New research for local communities and water leaders looking to advance freshwater protection

Opportunities in British Columbia's Water Sustainability Act

Published On: September 11th, 2018

New research released this week by the POLIS Water Sustainability Project outlines the potential of British Columbia’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) when it comes to addressing water security and sustainability in the province. The brief is written for local communities and water leaders who want to support implementation of the WSA to advance freshwater protection.

“The Water Sustainability Act provides a number of promising tools that have the potential to address water challenges and promote sustainability,” said co-author Rosie Simms, researcher at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. “Details on how certain sustainability and planning provisions will be used—and the necessary supporting regulations within the Act—are currently being developed. There is still uncertainty around how local communities can be involved, and how implementation will be supported and resourced.”

This research addresses these uncertainties and the authors offer informed options for implementing the WSA to its fullest potential. This work focuses on seven main tools or opportunities under the Act:

  • Water objectives
  • Environmental flows and critical flow thresholds
  • Water sustainability plans
  • Sensitive stream designation
  • Water reservations
  • Advisory boards
  • Delegated authority

“It is critical that these aspects of the Act are developed in a thoughtful and proactive manner,” said co-author Oliver M. Brandes, POLIS Water Sustainability Project Lead. “Freshwater challenges—such as extreme floods and drought and overallocation—are increasing. Water is critical to local economies, resilient communities, and healthy functioning watersheds. As communities grapple with these challenges, the shared nature of water and the need for a partnership approach is increasingly evident as the only path toward sustainability.”

As the authors explain, provincial staff and decision-makers will not likely be able to implement the WSA and the necessary supporting management governance regime alone. Ensuring the legislation reaches its fullest potential will only happen with the leadership of Indigenous nations, communities, and watershed entities—all working together with the Province to deploy the Act’s keys tools and levers for change.

“There is a lot of potential within this legislation,” said Brandes. “We need to harness that, including the ability to better manage water as one integrated resource, safeguard environmental flows, integrate land and water decision-making, and enable innovative and locally appropriate approaches to planning and governance.”

Download briefing note from the WSP website.