Every year, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services conducts a consultation with citizens and a range of sectors on the upcoming provincial budget. British Columbians can directly engage with a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly on those issues that matter most to them, and offer ideas on how government can address these priority challenges.
This year, fresh water was a prominent priority across the province.
Starting in June, 11 community and watershed organizations gave statements, from Prince George, to Castlegar, to Colwood. These presentations consistently expressed that:
- Local water issues are becoming more acute.
- First Nations, local governments, and community organizations are leading freshwater protection, but are stymied by a lack of resources and funding.
- A genuine opportunity for provincial leadership exists.
The consultations emphasized the need to provide an ongoing source of funding to support partnerships with First Nations, local governments, and watershed-based organizations to carry out long-term strategic watershed planning and management activities to build resilience, protect watershed health, and ensure a sustainable water future.
In addition to these local consultations, a group of B.C. water leaders, coordinated by the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, also provided a written submission to the Committee. This submission outlines the opportunity to establish a Water Sustainability Fund as part of Budget 2020, and reminds government that provincial action is urgently needed to help build community and economic resilience in the face of climate change and its increasingly severe impacts on fresh water. It describes the characteristics of such a fund, including options for sustainable revenue streams from water licence rentals.
The very good news is that these messages were heard.
The Report on the Budget 2020 Consultation was released on August 7th and concerns about fresh water and the need for a Water Sustainability Fund for the province features prominently.
“A number of volunteer community-based organizations across the province do an enormous amount of work to protect watersheds and drinking water supply with limited resources. The Committee agrees on a need to better plan and build resilience into our water infrastructure with improved resourcing to these organizations, emphasizing the importance of partnerships with Indigenous communities and local governments.” — Report on the Budget 2020 Consultation, Executive Summary, p.1.
The Committee formally recommends that the provincial government “Advance water sustainability in British Columbia by providing a dedicated, sustainable, annual funding source for First Nations, local government, local watershed protections agencies and community partnerships” (Report on the Budget 2020 Consultation, p.31).
Over the coming months, the POLIS team will continue to provide detailed analysis and the business case needed to advance this work, and to establish a Water Sustainability Fund. POLIS is working closely with partners and other leading water champions, including the BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative, the BC Wildlife Federation, the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, and a growing number of on-the-ground groups.