There is no one recipe for watershed management planning.
But after surveying watershed plans, implementation updates and feedback from other planners, I have found five key ingredients for success. These ingredients need to be in place, to some degree, before action on watershed issues can be initiated – and sustained.
The first ingredient, at the start of most watershed plans, is having some watershed challenges. These emerge when a community’s uses and values of water are impacted or perceived to be threatened by human activities and natural changes in the environment.
In the Kettle River watershed, a mixture of natural and human-caused pressures including variable river flows, high water use, water quality problems, high temperatures, overfishing and riparian habitat destruction mean that our sport fishes and associated ecosystem and recreational values are impaired.
Between 2000 and 2010, public concerns increased over droughts, water use, and potential impacts of resort and hydroelectric power development. These concerns led the BC Outdoor Recreation Council to list the Kettle River as one of our top “most endangered” rivers in 2010 and 2011.
In 2010 the RDKB made the decision to undertake a watershed management plan to study the watershed and develop strategies to address issues, in consultation with the public and other organizations. This mandate is the second key ingredient.
Local, provincial, federal, or First Nations government authorities and watershed organizations initiate plans to develop better policy and support decision making about the land and water resources impacted by watershed challenges.
How far their mandate extends depends on their own jurisdiction and how well they reach out to other levels of government to develop support, the third key ingredient. Support comes in the form of policy that enables implementation, funding for planning activities, and public buy-in for the planning process.
Building support takes time and effort in lobbying for resources or policy changes, persuading others to get involved, and reaching out to the public to engage good conversations about issues and solutions in the watershed. This is a key goal of the Stakeholder Engagement Plan adopted by the Stakeholder Advisory Committee last fall.
A key aspect of those conversations is improving understanding of watershed processes and issues by summarizing current knowledge, doing scientific studies to fill major knowledge gaps, and sharing that information with the public and stakeholders. Strategies tend to work better when they are based on holistic and comprehensive understanding of watershed issues.
In 2011 the RDKB commissioned a study of current technical knowledge about the watershed (Phase 1 Technical Report). Riparian ecosystems were one of the key data gaps identified in the report, which is why we established the Riparian Working Group and sought funding from SIBAC (Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition) to perform a “riparian threat assessment” with the Granby Wilderness Society.
All the support and understanding in the world won’t address watershed challenges without improving the capacity of our communities to implement improvements in how we manage land and water.
Capacity means having skills, tools, and most importantly people in different organizations and sectors working together. We will need to develop partnerships, training, and extension to improve community capacity during implementation.
These ingredients – challenges, mandate, support, understanding, and capacity – are catalysts to each other. Like lemon juice and baking soda, they work best when mixed in at the right time during planning. But they can also be like garnishes that are added later, with a flourish, to make the plan more savoury or digestible during implementation.
Taking action on watershed issues in isolation and without developing support, understanding and capacity will not help us develop lasting, positive changes in the watershed.
Contact Graham with watershed questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).