Yesterday, elected municipal leaders across British Columbia voted in favour of a new Water Governance Model Resolution. This blog post provides more detail on that decision and what passing this resolution will mean for the rest of us.
What’s the Water Governance Model Resolution?
Here it is word for word (read on for a simpler interpretation):
“Whereas UBCM has consistently advocated for providing water purveyors with greater control over the watersheds that provide drinking water to their communities; And whereas an integrated watershed governance approach that recognizes indigenous water rights and utilizes a collaborative, consensus building approach to decision making could provide a model that addresses community needs while balancing the resource and capacity limitations experienced by local governments and First Nations: Therefore be it resolved that the Province recognize and support local watershed collaborative governance entities and adequately resource these entities.”
In essence, the resolution is a transfer of resources and a sharing of responsibilities (from Province to Municipal) to allow for local governments, in partnership with First Nations and local watershed entities, to have the power to address community water needs and concerns locally.
Why is it needed?
Regional districts, municipalities and First Nation governments are closest to local issues and community concerns, with the significant responsibility of delivering drinking water to residents. Local governments are at the forefront of building relationships with key actors in the watershed and many are actively prioritizing reconciliation with First Nations. Some local governments support and fund data collection for watershed projects, gathering local information to support water-related decisions at all levels. This positions local leadership to be real champions for constituents and for watersheds.
However, resource and capacity constraints, as well as limited decision-making authority, have often ascribed local governments the label “creature of the Province”, obscuring the important role local representatives play in advancing innovative water governance solutions. If the Watershed Governance resolution is voted in, provincial resources will be allocated towards supporting local water purveyors and watershed governance entities to have greater influence over local watersheds and drinking water sources, the protection of which are vital for community health and safety, and economic well-being.
The resolution will ultimately enable a model of watershed governance that supports community water needs and recognizes Indigenous rights, while addressing the current capacity limitations experienced by local governments and First Nations. With support and resources from the Province of BC, the proposed Watershed Governance Model Resolution also helps to ensure the success of the Water Sustainability Act, by empowering local decision-makers to help prevent or mitigate water-related impacts and challenges where they live.
What are some of the ways municipalities can affect freshwater health?
Local Governments have a significant responsibility of delivering clean and safe drinking water for their residents. Municipalities can create bylaws around activities that affect freshwater health, such as land use and development. They can also show leadership in advocating for freshwater health, for example by establishing a Memorandum of Understanding with a local Indigenous community that outlines an intention to work together to advance freshwater health. Municipal government also has the capacity to support water management through funding science and research programs, and through advocacy (putting pressure on other levels of government to create better water management tools, for example).
The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) was formed as a way for local governments -- from the smallest rural communities to biggest metropolitan areas -- to have a common voice. Every year, a convention is held where all municipal governments participate in the creation of public policy. This year’s convention is happening right now, in Whistler, from September 10-14. At the convention, delegates vote on several resolutions that have been submitted by members in advance and accepted by a committee.
Multiple governments hold decision-making responsibilities when it comes to our drinking water and to truly respond to the growing pressures on BC watersheds, collaboration is needed between federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous watershed users.
The passing of this resolution on September 12 signals that our municipal leaders acknowledge the important role that local entities play in championing water protection and management. Given the limited resources that any one government or group has to lead the long-term monitoring, stewardship, reporting and public education around freshwater issues, elected representatives see an opportunity to share in the important work of water governance.