The State of the Water Movement in BC

Susi Porter-Bopp, BC Freshwater Alliance, Aug 13 2013

Did you know that British Columbia is home to nearly 450 environmental groups and organizations, over half of which are working on fresh water protection?

But who is BC’s freshwater community? We’re more than 230 groups and organizations working to protect the waters of BC, and include everyone from watershed groups that focus on restoration, education, and/or children’s programs, to First Nations organizations, fishing and recreation clubs, groups that are seeking to influence decision-making, and groups and organizations that already play some sort of decision-making role in their local watershed.

A new report by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance The State of the Water Movement in British Columbia: A Waterscape Scan & Needs Assessment released in June 2013, paints a fascinating picture of BC’s “water world.” The report is based on in-depth interviews with a handful of non-governmental water and First Nations leaders and an electronic survey completed by grassroots and First Nations groups and organizations working on fresh water issues across the province.

Four highlights from the report:

Not surprising, BC’s water groups tend to be community-oriented and are primarily engaging in grassroots-type of organizing and stewardship activities. The majority of BC’s freshwater community (90 per cent of survey respondents), are focused on local initiatives in our home waters. And while the bulk of resources for water protection tend to be directed at major urban centres, groups are very active in rural and semi-rural areas of BC.
The majority of us are engaged in advocacy activities at various scales: nearly three-quarters of responding groups said they focus on influencing government decisions. Other major areas of activity include education and awareness-raising (which 97 per cent of groups say they focus on) and water quality issues (74 per cent). Beyond these three there is no single area of focus that stands out: water quantity (53 percent), information gathering (58 per cent), policy initiatives (53 per cent), restoration (44 per cent) and conservation (7 per cent).
Hot button fresh water issues in BC:
Water Act Modernization – The need to overhaul the 100-plus year-old Water Act and the legislative opportunity for more robust protection and decision-making in water governance in the province.

First Nations land and water Rights and Title – Unlike other provinces, the Government of BC does not have modern-day treaties with the majority of First Nations who have been living here for thousands of years. This unresolved jurisdiction makes for unclear roles and responsibilities for First Nations in BC over water, in particular rights and shared decision-making.
Other key issues include the rapid pace of resource extraction activities (specifically liquefied natural gas and fracking), climate change, water for salmon, fish, and ecosystems, source water protection, and cumulative effects.

Wanted: local control. First Nations, local watershed groups, environmental and community groups, and local citizen respondents believe that as a freshwater community, we have limited to no influence on decision-making. Perhaps this explains the “strong appetite” within the BC freshwater community for greater local involvement in decision-making on local water bodies, and for institutions such as watershed boards that can bring together various stakeholders within a watershed.
BC’s collective freshwater movement “is still very much in its infancy,” the report notes. “However, the foundations of a broad and powerful social movement are certainly in place. With appropriate capacity, support, and opportunities for groups to connect and coordinate, this movement could evolve from a loose network of organizations into a strong and united voice for change.”

Document Date: 13 Aug 2013
Author: Oliver Brandes & Tim Morris