The provincial government has floated $100 million to help protect watersheds in British Columbia through a permanent fund as part of a watershed security strategy currently in the pipeline.
Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen said far too many watersheds are threatened.
“We must not fail to act and leave these precious watersheds vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” he said during a news conference Monday (March 6).
“We know that healthy watersheds are resilient buffers for climate change, because they can reduce and at times prevent the impacts and costs related to the floods, droughts and wildfires.”
Cullen said healthy watersheds also support the needs of First Nations, industry and communities, adding that the fund will grow through donations from the philanthropic sector and industry, which has an interest in healthy watersheds.
The fund represents the central piece of the new watershed security strategy, which the provincial government is currently co-developing with First Nations through the B.C.-First Nations Water Table.
Working together achieves better outcomes for all sides, Cullen said alongside Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum, president of First Nations Fisheries Council Hugh Braker, Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation Chief Jerry Jack and Tsawout First Nation Mavis Underwood.
Environment Minister George Hyman, Parliamentary Secretary for Environment Kelly Greene and Parliamentary Secretary for Watershed Restoration Fin Donnelly were also present.
The strategy and fund is to launch in the fall with implementation taking place in the winter, following consultations after the release of the so-called Intentions Paper, which sums up policy development so far. Stakeholders have until April 17 to submit feedback on the report.
Braker predicts future discussions to be difficult because of competing interests from ranching, fishery and other users.
“Everybody wants a big share of fresh water but we also know that we cannot fail.”
He later pointed to various flash-points along the Fraser River watershed covering two-thirds of the province as well as the Okanagan-Similkameen watershed.
A series of reports by the World Wildlife Foundation released over the years have identified watersheds along the Fraser River, Okanagan-Similkameen and Columbia River basin among the most threatened in B.C.
BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau called the $100 million fund a start.
“I think the $100 million is a recognition that we need to take the protection of watersheds seriously,” she said. “You can’t have sustainable employment if you don’t have health watersheds.”
Furstenau also called for designated community drinking watershed protections, which no longer exist, as well as further resources to First Nations impacted so they can take fully part in the process.
“That has to come with sustainable funding for First Nation communities and Indigenous communities.”