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6th November 2023
We are thrilled that the B.C. government has followed through and transferred responsibility for B.C.’s precious water and fish out of the Forests Ministry and into the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship!

The provincial government previously announced to much fanfare the creation of the new portfolio and splitting up of the behemoth Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. But the new ministry was only given a planning mandate, with decision-making authority on water allocation, fisheries management, land tenures and flood control kept in the Ministry of Forests. That all changed this month.

The Water Sustainability Act is now under the purview of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Minister Nathan Cullen, along with the Land Act, Wildlife Act and 24 others. Freshwater fisheries, marine fisheries, aquaculture and wild salmon management also come under the new ministry.

“This is great news,” says Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch’s executive director. “It was very dysfunctional having our water and freshwater fisheries being managed by the Ministry of Forests while the minister responsible for fisheries and water could only provide advice and didn’t actually have any decision-making authority on those things. Now we know who’s in charge.”

The schism was apparent during this year’s unprecedented and devastating drought, when public messages were coming from the Minister of Emergency Preparedness, Bowinn Ma, and water conservation orders from the Ministry of Forests, while the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Stewardship was missing in action.

We and our allies launched the CodeBlue BC campaign in 2020 recognizing the urgent need to reform B.C.’s approach to water and watershed management.

Our work through CodeBlue BC and the B.C. Watershed Security Coalition led the province to commit to a B.C. Watershed Security Strategy, invest $57 million into watershed restoration and monitoring work, and develop a $100-million Watershed Security Fund. Government has also created a new role of Parliamentary Secretary for Watershed Restoration.

The provincial government says the changes to the ministries advance its goals of working in partnership with First Nations, responding to climate change, and supporting sustainable economic development, as well as ensuring B.C. resources benefit local communities and people.

They also allow the Forests Ministry to focus on transforming the sector to ensure a “resilient and sustainable land base.” This is important, as decades of excessive clearcut logging have severely affected flow and temperature patterns in our salmon rivers while increasing the frequency and severity of downstream flood risk.

In his mandate letter to Cullen when he was appointed minister, Premier David Eby said the ministry mandate is to ensure “that we are operating on the land in a way that ensures sustainability for future generations.”

We have seen the impacts of short-term thinking on the British Columbia land base – exhausted forests, poisoned water, and contaminated sites,” Eby wrote. “These impacts don’t just cost the public money to clean up and rehabilitate, they threaten the ability of entire communities to thrive and succeed.”

We couldn’t agree more! We will be working with Minister Cullen and his staff, pushing them to honour that mandate in the months and years to come.

CodeBlue BC has three key asks:

Get tough on water wasters and polluters.
Give local people the power to restore and manage their local water sources.
Establish a permanent source of watershed security funding for B.C.