By Oliver M. Brandes and Jon O'Riordan
Abstract: Water is society’s most critical and, increasingly, its most strategic asset. Without abundant clean and flowing fresh water—and functioning watersheds—there is no life, no economy, and no future. Yet, sustainable water use is increasingly under threat across the globe due to growing consumption, pollution, and rapid resource development, all of which impact watershed health and drinking water sources. The prospect of shifting hydrology due to a changing climate will only exacerbate the problems associated with these threats via, for example, more extreme weather events, increased flooding, and prolonged droughts.
Over the past 20 years, the Province of British Columbia has implemented a number of significant legislative changes to its resource management and governance regime. This will culminate in a new Water Sustainability Act, expected in 2014. As part of the Province’s recent Water Act modernization process, significant public discussion (instigated by government) has occurred around key aspects of water management and the extent to which water and related resource policy reforms are needed. Yet, the deeper and more complex dialogue about the who, how, what, and accountability of decision-making—the essence of watershed governance—is only just beginning.
Provincial and territorial governments across Canada are moving away from top-down, government-driven approaches and towards more collaborative and delegated forms of water and watershed governance. This mirrors trends in many jurisdictions around the globe. In Canada, Ontario, Quebec, parts of the prairies, and regions in the North are making changes to watershed governance based on meaningful engagement with affected communities, better involvement of First Nations, and improving financial support and capacity at the watershed level.
This Blueprint focuses on watershed governance in British Columbia and sets out a 10-year program for effectively managing and governing fresh water in the context of functioning and healthy watersheds. It represents a potentially transformative change for watershed governance in the province.