Shawnigan Shows Need For Local Control

The proposed contaminated soil dump in Shawnigan is another example of why we need local control over our watershed, or more accurately, watersheds. We need not only to defeat that proposal, but also to win the larger battle of getting local control so this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening.

One Cowichan is currently running a non-partisan vote pledge campaign in the run up to the May 14 provincial election, asking local citizens to pledge to vote for local control, with the actual decision on which candidate will deliver that left up to each voter.

The idea is that since the province is updating is law related to water, this is a great time to write it in a way that allows an appropriate local body to ‘draw down’ provincial powers and begin to make decisions locally.

And, we’re very well positioned here in the valley, since we already have the Cowichan Watershed Board. It is a full partnership between Cowichan Tribes and regional government, including both Native and non-Native elected officials and expert advisors, that has built trust and expertise over the past years, albeit in only an advisory role so far.

While we are finding growing support for the vote pledge and for local control, there are still some big questions to wrestle with.

What powers should the Watershed Board have? Our view is that in order to do an effective job, the answer to that is as many powers as possible, since by definition in a watershed everything is related, from the headwaters to the ocean. We face challenges from managing the wier at the Lake to pollution that makes our shellfish inedible in the Bay, from loss of riparian areas to “strip and flip” conversion of our forests to real estate. We need comprehensive authority to tackle these issues effectively.

Another key question is what should the boundaries be? Right now the Watershed Board boundaries are relatively narrow, confined mostly to Cowichan Lake and River. But, it makes sense that the Cowichan region as a whole be included, since again everything is related. And, the province will likely move on only a few local control pilots to begin with to see how they pan out. We may as well make any pilot that happens here as all-encompassing as locals want, including Shawnigan if that’s the will of the people there.

We’re confident that First Nations and local officials can put their heads together and craft something that could not only start to reverse the bad, but also become a model for BC and for Canada. We are blessed in Cowichan with a beautiful and productive area. We can become an example of how to manage it well, particularly as climate change impacts start to hit harder and we need to raise our game.

For now we’re working to build a citizens parade for local control that candidates of all political stripes feel they want to get in front of. You can find out more about our vote pledge campaign at We’d love you to plug in. As they say, the world is run by those who show up, and now is the right time to prove that to be true.