On behalf of One Cowichan, I was privileged to attend the inaugural meeting of the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Water Management and Governance Task Force, which took place on May 9th at the Quw’utsun Centre in Duncan.

Created by the Board’s recently established Regional Water Management Committee, this task force will investigate potential local mechanisms to protect and manage our water resources under the Province’s pending Water Sustainability Act.

Structured as a one-day workshop, this meeting’s aim was to reach out and connect with various government and non-government folks who share community concerns about our region’s water resources. Most local stewardship groups were represented. It was particularly energizing and enlightening to hear First Nations members join in with their unique cultural perspectives.

The overall goal was to explore “big picture” long-term ecological policies in the public interest. Led by workshop facilitators (members of the Urban Systems consulting firm), participants were asked to identify perceived watershed issues. A whole spectrum of issues emerged, including:

  • development of coalbed methane deposits
  • climate change factors
  • industrial forest management practices
  • ecosystem services
  • fishery requirements
  • agricultural irrigation
  • groundwater integrity
  • existing jurisdictional conflicts
  • First Nations’ cultural/spiritual values
  • diking in the floodplain

During a “vision” exercise, participants were asked to tease out over-arching themes. Artist, Stina Brown, simultaneously created a mural that described these proceedings. The instant electronic polling and graphic displays employed during the day’s final session addressed "principles," helping participants to identify and evaluate shared values, with the goal of reaching a more consensual understanding of the region’s water resources.

Personally, I found this workshop enjoyable and stimulating. My greatest concern is that the consensus-building process will dilute the really big, progressive ideas and that the new water act will constrain our freedom to make fundamental and necessary local changes to water management policy. What I find most encouraging and inspirational is that the Cowichan People had it right—they lived in these watersheds sustainably for thousands of years, proving it can be done.

The Task Force will next meet in July to learn about existing water governance models from elsewhere.