Drought Done Differently

Nicola leads way towards better drought management in B.C.

Published On: February 6th, 2024

February 7, 2024

Nicola Valley, Nłeʔkepmx and syilx territory: The urgency of finding new and better ways to mitigate, manage, and respond to drought has never been more pressing. Record-low snowpack levels persist across B.C. making a fourth consecutive year of significant drought a likely reality as we head into 2024. Local communities want and need new solutions to manage and safeguard fresh water. In the Nicola watershed, the Nk’eʔxép (Drought) Management Committee is setting a new path forward on drought, boldly shifting away from the status-quo provincial drought response toward an approach based on shared decision-making informed by Indigenous and Western knowledge and science.

Released today, the case study Nk’eʔxép Management Committee: Successes in Joint Decisions for Drought Prevention and Response in the Nicola Watershed showcases this new, joint approach and distills key learnings from the committee’s work to date. The case study celebrates successful collaboration among local partners, demonstrates the tangible impacts and benefits they have achieved for drought response and watershed health, and offers a valuable resource and lessons for other regions as they explore ways to improve drought management in their own watersheds.

The Nk’eʔxép Management Committee is an initiative of the Nicola Watershed Governance Partnership (NWGP), a government-to-government initiative between the B.C. provincial government and the five Nłeʔkepmx and syilx First Nations communities whose overlapping territories include the Nicola and Coldwater River watersheds.

“The Nicola River is culturally and spiritually invaluable to the Nłeʔkepmx and syilx First Nations. Through the Nk’eʔxép Management Committee, we’re partnering with the provincial government and local stakeholders to safeguard the health of the Nicola watershed, which, under recent environmental conditions, is at risk,” said Brian Holmes, NWGP Co-Chair. “For our people, qʷúʔ / siwɬkʷ (water)* is the inextricable link between our communities, resources, and lands, and represents the reciprocal interconnectedness of all life. Our sacred responsibility to protect qʷúʔ / siwɬkʷ and all that rely on it for present and future generations lies at the very foundation of our cultures, laws, and identities as Scw’exmx (People of the Creeks).”

Members of the Nicola Watershed Governance Partnership

The committee is driving changes that are building greater security and resilience for ecosystems and people alike, and which must inform a modernized approach to the provincial drought program. The three key learnings so far are:

  1. Indigenous science indicators alongside Western science indicators provide a holistic, place-based approach to assessing drought impacts and a strong basis for making shared decisions.
  2. Tough decisions about drought are best made locally, based on constant communication, strong relationships, and deep trust.
  3. Drought response and managing water use is one part of a larger approach; drought resilience must include a suite of prevention, mitigation, and restoration measures.

“The droughts B.C. has experienced in recent years have had far-reaching and devastating impacts for watersheds and communities, including impacts to drinking water supply, food security, Indigenous rights, salmon and other fish, and local economies,” said Rosie Simms, report co-author and Director of Place-Based Initiatives at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies. “The Nk’eʔxép Management Committee is showing an inspiring and integrated path forward on drought and should inform a modernized provincial drought program that is proactive and builds community resilience.”

Very low water in the Coldwater River during early September drought, 2023

“Headlines about fish in distress, groundwater wells running dry, and low flows in rivers and creeks all point to the complex challenges and tough decisions the communities have been navigating,” said Eric Valdal, NWGP Co-Chair, Province of B.C. “The Nk’eʔxép Management Committee is helping find better ways forward. People who live in the watershed have become champions for action, and successful collaboration with local water users has led to voluntary water use reductions and earlier action.”

The Nk’eʔxép Management Committee will continue to evolve in the years ahead and the case study is a snapshot that summarizes insights and learnings from the work to date. It was co-published by the Nicola Watershed Governance Partnership and the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project, with support from BC Water Legacy.

*Qʷúʔ is the word for water in Nłeʔkepmxcín, the language of the Nłeʔkepmx people; siwɬkʷ is the word for water in nsyilxcən, the language of the syilx people.

Media contact:
Aimee Arsenault (Nicola Watershed Governance Partnership) at [email protected].

More information:
Download Case Study
NWGP Drought Resources