are suffering from closures and downturns, with insufficient attention on transitioning jobs and opportunities in sectors like clean technology and the blue economy.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The BC government needs to:
- Create a Watershed Security Fund with a one-time provincial endowment and annual water rental fees that invests at least $40 million per year in strong and lasting watershed partnerships with Indigenous nations, local governments and community organizations; and that prioritizes the creation of good local jobs, supporting farmers to produce sustainable local food, and strengthening community connection with watersheds.
- Establish Watershed Boards and locally developed Watershed Plans - implement the provisions in BC’s Water Sustainability Act that enable communities to establish local Watershed Boards and partnerships throughout the province. Develop enforceable watershed plans that shape all land-use decisions and control the amount of water being used by large industries and other users.
The Cowichan Watershed Board: Watershed Governance in Action
The Cowichan Watershed Board was formed in 2010 to provide direction for sustainable watershed management and to implement the award-winning Cowichan Basin Water Management Plan. From the outset, the Board has been co-chaired by Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Valley Regional District. Through this model, Cowichan Tribes and the CVRD are developing strong partnerships and demonstrating a deep commitment to moving down the path of reconciliation. Although it does not yet have formal (or regulatory) authority, the CWB is established as a trusted, legitimate leader on watershed issues, including:
- Handbook for Water Champions: Strengthening Decision-Making and Collaboration for Healthy Watersheds
- A WATERSHED SECURITY FUND FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA Position Paper
- Pathways and Partnerships: A Framework for Collaboration and Reconciliation in the Cowichan Watershed
- MOU to address water governance in the Nicola watershed