Guest Blog: Moving Ahead in the Shawnigan Basin

Shawnigan watershed group (Photo: Shawnigan Basin Society)

Members of the Shawnigan Watershed Roundtable and Shawnigan Basin Society and UBC School of Community and Regional Planning students tour Elkington Forest, a sustainable development model located in the watershed. (Photo: Shawnigan Basin Society)

Freshwater Sustainability is one of the Real Estate Foundation's grant program focus areas. We have recently begun to support leading watershed planning and stewardship work in the Cowichan region, including the work of the Shawnigan Basin Society. (Visit the Projects page and filter results for "Freshwater Sustainability" and "Vancouver Island" to view these grants.)

There is a quiet evolution of local civic action that is putting the Shawnigan Basin on the map. As a complex landscape of private and public interests, it is administered by many government agencies that do not work systematically together. Its critical uplands are controlled by private industrial owners and its lowlands have been fully subdivided into private hands since the late 1800s. Shawnigan is now the largest unincorporated population in the province, but is still only one electoral area within a very large regional district. 

Given these challenges, we have accomplished a great deal in a very short period of time. Shawnigan established a prototype watershed roundtable in 2012 that evolved into a formal Basin Society in 2013 that is further developing the structure for a Basin Authority in 2014. The Society and the Authority are both supported by an “Ecological Design Panel” of local technical experts. The Authority, recognized as an emerging reality by the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), is being structured as a means for citizens, private landowners and government agencies to focus on the collaborative management of our watershed.

No fledgling civic organization can develop without fuel. In addition to a grant from the Real Estate Foundation of BC for $40,000 to develop an ecological planning framework, the Society also received funds and in-kind work from the CVRD, the South Cowichan Water Plan Study, Couverdon, individual residents, and perhaps most uniquely, an annual tax base allocation of $50,000. We are now the only unincorporated electoral area in the province to provide a tax base for development of an ecologically based watershed management function.

As our momentum has accelerated, we have attracted the attention of a major national research program called RES’EAU-WaterNET as well as an economic researcher, both of which will bring significant resources into the community and contribute expertise on water quality, impacts of climate change and land use, and developing sustainable economic systems within the basin. 

As we celebrate this rapid success, we invite the entire watershed governance community to our second annual Shawnigan Gathering, March 29th-30th, where we will showcase the work of the Basin Society and host related seminars alongside food, music and entertainment. Come see what we’re up to!


Georgia Collins is Executive Director of the Shawnigan Basin Society and Co-Chair of the Shawnigan Watershed Roundtable. Dr. Bruce Fraser is the Cowichan Valley Regional District Director for Electoral Area B - Shawnigan Lake. Both Georgia and Bruce are working on local governance and stewardship of the watershed through the new Shawnigan Basin Authority and other avenues.