Released on World Water Day, the results of a new survey illuminate perspectives within British Columbia’s freshwater community on progress, challenges, gaps, and needs to strengthen water security and watershed governance in B.C. The POLIS team led the Changing Attitudes, Changing Waters survey as an extension and refresh of work started in 2015 to produce the report Illumination: Insights and Perspectives for Building Effective Watershed Governance in B.C. (POLIS, 2016).
This most recent survey was distributed to 428 recipients across the water stewardship and professional community. “By revisiting the survey work and refreshing our understanding, we can continue to track trends and illuminate insights and priorities at the local, provincial, and national scale,” explained Rosie Simms, Research Lead & Project Manager at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. “This builds a cycle of growth, evolution in thinking, and continuous learning.”
Water and watersheds have recently re-emerged as priorities in the policy and governance landscape, with bold commitments from both the federal and B.C. provincial governments. The federal government is prioritizing water after many years of inaction, and has committed to establishing a Canada Water Agency. Provincially, the new B.C. government is embarking on an ambitious water reform agenda, including establishing a Watershed Security Strategy and Fund.
Analyzing these most recent survey results, the summary offers 10 key insights. Reponses point to important trends to drive evolution in thinking for researchers, practitioners, funders, and those working closest to the issues.
“It’s encouraging to see progress, even if modest, on the identified winning conditions of watershed governance. In particular, respondents identified an increase in availability of data and monitoring, as well as more support from regional governments in local watershed entities,” said Oliver M. Brandes, Project Lead at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. “However respondents consistently noted challenges in a lack of senior government leadership, slow progress on Water Sustainability Act implementation, and ongoing—and well understood—resourcing and capacity constraints.”
The responses also highlight real opportunities for new leadership approaches and innovation as watershed governance in B.C. grows and matures. Respondents believe that Indigenous nations and local governments are best positioned to initiate and be involved in ongoing leadership of watershed governance, but local water groups and the provincial government are not far behind.
“Survey respondents reinforce the importance of taking a place-based approach,” said Rosie Simms. “When it comes to watershed governance, solutions must be driven by Indigenous authority holders and local actors and champions who are closest to the issues and have real local credibility and capacity.”
The survey also offers insights on the barriers, tools, and capacity needs identified by the water community, and indicates strong support for a provincewide capacity-builder to promote, encourage, and support watershed governance initiatives across B.C.
“This demonstrates the potential of the provincial government’s early investment in watersheds under the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, and the ongoing need to support communities to build capacity in their own regions with priorities they determine,” explained Oliver M. Brandes. “In the long term, a provincial Watershed Security Fund will be critical to continue to build and sustain community capacity for watershed-scale governance and, importantly, to build watershed security across the province.”