Majority of British Columbians bracing for future water crisis

2018 BC Freshwater Public Opinion Insights Topline Report relased

Published On: October 15th, 2018

Released on the heels of record-setting wildfires, droughts, and floods, new opinion data shows that more than half of British Columbians worry about the potential for a major water crisis in their community.

Another 87 per cent believe the province will face a serious problem if nothing is done to improve the management of water resources in B.C. This is up from 76 per cent in 2013, according to polling results released in September 208 by the Canadian Freshwater Alliance.

“British Columbians just suffered through a summer of back-to-back water crises. It was a flood year of historic proportions, with 23 communities under a local state of emergency. Yet, while these communities were battling rising floodwaters, major drought was on the horizon,” said Rosie Simms, Project Manager and Researcher at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. “These new poll results show that British Columbians are bracing for an even worse situation if the government doesn’t take proactive measures to protect our water and communities.”

Conducted by McAllister Opinion Research in June, the online survey was completed by 1,619 English-speaking B.C. residents aged 18 years or older. These respondents were recruited from a panel designed to replicate a cross-section of the B.C. population.

The survey results build on previous research from the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, including “Illumination: Insights and Perspectives for Building Effective Watershed Governance in B.C.” (June 2016) and “The State of the Water Movement in British Columbia: A Waterscape Scan & Needs Assessment of B.C. Watershed-Based Groups” (July 2013).

While 90 per cent of British Columbians believe water is the province’s most precious resource, key insights from the recent poll indicate that a majority of British Columbians are worried about different water-related problems:

  • 69% are concerned about water scarcity
  • 67% are concerned about flooding
  • 77% are concerned about contaminated drinking water
  • 85% are concerned about pollution of B.C.’s rivers, lakes, and streams.

Despite British Columbians’ worry over dwindling water supplies, 3 in 4 agree that B.C.’s freshwater problems are primarily a management and planning issue, compared to a scarcity issue. The poll signals a clear public mandate for the government to be more proactive on water protection.

“Our provincial water legislation, the Water Sustainability Act, provides promising tools to address these types of water challenges,” said Oliver M. Brandes, POLIS Water Sustainability Project Lead. “But implementation of the Act is still in its infancy. There is still uncertainty around how the Act’s main sustainability and planning features will be triggered and used, how local communities can be involved, and how implementation will be supported and resourced.”

Regarding opportunities to improve freshwater protection and decision-making, poll results show that:

  • 81% support making certain watersheds completely off-limits to development in order to protect sources of drinking water and sensitive ecosystems.
  • 67% think a local watershed authority should play a lead or major role in decisions affecting fresh water in their communities

While the Water Sustainability Act lays out a strong mandate for the province around managing water resources, many of the tools within it are not being used. Policies, including those related to ensuring enough water exists for nature, have not been turned into regulations that are legally binding and enforceable across the province. Therefore the Act is often applied reactively or on a case-by-case basis.

Many water leaders across the province believe that B.C. communities need the ability to more easily trigger critical flow orders that protect streams in distress, and to create enforceable watershed plans so that the necessary management and legal mechanisms are in place to help prevent water crises and better respond to them when they arise.

Download 2018 BC Freshwater Public Opinion Insights Topline Report.

Download the POLIS Water Sustainability Project’s brief Select findings and insights: 2018 B.C. Freshwater Public Opinion Poll.