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

Kettle River Q&A: What’s next for the Kettle River Watershed?

In the last column I reviewed a few of the main activities and initiatives of 2015 for the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan. Today I want to look ahead to 2016, sharing a few of the priorities in the Plan that our Steering Committee and Advisory Group are committed to achieving.

On November 19 we held a second meeting with a large group representing water suppliers from across the Boundary. There were farmers, municipal councilors, small water utility operators and technical staff, there to talk about how we can better respond to drought.

Two main points emerged. First, the group identified that more information sharing and education was needed for water users and ratepayers in how (and why) to reduce water use in different settings. That could include everything from bulletins and columns to hands-on demonstration and door-to-door contact to support compliance with water regulations. This relates to several actions in Strategy 1 in the Plan.

Second, the group recommended developing a common approach and terminology in a water conservation and drought response strategy (Action 2.3.1 and 2.4.1). The BC Drought Response Plan clearly articulates a role for local partnerships in responding to drought, providing a good starting point for our discussions. Though as some group members pointed out, our strategy needs to be proactive, not reactive, by instilling widespread water conservation practices that help reduce the impacts of drought before we even get to water restrictions.

We will be discussing these points with water suppliers over the coming months in order to develop a sound and well-supported strategy that could be adopted as policy across the region.

Another major initiative for 2016 is building an online map-based interface so the public and decision-makers can learn more about their water supplies, discover reports and monitoring information, and connect the dots between different issues (Action 1.2.1). Relevant information is currently housed in dozens of different websites and databases, making it difficult to put together a current and coherent picture of issues such as drought, land use impacts or ecosystem stresses.

The water cycle and the watershed. Courtesy Conservation Ontario.
The water cycle and the watershed. Courtesy Conservation Ontario.

Throughout the planning process, many people have shared their concerns about protecting the headwaters – our ‘water towers’ in the mountains and plateaus – from the impacts of different land uses and activities. While some point the finger at one group or another, the problems are really cumulative and interconnected, so we need to look deeply at the issues (as in the Granby Wilderness Society’s Riparian Threat Assessment) then work together on meaningful solutions (Direction 3.1 and 3.2).

To that end, we are planning to work with the Okanagan Nation Alliance Natural Resource Committee to co-host a community forum this winter on protecting the headwaters (Action 1.1.5). We are really excited about learning more about our common interests in the headwaters and about First Nations knowledge and perspectives about land and water. Stay tuned for more details.

We will be continuing to work with the Boundary Habitat Stewards and other partners to restore habitat around streams, lakes and wetlands, and connecting with planning initiatives by local governments, forestry and agriculture to improve watershed health and function.

Of course, there are other priority actions that various stakeholders wish to support or lead as we move forward – I look forward to hearing from you about your priorities and commitments. As the Plan indicated, many different organizations share responsibility among their various jurisdictions for protecting and managing water, and we need to work together to ensure policies and practices are connected, consistently and effectively, by the one common thread of healthy, functioning waterways and ecosystems.

To learn more, come to Greenwood’s MacArthur Centre behind the Library on Wednesday evening, 6:30-9:00. Desserts, coffee, and good conversation!

Watershed Update – November 25 in Greenwood

Please join the RDKB Kettle River Watershed Management Plan Steering Committee and Advisory Group for informative presentations and dialogue – and dessert! Greenwood MacArthur Centre November 25, 6:30-9:00 p.m. Contact for details.



Kettle River Watershed Management Plan – A year in review

In anticipation of our Watershed Update on November 25, this two-part column will review some highlights from the last several months of work, and next week preview the work in the coming year.

As of the end of November, it will be one year since the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary endorsed the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan and ‘launched’ it for the benefit of the Kettle River and its communities.

The endorsement by the RDKB and the Boundary municipalities (Grand Forks, Greenwood and Midway) – as well as other organizations and government departments – signaled a significant commitment to continued local leadership in watershed management. This commitment is special because while much of the jurisdiction over water supply and resource management lies with the provincial and federal governments, it truly takes the vision and collective effort of local and regional partnerships to achieve meaningful change.

The leadership by local water suppliers and the provincial government was tested this summer during the heat wave and drought, even before the fires hit. Local government officials and water managers assembled in early August to share information on water conservation efforts and drought response, and the conversation is already having an effect. We are meeting again this week to plan for how we will work together over the next year in terms of drought response, water conservation, and information exchange.

The drought and fires of 2015 fit the expected pattern of climate change, with wetter winters, earlier spring run-off, and long, very dry summers with increased drought and fire risk. The Plan identified a suite of actions to build resilience to climate disruption in the Boundary. In our view, resilience includes both reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and reducing climate risks to water, land and communities from flood, drought and fire through local solutions (adaptation).

To that end, the Regional District is undertaking a study to determine the feasibility of using local government carbon offsets to fund restoration of streamside (riparian) and floodplain forests. If the feasibility study has promising results, this approach would both sequester carbon in the growing trees and provide protection for shorelines and floodplains from damaging floods. We’ll know more in the coming months.

The Plan determined that riparian areas faced significant risks from various land uses and management impacts, so we knew we had to study the issue further. While there have been some efforts to increase stewardship of riparian areas in some sectors, no one has been monitoring the combined effects of land use and development including forestry, range, recreation, industry, agriculture, and urban development.

To study these impacts, I worked alongside Jenny Coleshill (Granby Wilderness Society) to develop a ‘threat assessment’ of riparian areas across the watershed, using spatial information, maps, and in-field conditions. At our Watershed Update we will share the results and point the way towards better protection, management and restoration of riparian areas and wetlands across the watershed.

Throughout the last year an informal partnership known as the ‘Boundary Habitat Stewards’ (Christina Lake Stewardship Society, Granby Wilderness Society, Boundary Invasive Species Society, Grand Forks Wildlife Club, RDKB, and BC Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations) has been active on many restoration and habitat enhancement projects across the region. These include habitat enhancement for the endangered Speckled Dace in the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle Rivers; slope stabilization and fish habitat protection at Sion Cemetery west of Grand Forks; wetland restoration at Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park; and a native plant nursery and lakeshore restoration at Christina Lake.

Volunteers plant riparian shrubs and trees this spring at Pines Bible Camp on the Granby River
Volunteers plant riparian shrubs and trees this spring at Pines Bible Camp on the Granby River

We’ve also been building our capacity for restoration by bringing in restoration expert David Polster to teach a course on riparian restoration at Selkirk College. Residents, landowners and stewardship group members from across the Boundary participated and learned hands-on about restoration of eroding streambanks and hill slopes.

There so is much more to share about the last year than I have space for here, so come on out on Wednesday, November 25 to the MacArthur Center in Greenwood (above / behind the library) for some dessert at 6:30 and an informative evening of presentations and conversation (7:00-9:00).

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