Category Archives: information

Awash with opportunity: new report on the BC Water Sustainability Act

Cover of new report from Polis Water Sustainability Project
Cover of new report from Polis Water Sustainability Project

From POLIS Water Sustainability Project: Last week, the WSP released the new research report Awash with Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of British Columbia’s New Water Law.

Authored by POLIS researchers Oliver M. Brandes, Savannah Carr-Wilson, Deborah Curran, and Rosie Simms, the report outlines what is needed to put the “sustainable” in the Water Sustainability Act.

With the new Water Sustainability Act replacing the 106-year-old Water Act in 2014, British Columbia has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize its freshwater legislation and usher in a new era of water stewardship. The Water Sustainability Act has many promising features that can better protect the province’s fresh water. Yet full implementation of the new Act hinges on passing critical supporting regulations that will provide the necessary details to make the Act fully functional.

Awash with Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of British Columbia’s New Water Law provides a timely analysis of the Water Sustainability Act and its core regulations required for it to reach its full potential as a comprehensive and modern water law. It offers clear recommendations based on leading international practices in five key areas:

  • Groundwater,
  • Environmental flows,
  • Monitoring and reporting,
  • Water objectives, and
  • Planning and governance

British Columbia’s fresh water is under pressure from an array of threats, including climate change, population growth, and escalating and competing demands for water. Conflict and concern mounts as watersheds across the province show signs of stress and pressure from unprecedented droughts. Water quality degradation and skirmishes over water use increase the urgency to act.

A comprehensive water law regime that includes a fully implemented Water Sustainability Act and a full suite of supporting regulations is a necessary condition to ensure that future water challenges do not become debilitating water crises.

The report specifically offers the Provincial government the necessary advice and insights needed to move beyond crisis response toward a fresh partnership approach with shared roles and responsibilities to protect B.C.’s water resources—now and into the future.

For more information, see the November 16th front-page article in The Province, which discusses the Government’s recently announced water rates and the findings of the new report; Rosie Simm’s discussion of the new report with Victoria’s CFAX 1070 on November 21st, or the forthcoming article, written by the report’s co-authors, in the Winter 2015 issue of BCWWA’s Watermark magazine.

[from POLIS Project on Ecological Governance / Water Sustainability Project Fall Newsletter]

Ferry County Coalition Releases Draft Shoreline Master Program


The Shoreline Master Program (SMP) is a combination of planning and regulatory documents. SMP documents carry out the policies of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA) (RCW 90.58) on local shorelines. Local governments are required to prepare SMPs based on state laws and rules. SMPs are prepared to implement the SMA to prevent, “harm caused by uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the State’s shoreline.” Local SMPs are tailored to local geographic and environmental conditions, as well as to existing and future planned development patterns within the shoreline.

The SMP update process balances and integrates objectives and interests of local citizens. Key principles of the SMP include striking a balance among environmental protection, public access and water-oriented uses, and achieving “No net loss” of ecological functions.

What’s New?

The Ferry County Planning Commission and City of Republic are holding a public hearing to review the proposal to adoption the new SMP.

Public Hearing

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 6:00 p.m.
147 N Clark, Suite 7,
Republic, WA
(Top level of building across Clark street from the Post Office)

SMP Documents

Restoration planting at Boothman’s Oxbow and Christina Lake, November 4 and 5

BC Parks, the Boundary Invasive Species Society and Boundary Habitat Stewards are doing restoration planting tomorrow (Wednesday) at Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park. Come at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. for fun, informative exercise just 5 minutes from Grand Forks! More planting at Christina Lake on Thursday with the Christina Lake Stewardship Society – Meet at the Welcome Centre at 10:00 a.m. Learn about riparian plants, invasive species, and habitats and species at risk while working alongside some of our dedicated watershed stewards!

Sion Cemetery Slope Stabilization Underway

Course participants and volunteers install siol bioengineering on structures on Sion Cemetery slope (Craig Lindsay photo)
Course participants and volunteers install siol bioengineering on structures on Sion Cemetery slope (Craig Lindsay photo)

Efforts to protect fish habitat and protect graves at the Sion Cemetery are well underway, thanks to the efforts of course participants and volunteers during a recent course on Soil Bioengineering.

Everyone who watches the Kettle River has seen it change its course over time. But when Pat Horkoff saw rapidly advancing erosion threaten graves at the Sion Cemetery west of Grand Forks, he called together local groups to find and implement solutions.

Since 2011, Horkoff, Chair of the Sion Cemetery Society, has noticed a disturbing trend on the slope below the site. The north bank of the Kettle River had started slipping into the river at an alarming rate. Not only graves were at risk: sediment from the eroding slope threatened to choke the valuable fish habitat in the side-channel just downstream. The problem stemmed from a log jam that shifted, directing a portion of the current against the slope and undercutting the unstable sand and gravel.

Horkoff approached me, Jenny Coleshill of the Granby Wilderness Society and Regional District Director Roly Russell to ask for help. What could we do to protect the Cemetery and the side channel?

Over the last year, we developed a plan to protect fish habitat and graves at the same time using a ‘soil bioengineering’ approach with native plants. We knew the steep, unstable slope made it a very difficult site for a typical engineering solution such as ‘rip-rap’ (angular boulders placed on the base of the slope). Furthermore, having machinery cross the river would be too risky and costly.

