Two Decades of Success

POLIS Water Sustainability Project turns 20!

Published On: February 14th, 2023

Old enough to drive, vote and, yes, even have a drink. That’s right, the POLIS Water Sustainability Project is turning 20 this year! And what a long, strange trip it has been…

We are thrilled to be celebrating this milestone and couldn’t have made it this far without the support of our colleagues, partners, funders, and water leaders across B.C. (and beyond!) who give of their time and energy and continually champion our work. Thank you!

Gathered outside our early office at University House 4 on the University of Victoria campus.

Back in 2003, the POLIS “Urban Water Demand Management Project” was a small-scale operation with a team of one (an up-and-coming researcher named Oliver Brandes with an interest in economics, law, and ecology). It started from an idea from Dr. Michael M’Gonigle, who sensed that fresh water was on the cusp of being a major issue across Canada, and especially in British Columbia. (How correct he was!)

Our focus quickly broadened to include fundamental governance issues—including long-term, comprehensive, watershed-based planning and innovative institutional and ecosystem-based legal reforms. To reflect this change, we changed our name to the POLIS Water Sustainability Project in 2005.

Former Communications Director Ellen Reynolds and Oliver Brandes circa 2005

Two decades of hard work later—with extraordinary people, wonderful partnerships, and real opportunities to make an impact—we are inspired and empowered by the fact that our research and connections keep growing and the project keeps improving.

2023 will be a year of reminiscing, reflecting, celebrating, and looking ahead. We’ll be asking questions to help inform of our anniversary planning, like “What does ecological governance mean for you? What does water and watershed security mean for you? And how has this changed, or what have you learned, over the last 20 years?” Please stay tuned, as we look forward to engaging and hearing from you as well!

Participants at the fourth annual B.C. Water Leaders-Funders workshop in Merritt, B.C. in 2019, organized by POLIS, the B.C. Water Funders Collaborative, and the First Nations Fisheries Council.

We’re also looking forward to connecting with former colleagues and individuals who have shaped our history, to hosting anniversary events, and to doing some forward-thinking about how we can best continue to drive change towards a sustainable freshwater future.

We will be sending updates as the year progresses. And right now, we’d love your input as we develop and shape some of our anniversary materials.

Well Wishes and Stories

We would like to start collecting your well wishes and stories. Have you got a story about your experience working for or with the team at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project? Please contact Laura Brandes at [email protected]


Do you have any POLIS photos from the past 20 years? We’re collecting photographs from our history. If you have any photos that you’re willing to share, please send them to Shayla Auld at [email protected]

Family, friends, and event hosts from POLIS and the Centre for Global Studies celebrate Elder Ray Tony Charlie at his book launch for “In the Shadow of the Red Brick Building” in 2022. Photo: Kyle Charlie


If you used to work or volunteer at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, we would love to catch up with you! What adventures have you been on since leaving POLIS? What amazing jobs have you landed? What campaigns have you run? What books have you written? And, what skills or lessons from your POLIS days have you continued to carry with you? If you’re interested (and we hope you are), please email Laura Brandes at [email protected].