Opportunity for Change

Building a bold water agenda must be top priority for B.C.’s new government

Published On: August 1st, 2017

As B.C.’s new government begins the hard work of setting the path forward for the province, the POLIS WSP has released the policy paper A Revitalized Water Agenda for British Columbia’s Circular Economy to help provide focus and momentum for provincial freshwater priorities going forward.

“We are in a critical moment of opportunity for B.C. to set forward a bold new water agenda,” said WSP Project Lead Oliver M. Brandes. “Key drivers of a new approach include the province’s growing water insecurity, strong public support and appetite for enhanced freshwater protec­tion, and new legal tools in the Water Sustainability Act for advancing water management and governance.”

Until recently, sustainable water management in British Columbia was only a secondary consideration to the priority of building the provincial resource-based economy. In the process, watersheds have become fragmented and important water-based natural capital has degraded. The existing government institutions that make and enforce decisions about B.C.’s freshwater future are largely under resourced, uncoordinated, and ill equipped to build public confidence or manage risks. British Columbian water managers and experts are concerned that the current approach is insufficient.

The previous government introduced the Water Sustainability Act in 2016 to improve water management and decision-making in B.C. This initiative, however, is only partially complete. Many of its most important components, like watershed planning, water objectives, and a robust regime to protect ecological flows, still require enabling regulations and implementation with adequate resourcing and independent oversight. Time is now of the essence to implement the critical remaining regulations and to follow through on supporting water commitments, such as a comprehensive water rentals pricing review, to ensure healthy functioning watersheds now and into the future.

To address pressing freshwater challenges, build resilience to a changing climate, and respond to local needs, B.C. must adopt robust management practices and transparent and effective water governance approaches. This is the basis of the new ten-step plan the POLIS WSP team has set out, which includes the specific elements and actions required for meaningful progress on a new water agenda for B.C.

In addition to full implementation of the B.C. Water Sustainability Act (with an environmental flows regulation as top priority) this agenda provides direction to:

  • Ensure sufficient funds to deliver on a comprehensive program through appropriate water rentals review and an enhanced sustainable funding task force;
  • Acknowledge Indigenous water rights and engage Indigenous governments in a nation-to-nation approach as partners in governing and managing fresh water;
  • Build resilience to droughts and floods through protecting vital natural systems; and
  • Provide the necessary science and information to make informed evidence-based decisions, and ensure competent and independent oversight and accountability.

“With a revitalized water agenda, B.C. can expect growing water security, increased public confidence through evidence-based decisions, decreased conflicts as natural capital is protected, and greater ability to adapt to the oncoming changes in climate,” said WSP researcher Rosie Simms.

Read the report “A Revitalized Water Agenda for British Columbia’s Circular Economy” by Oliver M. Brandes, Jon O’Riordan, and Rosie Simms (POLIS, July 2017).

Read the op-ed “Splash of innovation — a new water agenda for B.C.” by Oliver M. Brandes, Jon O’Riordan, and Rosie Simms (Vancouver Sun, July 2017).