Few people in BC are as familiar and intimate with our local waters as British Columbia’s freshwater community. Yet as First Nations, paddlers, anglers, stewardship groups, and ENGOs, we do not often seem to have a say in how decisions are made about our favourite water bodies.
A 2010 public opinion poll revealed that over 60 percent of British Columbians feel that the way we currently manage water is not sufficient to ensure the future of our fresh waters. 98 percent of British Columbians recognize that fresh water is critical to our well-being, and 88 percent reported being concerned about impacts of water shortages to streams, rivers and salmon habitat.
As water lovers, by now we have all heard that the provincial government is working to overhaul our century-old Water Act (the main set of laws that deal with how we use our freshwater resources in British Columbia). BC’s old Water Act was written in 1909, when BC was seen as a vast landscape of untapped resources. The laws largely tuned out First Nations peoples and their claims to title over lands, and didn’t consider that harm might come to ecosystems from improper stewardship. But, the times they are a-changing. A growing population and shifting demographics, booming industrial activity across the province, and a changing climate creating uncertainty around our hydrological patterns all point to the need to update our Water Act.
In 2008, the provincial government announced its Living Water Smart plan, which promised long-needed changes to the Province’s rules for allocating water. Updating, or “modernizing” the Water Act is an essential part of delivering the Living Water Smart vision. We were supposed to see the first draft of the new Water Sustainability Act last year, but without a louder call from ourselves and the public, it’s likely that changes will continue to be slow to come.
What BC's Freshwater Community Can Do The provincial government made a pre-May 2013 election commitment to follow through on drafting the new Water Sustainability Act. The June 2013 mandate letter for BC’s new Minister of Environment seems to indicate this pledge still stands. We need to ensure the government makes good on its promise by reminding decision-makers and our elected representatives of their duty to consult with First Nations and recognize Aboriginal Rights and Title in developing the new Water Sustainability Act, and of the commitments that were made in Living Water Smart, including:
•Water laws that will improve the protection of ecological values, provide for more community involvement, and provide incentives to be water efficient;
•Legislation that will recognize water flow requirements for ecosystems and species, so that boats can float and fish are healthy and plentiful
•New approaches to water management that will address the impacts from a changing water cycle, increased drought risk and other impacts on water caused by climate change; and,
•Government regulation of groundwater use in priority areas and large groundwater withdrawals.
Let’s remember that the freshwater community is a powerful voice for speaking up! For more info, check out our upcoming webinar Towards A New Water Sustainability Act: An Update for BC's Freshwater Community.
This post is partially based on a presentation made at the Recreational Canoeing Association of BC’s Annual Paddling Conference in Hope, April 13, 2013 by Jesse Baltutis (POLIS Project on Ecological Governance), Sheila Muxlow (WaterWealth Project), and the Freshwater Alliance's Susi Porter-Bopp.