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27th April 2023
Okanagan Basin Water Board wants provincial watershed fund to be 10 times larger

Cindy White
April 24, 2023

The Okanagan Basin Water Board argues the B.C. government’s Watershed Security Strategy and Fund doesn’t go far enough.

The OBWB submitted a letter to the province in response to its call for input on the WSSF Intentions Paper.

“In general, we applaud the vision of the document, but we believe it over-promises without recognizing the inherent conflicts among water needs and watershed uses, and the lack of capacity at all levels of government and society,” says the board in the letter.

“We’re encouraged by the recognition about the importance of healthy watersheds to the well-being of the province, for drinking water, for the environment, and everything we cherish,” said Anna Warwick Sears, Executive Director for the OBWB. “It also seems like they’re taking a big step forward in reconciliation with First Nations and that’s all positive. Where we have the biggest questions are around the funding. They’re going to need a whole lot more.”

The province plans to kick off the new fund with a $100 million endowment, with the interest being used to pay for projects.

“That works out to about $5 million a year. And while the intention is to have the initial $100 million endowment matched by federal and philanthropic dollars, the earnings distributed will still be a far cry from what’s required to implement a strategy of this scope, Sears added.

She says that regardless of where the funding comes from, it needs to be at least 10 times larger.

Among the recommendations made by the OBWB in its letter to the government is a call for support for local governments in delivering water management and the need for the province to address conflicting ministerial mandates (e.g. in forestry, mining, range and recreation) and a commitment to protect water quality as a top priority. The board also says water supply conflicts must be faced directly and openly, "including acknowledgement that First Nations are B.C.’s first water users and the “First In Time, First In Right” rules within B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act must be amended to accommodate Indigenous priority rights, while also addressing other water needs, including agriculture”.

It’s calling for the development of a draft implementation plan that addresses capacity needs at all levels and that it be released for review and comment as soon as possible.

According to the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, it is compiling feedback to its Intentions Paper as it develops a final Watershed Security Strategy for B.C. The strategy is expected to launch in winter 2023/24.

In 2021 and 2022, the OBWB made submissions to the B.C. government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, recommending a permanent Watershed Security Fund, distributing $75 mill. per year.

“If watershed security is a priority to B.C., and I believe it is, it must be funded to reflect that priority,” Sears added.