Season 2 Episode 3 - Watershed Security: A Vision for BC’s Future

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What would our future look like if the provincial and federal governments invested in a Watershed Security Fund?

We envision what that future could look like for communities across BC with Mayor Toni Boot from the District of Summerland, Brodie Guy, CEO of Coast Funds, Russell Myers Ross from Yunesit'in First Nation, and Coree Tull, co-chair of the BC Watershed Security Coalition.

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Transcript

Danielle | 0:00

I'm Danielle Paydli and this is the Freshwater Stream, a podcast about B.C.’s watersheds and the people who care about them. 

Coree | 0:10

It's 2032 and the important investments in watershed security the provincial and federal governments made 10 years ago, in 2022, have allowed B.C. to get out in front of the water crisis, saving us billions of dollars and major challenges in the future. Workers of all skills are employed in the watershed sector, new businesses have sprung up across B.C. and regional colleges are preparing a new generation of British Columbians for good jobs in the restoration economy. 

Our communities are stronger, more livable, healthy, and are climate ready. Salmon have been given a fighting chance, barriers to their ability to swim upstream have been reduced and critical spawning habitats restored. 

B.C. has increased its food security and is a leader in sustainable agriculture and innovation. Importantly, the provincial and federal governments have partnered to create a BC Watershed Security Fund. This fund has become an economic engine.

We are also seeing how collaborative watershed stewardship between Indigenous and non Indigenous communities has become a model for the rest of Canada. The decision being made in 2022 to invest in watershed security has created a legacy for all British Columbians to enjoy.

Danielle | 1:25  

You've just heard a vision described by Coree Tull, co-chair of the Watershed Security Coalition. The coalition has been pushing for a Watershed Security Fund since their formation in the spring of 2020 but there have been many First Nations guardians and local champions within the water community who have been voicing this need for over a decade. Now, the B.C. government has actually committed to this in their mandates. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. We need to ensure this promise becomes an on-the-ground reality for our communities. The vision Coree describes is really inspiring — she has shared what is possible if we truly invest in our watersheds. What I want to know, is how do we get there from where we are today? To try to answer that I talked to her and to three other movers and shakers in the water world.

Coree | 2:11 

My name's Coree Tull and I am the co-chair of the BC Watershed Security Coalition. I live in the China Creek Urban Watershed on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. 

Brodie | 2:24

My name is Brodie Guy. I'm the CEO of Coast Funds. And I live in the Comox First Nations traditional territory. My home watershed is the Comox Lake Watershed. It's over 460 square kilometres and the top of the Comox Glacier known as Kwénis (Queneesh) in the mountains down to the sea and Comox Bay. 

Toni | 2:44

My name is Toni Boot. I'm the Mayor of the District of Summerland. I live on the traditional unceded and ancestral territory of the Sylix Okanagan peoples. And most of the waters that we have coming into the District of Summerland comes from the Eneas Creek watershed and the Trout Creek watershed.

Russ | 3:08  

My name is Russell Myers Ross. I’m from Yunesit'in First Nation which is part of the Tsilhqot'in Nation and I'm from Dasiqox and Tŝilhqox Biny. My investment is really in two watersheds, one is considered Dasiqox and another is the Tŝilhqox, Tŝilhqox Biny. But they form essentially, what I consider the lungs of our territory. And so about a quarter of the salmon that reside in B.C. will come from our watershed. Many grizzly bear depend on it, you have often eagles up and down the river and the watershed. It's just a beautiful place. 

Danielle | 3:55

As you can tell we have a lot of knowledge and expertise on the line with us today. Let’s start off by hearing from our guests about what a secure watershed means and what this promised fund should, or could, look like in our communities.

Coree | 4:09

A Watershed Security Fund will allow communities to do better planning and monitoring, to make better decisions about what happens in their watersheds, and restore the natural defense systems like wetlands, streams and forests that are critical in making our communities more healthy, resilient, and secure to future climate events. We really need to see this in Budget 2023.

Brodie | 4:31  

What's exciting about the vision that everyone has for the Watershed Security Fund is really, for me, the bringing together of people with different perspectives. There's so much diversity across the province and the idea of the fund is to create a platform for communities to work together around the vision that they have of where the watersheds are today and restore them, enhance them, conserve and protect them, and steward them for our kids and the generations that are born yet. 

