Since the POLIS Water Sustainability Project began in 2003, our team, along with many partners, has played a leadership role in advancing watershed governance, both in concept and in practice.
Today, many years later, this work remains a high-priority. The imperatives of more local control, innovative co-governance, and ecological and social sustainability continue to be amplified as communities grapple with the realities of climate change, seek new pathways to economic growth grounded in local community health and sustainability, and take concrete action on reconciliation between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples—including examining whose ethics and values are underlying our actions.
Collaborative watershed governance initiatives continue to emerge and mature across B.C. (and beyond), including in the Nicola, Cowichan, Skeena, Hullcar, Okanagan, Kootenays, and Nechako watersheds. While each region has its own unique needs, priorities, historical context, and future goals, their approaches to watershed governance share common threads. They all focus decision-making to better align with place-based priorities and ecological boundaries. They all address issues of ecological health and function to enhance social, community, and ecosystem resilience. And each one embodies a co-governance and shared authority approach to decision-making that is inclusive of multiple worldviews.
In light of the progress being made and the depth of nuance of these watershed initiatives—and considering the increasingly stark realities of the climate crisis—the POLIS Water Sustainability team has started “looking beyond” ideas of watershed governance toward the broader concept and emerging research theme of watershed security.
For us, watershed security revolves around the fundamental need to responsibly and sustainably manage and govern water in its entirety, which means its sources and the surrounding landscape. At its heart, watershed security is about rescaling decisions to ensure better local control as well as solutions that “work” for communities and ecosystems, with a focus on shared authority and co-governance between Crown governments and Indigenous nations.
We are alert to how watershed security is a common theme that links the top issues of our time, from climate change adaptation, to reconciliation and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to wild salmon survival, to our collective health, spiritual well-being, quality of life, and prosperity. Through this integrative frame, watershed security offers far more than just an environmental focus. Rather, watershed security is a reconciliation, wellness, and economic imperative for a more prosperous, resilient, just, and sustainable future.
A Watershed Security Strategy for B.C.
Recently, water and community champions across B.C. have been advocating for both a provincial Watershed Security Fund and a Watershed Security Strategy as specific ways to drive Crown government action towards the broader goals for watershed sustainability and resilience.
We anticipate the release of a provincial Watershed Security Strategy Discussion Paper by the B.C. government in the coming days or weeks. This will initiate an important public engagement step towards the eventual fulfilment of this government’s mandate to “…protect clean water, including through the creation of a Watershed Security Strategy and the associated Watershed Security Fund.”
Looking ahead at POLIS
While our POLIS team is always driving towards action and outcomes, we recognize the importance of building a sound provincial strategy from the ground up. To this end, we will continue to support any efforts that bring water and watersheds to the forefront of our collective priorities and advance actions needed now to protect and sustain water as fundamental to our well-being in all levels and dimensions of society—human and ecological health, economic prosperity, and cultural resilience.
In the meantime, our team will continue to work toward a lasting legacy of watershed security for all British Columbians. We are building off our recent work, including the Watershed Security Agenda for British Columbia and Towards Watershed Security, to support and advance the momentum on watershed governance that has been building over the past 20 years.