NEWS RELEASE: March 6, 2023
BC Watershed Security Coalition
Victoria, B.C. Lək̓ʷəŋən Territory; Watershed groups are celebrating the BC Government’s announcement to kick start the watershed security fund with $100 million in Budget 2023.This investment formalizes the BC First Nations Water Table’s (BCFNWT) role co-managing the Watershed Security Fund and further co-development of BC ‘s watershed security strategy.
Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum has been working on watershed security for decades and is co-chair of the BCFNWT. “Co-developing the watershed security strategy and fund with First Nations, supported by the First Nations Fisheries Council of BC, signals an important shift,” Hwitsum said. “This brings the opportunity for watershed governance that values, honours and upholds the natural world we all mutually rely on.”
Coree Tull, co-chair of the Watershed Security Coalition (WSC), a non-partisan, diverse coalition of 48 organizations representing 255,000 British Columbians, said, “we are encouraged to see the Province taking real leadership on watershed security with this initial kick-start to the BC watershed security fund.“
Tull noted that decades of degradation in watersheds are putting the health and security of communities at risk. “The climate crisis is a water crisis”, said Tull. “Immediate action and funding are needed to make our communities stronger and more resilient to the impacts of floods, fires and droughts”.
Coalition members point out that investments in watershed security build on crucial work funded in the past few years through the Healthy Watersheds (HWI) and Indigenous Watersheds Initiatives (IWI). Provincial funding in 2020 and 2021 strengthened the resilience of communities in the face of extreme climate events, created thousands of jobs and training opportunities, supported food security and advanced the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and reconciliation across the province.
Tara Marsden of the Gitanyow (Gitksan) people is a UNDRIP Fellow with the Real Estate Foundation of BC and was the senior Indigenous advisor to HWI. Marsden is optimistic that the government recognizes and funds Indigenous water stewardship and co-governance as per UNDRIP Article 18; Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as maintain and develop their own Indigenous decision-making institutions. “This investment will not only advance reconciliation, but it demonstrates a willingness to take global leadership on implementing UNDRIP”, said Marsden.
“BC’s watersheds are the lifeblood of this province, and for too long, not enough has been done to protect them,” said Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. “This $100-million investment and our ongoing work with First Nations on co-developing a watershed security strategy will inspire philanthropists and other partners to help grow the fund and ensure we have healthy ecosystems and communities today and for our children’s children.”
Dedicated funding is essential for the long-term sustainability of fish, wildlife and habitat. Organizations like the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) are partnering with Indigenous communities across BC on habitat restoration projects intended to mitigate the effects of industrial development and climate change. Jesse Zeman, executive director of the BCWF, stressed that “dedicated funding is the norm across North America” and said, “after decades of advocacy and boots-on-the-ground restoration work, it’s great to see the Province of British Columbia take leadership on this issue.”
The freshwater community, including Indigenous leaders and water funders, have called for long-term sustainable investments in our watersheds. Today’s investment lays the foundation for a plan that supports building healthy and resilient watersheds in every corner of British Columbia.