B.C. Government collaborates with First Nations on $100M watershed security investment

Photo: The Nature Trust of BC

The B.C. Government and B.C.-First Nations Water Table (BCFNWT) have announced a $100-million investment into watershed security for the province.

The investment is part of a plan to build a stewardship strategy for B.C’s watersheds that will ensure ecosystems, communities and economies are healthy and resilient for future generations.

The March 6 accouncement solidified that the BCFNWT (which is comprised of representatives from the Province and delegates from First Nations in B.C.) will co-manage the Watershed Security Fund and also co-develop B.C’s watershed security strategy.

 “This initial investment is critical to protect our most valuable resource,” said Chief Jerry Jack, BC Assembly of First Nations Board of Director, in a First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) media release that applauds the investment.

“In the wake of the climate emergency and as poor industry standards, pollution and overuse continue to negatively impact our watersheds, we must all work together to protect our lifeblood that is water,” added Jack.

 According to a Watershed Security Strategy and Fund discussion paper released by the Environment Ministry in January 2022, watershed security “will look different from watershed to watershed” and will be best defined locally.

The paper cites areas of focus that could include safe drinking water for all, healthy ecosystems (aquatic, riparian, wetland and watershed), sufficient water to support food security and local economies, and the reduction of risks from hazards like flooding and drought.

 Also outlined in the paper is the Province’s promise to honour the intent and obligations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples throughout the development of the Watershed Security Strategy.

“A commitment to co-develop the watershed security strategy and fund ensures First Nations in B.C. have a meaningful place at the table and exemplifies efforts to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act,” said Tseshaht First Nation’s Hugh Braker, K.C., First Nations Summit political executive and BCFNWT delegate.

The March 6 investment announcement also marked the launch of a public engagement period for the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund Intentions Paper which runs until April 17, 2023.

The paper reflects input received during public engagement in 2022 and outlines potential government priorities for watershed protection.

British Columbians are invited to provide their feedback on the paper through the completion of a digital survey or written submission. Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples will also occur concurrenty throughout spring and summer 2023.

A feedback summary report will be released in summer 2023,  with the goal of launching the final Watershed Security Strategy in winter 2023-2024.

The strategy and fund are welcome news to Nuu-chah-nulth communities.

Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have been stewarding their Ha-ha-houlthee (Chiefly territories) for millennia, and more recently, have identified the need for increased watershed protections through conservation initiatives like the Salmon Parks concept.

Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Nuchatlaht First Nations are developing Salmon Parks with the aim to restore wild salmon by recovering key watersheds in Nootka Sound.

“First Nations have effectively and sustainably stewarded our lands and oceans since time immemorial. Now is the time to invest in our laws, knowledge, values and capacity to co-lead this important work through out our traditional territories,” said Cheryl Casimer, Political Executive of the First Nations Summit, in the FNLC media release.                

To learn more about the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund, visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/watershedsecurity.

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