When we look at continuing the development of the province in creating meaningful work for all of us, we need to also think about how we do that in the right way.

Russ | 5:19  

I see this as an investment to understand a watershed. For myself, it's really just trying to understand the network of relations that make up a watershed and a water body and ensuring that it's, you know, at least for my territory, I want to know that the water is clean. I want to know that it's regulated. And especially, in times, it was incredibly more unpredictable from climate change to just the way humans are interacting with watersheds. Just being able to have a better picture or views so that we're able to either prevent or give monitoring data so that we can actually have preventative activities that ensure its safety into the future.

Danielle | 6:02

It feels like there is some momentum right now. People throughout the province are coming together and talking about watersheds - not only about the direct health of our lakes and rivers but all that vital land surrounding them. So what’s happening? Why are we talking about this now? 

Coree | 6:18 

Our watersheds are the foundation of our health, our security and prosperity in B.C. Prioritizing watershed security is so critically important right now. We've seen an unprecedented year of climate related disasters in the province. And we're seeing firsthand how poorly planned development in our watersheds over the past decades are creating these really serious problems for communities, which are being amplified by a changing climate. And it just continues to remind us that now is the time to see bold investments in watershed security. And communities are on the frontline of these crises, so they need resources and support now.

Danielle | 6:55  

I think we, as a community of people who care about their water, can get on board with this vision and the importance of this fund. So let’s dig into the idea behind this Fund, the importance of funding watersheds in the province and how much is needed to make this a reality.

Toni | 7:11 

Basically, the whole idea of the Watershed Security Fund is that it's a program that will support the return to health in watersheds throughout British Columbia. And it's really important that it be a sustainable fund. If you take a household budget, and you have children, and you're looking toward their future, one of the things that you might decide to do to accommodate the expenses that you know are coming, is you might decide that you want to open up a Registered Education Savings Plan. 

And so every month or every paycheck, you put a bit of money into that particular fund. As the child grows, the income or the interest on that plan continues to grow. And so that is a way, I guess, it's a bit of an analogy of how something like this can create sustainable funding over a long period of time. And what is also critical, is making sure that this is something that, regardless of whether or not there's a change in government, that this funding continues.

Coree | 8:35

Based on community surveys and the experience of programs like the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, the BC Watershed Security Coalition has been calling for an annual investment of $75 million to ensure measurable province-wide impacts on the ground. Funding at this scale helps to leverage additional funds as well. And we've seen this through other watershed projects and communities, that, for every dollar invested by the provincial government, another $4 can be leveraged from other funding sources. But just as important as the scale is the need for the funding to be sustainable over time. A government fund for watersheds that ends in two or three years will really achieve limited long-term impact and the areas that we need support — rebuilding our natural defenses, strengthening watershed governance and partnerships, and bolstering collaborative monitoring — all require long-term predictable investments to be effective.

Danielle | 9:33

And if this is done at the scale in which it needs to be done, what would that mean for folks living and working in the watershed? 

Coree | 9:41

There was an economic report that was released in 2021, called Working for Watersheds, and it really highlighted the opportunity and the benefit right now to investing in our watersheds. The watershed sector in B.C. is comparable with other sectors, like the agriculture, mining, oil and gas and it currently employs 50,000 British Columbians. The diversity of the jobs in the watershed sector vary from you know, watershed planners or heavy machinery operators to Indigenous guardians, ecologists to software developers. The Watershed Security Fund really could be a huge boost for jobs in B.C. It can support training opportunities for youth to ensure that workers have the skills to fill these roles and it could really support a just transition for underemployed resource workers. And we've seen that investing in watershed security provides an opportunity for rewarding employment in the watershed sector, which also results in meaningful social, environmental and economic impacts within people's home communities.

Danielle | 10:43

All of you have talked about the importance of this process being collaborative between First Nations communities and the Province. How do you see that unfolding as a provincial Watershed Security Fund is developed?

