We all have priorities. Each of us must make decisions regularly about how best to spend our money and our time. I knew when I woke up this morning that I had to write this blog today but when I looked at the river I thought I had better prioritize a few hours of fishing first.
Oh no, this was not procrastination. I just needed a bit of time to gather my thoughts before sitting down at the computer. Morning is a good time to go steelhead fishing as well and I always enjoy the exercise and fresh air I get while walking around in our beautiful river.
The fishing has been very good so far this winter and there are always many others out on the river pursuing the elusive winter steelhead. Many have traveled quite a distance to visit our river and I am happy to share our wonderful resource with them. The Cowichan River is pretty awesome 12 months of the year. It is beautiful and bountiful even in the dead of winter.
The protection and preservation of watersheds is a very important priority, evident by the hard work of many groups who monitor and encourage watershed health all year round. For example, the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society is doing great work in restoring riparian areas around the lake and river, as well as educating the public about the importance of intact riparian areas. Lake Cowichan School has a Lake Studies program designed to get our youth involved with and aware of the importance of watershed health. At the other end of the watershed you’ll find the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association and the Estuary Nature Centre doing watershed advocacy, restoration and education, including the Nature Centre working with the Cowichan Watershed Board on watershed IQ with all the region’s grades fours and fives. There are numerous other groups and First Nations all working together to take on projects throughout the Cowichan watershed to monitor and improve water quality and ecosystem health.
The Cowichan Watershed Board is working on what could turn out to be the most important opportunity our community has ever had to make a big difference in the health of our watersheds. The Board is preparing a proposal to the provincial government to be granted a pilot project that would give a local community authority decision-making ability for watershed activities.
The new BC Water Sustainability Act has a clause that creates the possibility of local control and decision-making. There are several good reasons for this. For the past twenty years, the provincial government has been steadily downsizing and the remaining statutory decision makers have very large portfolios of responsibilities.
This has led to silo decision-making by a few senior government employees. Decisions affecting watersheds around issues like forestry, oil and gas, water quality, agriculture and development are made in several different ministries and levels of government with little coordination or communication between agencies.
This top-down management framework often disregards ecosystem needs and ecological priorities. Recent events in the Cowichan watershed have demonstrated this governance failure. The most glaring example was the summer of 2012 when the provincial government authorities forced us to dump water from the lake in July against the advice and repeated requests from our Watershed Board, First Nations Leaders and elected officials. The subsequent drought led to a drying Cowichan river the demise of about one half of our precious and threatened chinook salmon run later that year.
Similar situations in the past few years have demonstrated over and over again that senior government officials do not have the capacity to be the exclusive decision-makers over local watershed activities.
The current untenable situation in the Shawnigan Lake watershed where senior government officials continue to allow toxic soil to be dumped near the top of the watershed is another example of the need for local decision-making ability.
The Cowichan Watershed Board is working hard to carefully define the parameters of the request for local control. At workshops held in Duncan over the past few years there was a great deal of support for local co-management of our watersheds with First Nations. This will be included in the proposal as a cornerstone for the new governance model.
We have a great deal of knowledge about the Cowichan watershed that is held and developed by local groups and First Nations. We can leverage all the scientific data, traditional knowledge and future climate projections to create a “State of the Watershed” report and a Watershed Sustainability Plan that will form part of the presentation for local control.
We are very well positioned here to succeed and get some legislated authority delegated locally. There is much work to be done and the exact details of the proposal will be developed over the coming months. One Cowichan will be involved as the process develops and we will provide our community members with detailed information and an opportunity to voice their support for this initiative.
Funding is always an issue for local initiatives like this. There is no way of knowing how this model will function financially until the negotiations with the province begin. We would certainly expect financial support for this local governing body to be included from the province but it is unlikely that our current provincial government will offer to cover all costs for this governance model.
It all comes down to priorities. It may be that we will have to chip in a portion of the costs for this local governance model from local taxes. I would argue that it would be money well spent. Having the ability to shape the future of our watersheds, the quality and quantity of our water, the health of our rivers and lakes and work closely with industry and agriculture to ensure the health and sustainability of our community for future generations would be priceless.
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