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7th September 2023

Effort needs to go into creating water sustainability plans, probably annually in priority areas, he said. There also needs to be a provincial drought plan that links to local efforts and builds collaborative relationships with First Nations and through regional watershed boards. “The locals in most cases have a very good handle on the kinds of solutions needed,” he said.

Important shift, poorly managed: former NDP cabinet minister

In 2016 the Water Sustainability Act was an important step forward with worthy goals, but so far the implementation has been poorly executed, said Joan Sawicki, a land-use and community sustainability consultant who served as Speaker and the minister of environment, lands and parks in NDP governments in the 1990s.

“There were many compromises, but it signalled a shift away from sector-based thinking to recognizing that, by its very nature, water demands integrated management on a watershed basis,” she said in an email.

The Water Sustainability Act was intended to update the province’s strategy for protecting, managing and using water. It allows the government to allocate water use so that streams and aquifers can be managed to keep them sustainable, not just for people and businesses who use the water, but for fish and other wildlife that depend on having enough.

Groundwater licensing was a key step towards tracking who is using how much and for what, necessary information so the government can manage water sustainably, Sawicki said. “Now, six years down the line, clearly, implementation of this key initiative has thus far been a failure.”

It’s possible to blame the government for failing to make it a priority, as well as water users for failing to pay attention and apply, she said.

But there’s a deeper problem that led to the failure and that needs to be resolved, Sawicki said. “In my opinion, a root cause of this failure is that water continues to be scattered across too many ministries. Decision-making doesn’t reflect the inherent nature of water and therefore can’t deliver on the objectives of the WSA.”

For a time there was hope that the new Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship would be the fix, she said. “But, if integrative things are happening, it’s not evident yet.” Some of the policy work moved to the new ministry, but decisions about allocation, such as the groundwater licensing system, were left in forests. “How does that make sense to anyone?”

It’s a “structural disconnect” that the government needs to address, said Sawicki. “The most immediate need is to appoint ‘someone’ to take comprehensive charge of the groundwater licensing mess. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There needs to one minister/agency with the clear mandate and responsibility to co-ordinate decisions across ministries to ensure water sustainability.”

There’s a limited amount of water and it’s essential for human health and safety, fish and ecosystem health, economic development, community resilience and Indigenous reconciliation, she said. “It’s all the same water and it is under increasing stress,” she said. “That won’t change. So our management structures must.”

A spokesperson for the Water Ministry said it led the development of the drought response plan that guides the actions that the Forests Ministry and the Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Ministry are now taking.

The current focus of the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship’s work is to support cross-ministry work to step up provincial action in response to drought and longer-term planning, and to ensure alignment with the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Forests-led regional response teams, Ministry of Emergency Management and Rlimate readiness, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and other ministries as required,” they said.

Much work has been underway over the past few years to better protect B.C.’s watersheds and ecosystems, and there’s more to come, they said. “Recognizing climate change, the ministry will work with [other] ministries, First Nations and partners to continue developing longer-term drought actions that focus on preparedness, mitigation and response.”

Brandes at UVic said leadership is needed and the work to better manage water is long overdue. “We haven’t got there yet,” he said. “We’re seven years into the new act and I think we’ve got to hit turbo boost here because the weather isn’t going to get any easier.”

On Amara Farm, the focus is on getting through the current drought before doing what they can to prepare themselves for the future.

There are still weeks to go in the growing season and rain is unlikely to arrive soon enough, Hamir said. “It’s only August and we don’t normally start getting rains until late September, early October. This is only going to get worse and it’s really, really scary.”

The government needs to treat the drought as the crisis that it is, she said. In other crises officials tend to show up offering assurance that they are there to help. With some exceptions, like the Agriculture Ministry’s efforts to help secure feed for livestock, that hasn’t been the case for farmers during the drought, she said. “We seem to be getting punitive things happening rather than support.” [Tyee]