Brodie | 10:57

The Watershed Security Funds allows some really great sustainable economic development to happen. Our experience with Coast Funds has really shown that the leadership of Indigenous people is so vital to creating a positive path forward as communities and local economies and feeding into the overall benefits to all of Canadian society. We've seen amazing and inspiring stories of people coming back home, working as stewards and stewardship and creating like a whole new economy around conservation and Indigenous-led stewardship on the coast of B.C. 

Toni | 11:35

Water is such a huge part of the Sylix culture, and probably other First Nations cultures in British Columbia as well. And so it needs to be, in my view, it needs to be Indigenous led. So that means partnering, beyond consultation, beyond engagement, but actually partnering and working collaboratively with Indigenous knowledge keepers that have that Traditional knowledge on how to steward and restore the health of our watersheds.

Russ | 12:12

I think the connection to the land, like my connection to salmon and our dependence on it, you know, for 1000’s of years, and wanting to continue that line is really what's important for Indigenous people. And I think one of the things that Indigenous people can get out is more around the narrative. We base a lot of the relationships and a connection, you know, in a physical way, because we eat it, in a spiritual way, because we honor it and we try to give thanks to it, so that it always returns. 

But then I think the storytelling aspect of knowing that there's a story about salmon, knowing that there’s an origin. That's I think, what will be the net effect of having that knowledge there, you know, it's not looked at in terms of biological biodiversity. No, it's instead a relationship with the land.

Danielle | 13:04

It feels like this is a critical time for watersheds. A time that could make a literal world of difference for our kids and their kids. At the start of this episode, we heard Coree’s vision for watershed security in B.C. What do the rest of you think could be accomplished 10 to 15 years from now if we invest today in watershed security? What vision motivates you?

Toni | 13:29

I would like to see complete health restoration to the watersheds. And what does that look like? It means that there is closure of inactive logging roads, that there is real collaboration with Indigenous people on managing the forests, including strategic fire management. I'd like to see that there is an across-the-province understanding of the value of ecosystem services in terms of natural assets, whether it's sequestering carbon, or providing habitat.

Russ | 14:16  

In 10 years, I'd see a greater understanding of watersheds. And then secondly, with Indigenous people being in that lead role. I see more education around the level of relationships and understanding.

Brodie | 14:33

It's exciting to think about the platform of the Watershed Security Fund in getting back to thinking about how we live within our ecosystems, but in a modern way. That we can create the types of employment that's meaningful for ourselves and for our children, and to put our society in a great path and learn from the past. And that means learning from the last 200 years what didn't go well, what would we do differently, and then getting back to ancestral ways of stewardship that are why we have beauty and the natural values in this province. You know, we call it supernatural B.C. Why is it that — it's because people have cared for it for 1000’s of years. 

And we're so lucky to be here and to live here. So 15 years from now, I think about new industries, new economies that are shaped with the grounding of communities thinking about watersheds. Talking and having sometimes difficult conversations, but like really meaningful ones, to get a vision forward, where we actually build something that's resilient and healthy for all of us in the future. And I think about my kids 15 years from now — they're going to be working in jobs. You know, I work at Coast Funds. That didn't exist when I was a kid growing up, right? So what's going to be existing 15 years from now? This puts us on a path of creating the kinds of things that we can't even dream about yet. I'm just so excited about the potential of all of this.

Danielle | 15:53

Taking a look into our possible future with all these amazing visionaries has been an inspiration. And I'm ready, and I hope that everyone else is as well, to dig in and make this happen for my watershed and for my neighboring watersheds across the province. If you want to get involved, visit the CodeBlue BC website where there are easy to use tools for sending an email or making a phone call to decision makers and asking them to defend B.C.'s watersheds. As always a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to this podcast: Coree Tull, Russell Meyers Ross, Toni Boot and Brodie Guy. 

And thanks to all of our listeners who have helped us become a five star rated podcast. If you haven't already, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen — it really helps to grow our community of listeners. If you'd like to contribute to this podcast or to all the great work that's happening to keep our watersheds healthy, you can go to freshwateralliance.ca or CodeBluebc.ca and donate. This has been a Canadian Freshwater Alliance production in collaboration with our partners Watershed Watch Salmon Society and, as always, a special shout out to the audio genius of Mr. Brenden MacDonald.