First, the good news
Between fires, floods, drought, and continued damage to our watersheds, the past year has been pretty tough. But we finally got some good news a few weeks ago when the provincial government committed another $30 million for watershed projects.
This funding, half for Indigenous-led projects and the rest to six NGOs for habitat restoration, builds upon the $27 million Healthy Watersheds Initiative funded in 2020.
That first year of the Healthy Watersheds Initiative funded 61 projects across the province and created roughly 700 jobs restoring and monitoring our watersheds. This next $30 million fills a large gap in watershed-related funding, to restore fish and wildlife habitat and to help us build back our natural defences against floods, fires and drought.
As for 2023, the government has been in the process of developing the new B.C. Watershed Security Fund. We are pushing them to ensure the fund is permanent, and to launch it within the next year.
Next steps for the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund
It’s been nearly two months since the provincial government closed a public comment period for feedback on a draft Watershed Security Strategy and Fund paper. We’ve heard the public’s response to this comment period was massive. (Likely in some part due to a letter writing tool on the CodeBlue BC website that resulted in over 1000 submissions alone!)
Now, the province will take all the feedback from the public comment period and use that to develop the draft Watershed Security Strategy with another round of public scrutiny this fall.
We are hopeful it will contain tangible steps towards watershed security for B.C. We can’t have this be another provincial strategy that doesn’t result in real change.
Listen here to a vision for watershed security in B.C. on the Freshwater Stream podcast.
As for the Watershed Security Fund, the province has been vague on the details, such as the annual amount and when the fund will launch.
As we experienced last year, a warming climate is going to mean hotter, drier summers and wetter, stormier falls and we need to invest in our watersheds not only to make communities more resilient to future fires and floods, but also improve habitats for species like wild salmon, that have already experienced significant declines due to threats including habitat destruction and factory fish farms.
CodeBlue BC stands up for local watersheds
Despite the positive news around the development of the Watershed Security Strategy and recent funding, watersheds across the province are still under threat and CodeBlue BC, a collaborative initiative of Watershed Watch and the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, has joined forces with locals in several watersheds who recently reached out for support.
Stoney Creek runs along the Coquitlam-Burnaby border and is subject to ongoing sewage overflows and contamination from poor development practices, with local residents repeatedly witnessing cement trucks washing cement into storm drains that run into Stoney Creek. These issues have been going on for years and there has been little progress to address the contamination that resulted in a large fish kill in July of last year.
If Duteau Creek in Vernon sounds familiar, it might be because CodeBlue BC supported Vernon residents last summer when Tolko Industries had imminent plans to log the watershed, just 500 metres from the town’s drinking water intake.
The same residents reached out to the CodeBlue BC team last month to inform us that Tolko once again had plans to log in the Duteau Creek watershed, this time 800 metres from the drinking water intake. The cutblock is once again opposed by the North Okanagan Regional District, however, the only agency that has decisionmaking power over whether this cutblock precedes or not is the provincial Ministry of Forests and its Minister, Katrine Conroy.
Last year when Vernon residents reached out to CodeBlue, we helped coordinate 500 letters to the minister and within 48 hours Tolko reached out to the CodeBlue team to let us know they now planned to alter the cut block to exclude the area of concern.
To hear that this same watershed is under threat again, less than a year later is maddening. It reinforces why we need a Watershed Security Strategy that will give local residents — those who are most directly impacted by decisions and resource development in their watersheds — some of the decision-making power to decide what activities occur, and where.
Please take a few minutes to support both the Vernon and Coquitlam-Burnaby communities by writing a letter to representatives who have the power to address these threats and improve local freshwater security.