POLIS celebrates World Water Day 2024

UVic event included film premier, networking, and panel discussion

Published On: March 28th, 2024

On the eve of this year’s World Water Day, POLIS hosted a bustling networking event, a lively panel discussion about freshwater management and governance, and the premiere of the film Changing Course: A River’s Journey of Reconnection (2024).

POLIS Communications Director Laura Brandes opens the event. March 21, 2024.

Laura Brandes (Communications Director, POLIS Project) addressed the audience gathered at the University of Victoria campus to open the event and Jon O’Riordan (POLIS Strategic Policy Advisor and former Deputy Minister, B.C. Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management) introduced the new documentary. Changing Course tells the story of the 2,000-kilometre transboundary Columbia River and was co-produced with Frances Litman (Founder & Creative Director, Creatively United for the Planet).

Jon O’Riordan introduces the speakers. March 21, 2024.

The film features leading voices from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, who eloquently express the need for new approaches to water management and governance for the Columbia that account for climate change, meaningfully include First Nations leadership, and are more connected to nature. Changing Course arrives at a vital time of renegotiation and modernization of the Columbia River Treaty. The agreement between Canada and the United States came into effect in 1964 and although the treaty has no fixed end date, its earliest termination (which requires 10 years notice) was set for 60 years after ratification: September 2024.

WATCH FILM (60min)

Before the screening, a tea and networking event brought together representatives from Creatively United, UVic Sustainability Project, UVic Environmental Law Centre, Borders in Globalization Project, Peninsula Streams & Shorelines, Cowichan Watershed Board, Xwulqw’selu Watershed Planning initiative, Xwulqw’selu Connections Research Lab, CIFAL Victoria, POLIS, and UVic’s Centre for Global Studies.

Networking at the World Water Day resource fair. March 21, 2024.

The film was followed by a panel discussion hosted by Laura Brandes and featuring guests Greg Utzig (Conservation Ecologist & Technical Advisor for the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Collaborative), Larry George (Director of Lulumexun—Lands & Self-Governance, Cowichan Tribes), and Katrina Adams (Senior Aquatic Biologist, Peninsula Streams and Shorelines).

Greg spoke about his work to bring back riparian areas around the edges of the Columbia’s reservoirs. His team is looking at floodplain-type forests that can withstand flooding while remaining intact as fully functioning ecosystems. If successful, this return of vegetation could also stabilize salmon habitats, many of which have been lost due to intense water fluctuations and flooding of the reservoirs. Greg said: “We need to stop thinking of rivers as infrastructure and think of them as natural systems. And we need to work to restore those systems.”

Larry, who grew up on the Cowichan River, explained that, from a Hul’q’umi’num perspective, “We are a relative to the water, and we look up and depend on the water. So, we need to be there to support and develop a relationship with the water so that we can work together and carry things on as they are meant to be.” He described the major changes in the Cowichan River’s water levels and temperature due to climate change, which has demanded various management techniques to maintain the minimal amount of flow and the salmon populations. Positive partnerships and collaboration between Cowichan Tribes, industry, NGOs, public interest groups, and the B.C. government have offered hope for the future of the Cowichan River, but much of the work has yet to begin and many discussions remain to be had.

Katrina facilitates and participates in freshwater habitat restoration in the urbanized environment of Greater Victoria. Native vegetation loss, damage from agricultural practices, and an influx of invasive species have reduced fish populations and biodiversity rates in many local freshwater ecosystems. One of her new projects in collaboration with Tsartlip First Nation is to restore a half-kilometer section of Hagan Creek, which lies within Máwueć, an important village site. The project’s goals, she said, include “reconnecting the floodplain, and trying to establish a wetland area in the riparian zone… (and increasing) the populations of coastal cutthroat trout.”


The POLIS Water Sustainability Project team joined by film producers Jon O’Riordan and Frances Litman and the three guest speakers, Larry George, Katrina Adams, and Greg Utzig. March 21, 2024.

POLIS offers heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported this event and made our World Water Day Eve gathering beautiful and meaningful. The POLIS team hopes this networking event, film premier, and panel discussion sparked further thought and conversation around how we can come together to “change course” on the way we manage freshwater ecosystems.