Instead, we investigated using woody plants such as cottonwood, willows, and red-osier dogwood to stabilize the slope. The practice is known as ‘soil bioengineering’ (not to be confused with genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms, or GMO).

These plants are special. First, they adapted to life on riverbanks and gravel bars by tolerating ‘wet feet’ – roots and stems that can be submerged for part of the growing season. They grow roots rapidly in search of nutrients and moisture, up to 1 cm per day, quickly creating a root mass that can protect the banks from further erosion much better than the fine, shallow roots of grasses.

Most importantly, if the timing is right their stems can root almost anywhere along the length, even when there is no roots. In natural floodplain environments, this allows pieces of stem broken off by floods, storms or landslides to rapidly root and colonize new environments. Bioengineering practitioners use this to their advantage by deeply planting dormant, live cuttings directly in the ground.

Modified brush layers protect dry erosion sites

When combined with other structural features such as large rocks and anchored logs, bioengineering can provide a cost-effective and beautiful solution to slope stabilization and streambank protection problems that benefits fish and wildlife habitat better than traditional engineering solutions.

To build our skills and get the project going, we invited bioengineering expert David Polster to teach a course at Selkirk College (held September 17 and 18). Thirteen students from across the region and beyond learned the theory and practice of soil bioengineering and had a full day of hands-on experience installing the design at the Sion slope. We continue to work with volunteers and a local silviculture crew to complete the project in the coming weeks.

This project has been made possible by a number of dedicated volunteers from across the community, the participants in the course, and by the generous financial contributions of RDKB Director Roly Russell, the Sion Cemetery Society and the Lapsha Ladies at the USCC. Please contact me if you would like to be involved.

Kettle River Q&A: Responding to drought with water conservation

We’re going to need to work together on this one. What helps us conserve water during a drought, and why do we not take more steps to conserve water?

At a recent meeting of water suppliers and municipalities in Grand Forks to discuss the drought situation and potential responses, I introduced some ideas about what motivates water conservation, framed as personal reasons people don’t conserve. We had a good conversation about what these ideas mean for how we develop the short and long term water conservation strategies – more on that later.

“It’s not a problem.” I’ve heard this quite a bit on social media, letters to the editor, and even public meetings. People aren’t aware of their connection between their water use and the state of the Kettle River, or they don’t believe that they have enough impact, either way, to start conserving.

There certainly is a problem. The Kettle River and many of its tributaries are flowing very low right now, after a low snowpack and early spring freshet. The region (like much of southern B.C.) is at a Level 4 drought, and any excess water use from surface or ground water reduces available water for fish, water quality, aquatic ecosystems, and downstream use.

This seems like it should be easy to fix – more education! More signs, more media coverage, more pamphlets. Many of the water suppliers are already working on this. Awareness certainly helps, but it turns out there are many more barriers in the way to water conservation. Indeed, awareness without other measures will only motivate change for some people.

“No restrictions are in place.” According to water supply managers at the meeting, restrictions are having an impact on overall water use, with many people even going further to allow their lawns to go dormant.

However, the provincial government has so far only requested voluntary reductions of 30% or more, and only some of the water suppliers have a drought response plan that restricts outdoor water use. Furthermore, provincial regulations currently only affect surface water licences, even though using ground water from sand and gravel aquifers has a direct impact on surface water levels.

New regulations coming under the Water Sustainability Act could go a long way to improve our drought response, together with active efforts at compliance and enforcement by water suppliers and local and provincial governments. They will need your input to get these regulations right – future columns will highlight proposed changes.

“My neighbours are all still watering.” The ‘neighbour effect’ cannot be underestimated. People are highly motivated by peer pressure and shared ideas of right and wrong. So taking visible steps to reduce water use – allowing the lawn to go dormant, installing drip irrigation, planting a dryland (xeriscape) garden – will go a long way to shift attitudes in your neighbourhood.

“I pay the same no matter how much I use.” Paying a fixed fee for any utility or resource just doesn’t make sense to me, especially when that resource is scarce and connected to many other valuable uses.

People who save water will also value saving money on their utility bill, and people who want to use more can feel good about paying their fair share. It will be up to water suppliers how they make this work, through water meters or through more radical measures such as paying people to remove lawns or install drip irrigation and greywater systems.

Silva Yard
Caption: Margaret and Robert Silva have planted a dryland (xeriscape) garden in place of lawn, avoiding using tens of thousands of litres of water per year. Drip irrigation and careful hand watering has reduced their outdoor water use even further.

“I don’t know how to…” Fill in the blank – reprogram the irrigation timer, install drip irrigation, plant a xeriscape garden. Helping people learn new skills of water conservation will not only help them save water, it will ripple outwards through the neighbour effect. So water suppliers should start to work together on building skills for water conservation with demonstration gardens, hands-on workshops, or in-house instruction. Community members could also share their successes through public demonstrations and garden tours.

“It’s too expensive, complex, or inconvenient to change my system.” This turns out to be a big one, because large farms and businesses have complex, expensive water and irrigation systems already in place. They also use a lot of water compared to households and domestic gardens. It makes sense to support farmers and others in installing more efficient irrigation equipment, sharing costs or providing incentives through programs like Environmental Farm Plan.

Bringing all of this together will take time, effort, and a shared understanding of the role of water conservation in a healthy, resilient Kettle River Watershed. We will develop long-term strategies at future meetings of water suppliers. How will you fit in?

Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Contact Graham at plan@kettleriver.caor 250.442.4111.