Watershed security is necessary to protect our drinking water sources, support sustainable local economies and food supplies, protect key habitat for fish and wildlife, maintain our natural defences against fires and floods, and support First Nations culture. Given how healthy and secure watersheds are essential for maintaining our day-to-day lives, a Watershed Security Strategy and Fund seem like things that should have been developed ages ago. But we’re just getting started now and we really can’t afford to wait any longer.
We’ve all been impacted by extreme weather events in the past few years, from choking heatwaves and wildfires, to extreme rain events that flooded properties, triggered landslides and disconnected communities. As the climate changes, we can expect to experience hotter, drier summers and wetter winters. In other words, we will have not enough water when we need it in the spring and summer and too much in the fall and winter.
The approach to managing water and lands in the province has been a disjointed process for decades. Decisions around activities on land often don’t account for the impacts on water. Water management has been piecemeal, with different provincial ministries splitting responsibilities. We have also failed to look at the cumulative effects of the activities that are occurring in watersheds, sometimes with deadly and destructive results. The concerns of local residents and First Nations, those most familiar with their watersheds and directly impacted by actions occurring in them are often fail to be heard and lack decision-making power.
Fortunately, we are finally taking steps to secure BC’s watersheds. There is a new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship now being accountable for integrated land and natural resource management and the provincial government is following through on their mandate commitment to developing a Watershed Security Strategy and Fund. They released a discussion paper on the subject and opened a public comment period until March 18, 2022. The paper has ten outcomes:
- Support and enable local governance
- Enhance our understanding of watersheds and the risks they face
- Progress reconciliation with Indigenous peoples using new and improved mechanisms for collaboration on provincial water priorities
- Achieve healthy water for everyone
- Integrate water more efficiently and effectively into Land Use Planning
- Reset the water supply and demand relationship
- Improve habitats for aquatic ecosystems.
- Integrate Indigenous Knowledge into decision-making and management
- Strengthen education and outreach about managing water in B.C.
- Create a Watershed Security Fund
Here are our two main takeaways from the discussion paper.
1. The Watershed Security Fund
Of the ten outcomes, funding is tacked on at the end, barely mentioned elsewhere in the paper. There are also no clear timelines indicating when the Fund will be launched. We have to make sure that this strategy doesn't become just another government document that doesn’t result in real actions and we need to see clear funding commitments to do that. In the recently released 2022 Budget, the province committed to a $30 million investment to fund watershed security projects. While this is a step in the right direction, we need to see immediate, adequate and sustained funding for on-paper strategies to turn into boots-on-the-ground action in our watersheds. We strongly recommend the province create a $75 million per year Watershed Security Fund starting in 2023.
A large focus of the discussion paper is on improving watershed co-governance and sharing of decision-making power with local governments and First Nations. We support these objectives, but for co-governance to be effective the province must be an active partner in this work and provide First Nations and local governments with adequate funding and resources. Roles and responsibilities must be well defined.
Click here to help ensure that this process results in real actions that benefit our watersheds.
Want to learn more about the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund? Check out these resources.