POLIS Water Sustainability Project

Newsletter: WINTER 2011 EDITION

Moving Towards Water Sustainability in BC

Over the past two and a half years, the provincial government has been in open dialogue with the public as the Province navigates the reform of British Columbia's century-old Water Act. The POLIS Water Team has been active throughout the Water Act Modernization (WAM) process, providing research and feedback to the Ministry of Environment at every stage. This has included detailed applied water governance research; research and support for an NGO Statement of Expectations supported by almost 30 of British Columbia’s key environmental organizations, as well as a more recent detailed follow-up analysis on progress; the appointment of team leader and POLIS Co-Director, Oliver M. Brandes, to the Ministry's Water Act Modernization Technical Advisory Committee; ongoing engagement with staff, key groups, and sectors across British Columbia; and, most recently, two detailed submissions in response to government proposals.

The December 2010 release of the Ministry's Policy Proposal on British Columbia's New Water Sustainability Act offers insight into the direction Government is considering. In the most recent POLIS WAM submission, the Water Team commends the Living Water Smart Team on progress in a number of areas:

  • groundwater regulation and licensing;
  • attention to environmental flows;
  • use of economic instruments and “beneficial use” provisions to achieve efficiency gains;
  • monitoring and reporting requirements; and
  • the development of new tools and processes such as “provincial water objectives” and “area based decision-making.”

The submission also emphasizes four key aspects that require more attention and additional development if the goal of a modern Water Sustainability Act is to be achieved.

  • The priority of environmental flows over other non-essential human uses, and the need for clear binding and legally enforceable rules, as opposed to guidelines.
  • An allocation system that embeds the public trust to build resilience and avoid conflict.
  • Commitment to shared watershed governance to ensure those who are affected have a say in relevant decisions. Support for co-governance and substantive local participation on key water (and other resource) decisions must be enabled.
  • Accountability and oversight to provide British Columbians with transparency and confidence that what is promised will be done.

To inform the development of the final Water Sustainability Act, the Government is currently seeking feedback and direction on the policy proposal. The deadline for submissions is March 14, 2011. It is hoped that the new legislation will be released in 2012.

To further build capacity and engagement around the topic of water governance reform, the POLIS WSP team hosted a new, five-part webinar series from September 2010 to February 2011, Creating a Blue Dialogue: Canadian Water Governance into the 21st Century. The series helped promote and facilitate dialogue around the ongoing WAM process, specifically around the concept of the Public Trust Doctrine and the topic of environmental flows.

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Realizing the Vision in NWT

This past January, POLIS Co-Director Oliver M. Brandes joined leading water policy and law experts at a unique conference in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. As part of a three-year project funded by RBC’s Blue Water Project, the group gathered with leaders, key individuals and groups for a three-day conference. Attendees discussed the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy and strategic opportunities to implement the strategy and further the territory’s efforts to protect the Mackenzie River Basin.

The conference, Realizing the Vision, was facilitated by the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW) and hosted by the Territorial Government. Realizing the Vision presented an unparalleled opportunity for multi-disciplinary dialogue and knowledge sharing amongst a global group of water experts. The common vision of all those in attendance is the implementation of a groundbreaking, integrative water management strategy in NWT with elements that could, ultimately, be applied elsewhere in Canada.

The Northern Voices, Northern Waters Water Stewardship Strategy sets the stage for the next generation of Canadian water policy by incorporating ecological knowledge alongside the values and concerns of Aboriginal peoples, regional stakeholders, and governance bodies. At the conference, participants discussed the possible implications of devolution, the importance of developing strong transboundary relations, and the need for land and water boards to ensure effective implementation of the Strategy.

Staff from every level of the territorial government attended the conference – from the Minister of Environment/Finance, Michael Miltenberger, to the Deputy Minister, ADMs, Directors, and water policy analysts. Both the Premier, Floyd Royland, and former Premier, Steve Kakfwi, presented. Over 100 key leaders and community members attended the conference’s successful public forum. This public discussion focused on the precedent-setting elements of the Strategy, Indigenous water rights, and the centrality of water to the Aboriginal way of life. The public forum was recorded by The Walrus and can be viewed on their website.

An analysis of conference outcomes will be released in the Spring 2011 edition of the FLOW Monitor: Canadian Water Policy Watch. FLOW will also host a number of follow up discussions across Canada to highlight the importance of this precedent-setting strategy, and engage other regions in the possibility of significant reform and the move towards a national water strategy in Canada. Stay tuned!

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New Governance Research Released

Governance for Source Water Protection in Canada is a leading, Canadian Water Network collaborative research initiative led by Dr. Rob de Loë and run by the Water Policy and Governance Group at the University of Waterloo. The POLIS Water Sustainability Project is a project partner, with Oliver M. Brandes serving as a core member of the research team. In late 2010, researchers at the Water Policy and Governance Group released three new reports that highlight and discuss key emerging issues and knowledge gaps in water governance in Canada.

Challenges for Water Governance in Canada: A Discussion Paper outlines the main challenges faced by those engaged in collaborative water governance. Across the country, people are becoming more aware that governments, acting on their own and using conventional policy tools, will not be able to solve the complex water issues we are facing. Challenges for Water Governance in Canada examines the movement away from traditional governance approaches – which rely solely on governmental input – toward collaborative water governance. Collaborative governance involves actors both inside and outside government coming together to share information and resources. The paper identifies common challenges that are emerging in different contexts across Canada, and uses select examples from real-world water governance processes to illustrate how they are being addressed. Future reports and discussion papers will explore in greater detail the solutions to effectively address these identified challenges.

Exploring the Role of Policy Transfer in Water Governance: A Discussion Paper advances the case for a more strategic approach to policy transfer – one that is deliberate, purposeful and analytical. By drawing on existing insights on policy transfer and critically applying these insights to the field of water governance, this discussion paper outlines the major elements that shape transferability.

Water Challenges and Solutions for First Nations Communities summarizes major findings from an April 2010 workshop that explored water governance experiences in First Nations across Canada. The meeting brought together people familiar with the challenges and solutions of water governance in First Nations and provided a platform to share these insights with fellow First Nations communities and professionals.

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POLIS Water Sustainability Project