On September 20th, over 30 people came together to participate in the Cowichan River Water Law Field Trip hosted by the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project, Faculty of Law, and Centre for Global Studies in partnership with the Cowichan Watershed Board (CWB). Participants were law students and other students and professionals with an interest in water from the University of Victoria (School of Business, Department of Civil Engineering, Centre for Global Studies, POLIS) and beyond (B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Canadian Freshwater Alliance).
Keen to explore local issues and applied law and governance, participants learned from experiences in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan watershed, which is a leading example of collaboration at the regional/watershed scale in B.C.
The field trip had three stops starting at the Cowichan River’s headwaters (Cowichan Lake weir), along the river (train bridge, Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre), and moving to the estuary (Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre). Participants received insights from local experts Tom Rutherford (CWB), Brian Houle (Catalyst Paper), Candace Charlie (Cowichan Tribes), Tim Kulchyski (Cowichan Tribes & CWB), Kate Miller (Cowichan Valley Regional District), and Lori Iannidinardo (Elected Cowichan Valley Regional District & CWB). These resource guests illustrated the importance of working together to improve watershed health and freshwater protection.
Legal themes included discussions on water licensing and management, local government, Indigenous water law, aboriginal water rights and title, the perspective of Cowichan Tribes on the river, environmental flows, fisheries, and watershed planning.
The field trip offered a unique learning opportunity in which diverse perspectives convened to enhance dialogue and understanding around the range and interplay of priority issues, actors, knowledge, legal and non-legal tools, and collaborative initiatives.