Building Knowledge and Capacity in the BC Water Movement

Watershed model (Photo: Wildsight)

British Columbia is home to nearly 450 environmental groups, over half of which are working on freshwater protection. These NGOs comprise a movement diverse in geography and approach. Some are based in local watersheds; others work at a regional or basin-wide scale; and still others take a provincial or national perspective.

The movement’s collective work has positioned BC to become a global leader in freshwater protection. Yet, according to a report released in July 2013 by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, there are substantial challenges to this vision.

"The State of the Water Movement in British Columbia: A Waterscape Scan & Needs Assessment of the BC NGO Sector" is timely. While the provincial government has committed to modernizing the century-old BC Water Act, the impacts of large industrial projects, urbanization and climate change are increasing threats to fresh water (as described in a recent POLIS-informed article in The Province).

In response to those threats, communities are experimenting with new models for place-based governance, while First Nations are asserting their rights to be water stewards and developing watershed plans for their territories.

Even so, the report reveals that, over the next five years, the NGO community’s ability to make progress on water protection will likely depend on access to:

  • Support and training to more effectively inform decision makers;
  • Capacity to better engage and educate communities; and
  • Peer-learning opportunities that bolster networks and collaborations.
Myriad efforts are underway in response to these needs. The following are just three of many initiatives intended to help.
  • Canadian Freshwater Alliance | Mentorship Program for BC’s Freshwater Leaders - With funding from the Real Estate Foundation, Canadian Freshwater Alliance is providing training and workshops for grassroots organizations, First Nations groups and freshwater recreation clubs. The six-month program pairs five groups from different watersheds with a skilled mentor to develop and execute a major public engagement and communications project focused on their community.
  • Columbia Basin Salmon Festival and Watershed Symposium - On September 27-28, 2013, in partnership with Living Lakes Canada, the Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission is hosting its third annual salmon festival to celebrate the history and significance of salmon in the Columbia River. This year, the festival will kick off the Columbia Basin Watershed Symposium on September 29-30. Hosted by the Columbia Basin Watershed Network with the support of Living Lakes Canada, the symposium will provide an opportunity for cross-cultural dialogue on watershed governance, including the ways climate change and policy instruments like the Columbia River Treaty and the BC Water Act, can affect the watershed.
  • BC Water Forum | “Building Capacity for Success: Towards Watershed Governance in British Columbia and Beyond” - This initiative is being led by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. Planned for January 2014, the three-day forum will offer tools for successful watershed governance in BC, sharing the experiences of a variety of organizations in a unique peer‐to‐peer learning environment. The aim is to improve the capacity of watershed groups, formal decision makers and First Nations across Canada to work together and improve shared governance at the watershed scale.