CAVI Forum within VIEA Summit: "the future is shared decision making at the watershed level," predicts Oliver Brandes





Note to Reader:

The State of the Island Economic Summit hosted by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) is an important meeting place for building collaboration between communities. Following the keynote address by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, a featured breakout session on October 15th was the “Forum within the Summit” organized by the CAVI (Convening for Action on Vancouver Island) initiative.

The Forum comprised two parts: in Hour #1, LOOK BACK; and in Hour #2, LOOK AHEAD. To lead off Hour #2, a panel of four provided a continuum of perspectives: business, academia, provincial-agricultural, and local government. Oliver Brandes of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of VIctoria represented academia.

As Co-Director of the POLIS Project, Oliver Brandes leads the Water Sustainability Project where his work focuses on water sustainability, sound resource management, public policy development and ecologically based legal and institutional reform. He serves on many boards and committees that provide strategic water policy advice to all levels of government.


Three Drivers of Change

“My bold prediction is that future shared decision-making at the watershed level is not a matter of IF but WHEN. This provocative slide (see above) captures a gaze into the crystal ball for those of us who live on Vancouver Island,” stated Oliver Brandes.

“Today, I wish to draw your attention to three important drivers of change. First, everyone knows about climate change. If climate change is the shark, then water is its teeth. That means that is where we will feel the impacts.”

“Secondly, our concept of infrastructure is changing fundamentally. We are moving away from the conventional notion of built infrastructure – for example, concrete structures or big pumps and pipes – to something that is much more integrated. In this contex, I challenge everyone to think about what the following mean:

  • healthy, functioning watersheds as part of our infrastructure;
  • of rainwater as part of our source supply;
  • of good technology that reduces our water use; and
  • of how our understanding of these is also part of the infrastructure so that ultimately we can change our behaviour.”

“The third piece of the puzzle, and this is a big driver, is disputes. We are familiar with water licensees having disputes. But there are also disputes with First Nations and competing users. In addition, we need to think about the implications of ecological limits and what fundamentally thinking in an integrated way actually means.”


A Convergence of Uncertainty, Risk and Resilience

“So, what do these three drivers tell us? Well, it emphasizes that there is going to be a world of uncertainty, risk and resilience. These will be the key things to think about as we are going forward. What we are now seeing is a convergence of uncertainty, risk and resilience in all those places globally where there are acute water issues. Places like the southeast USA, Australia, parts of Europe, South Africa and elsewhere.”

“What is happening in those places is that they are re-scaling their decision making down to the watershed scale. This downscaling is a very important part of what we on Vancouver Island need to be thinking about. It means that we fundamentally need to give voice to those who are affected so that they then have a voice in the decision making process.”

“We know there are a number of drivers in BC that are at the moment limiting us. For example, when we think about things such as groundwater that’s not regulated. Or when we consider that effective, enforceable water planning has not really happened yet.”

“But we are also seeing some positive developments beginning through collaborative approaches. This includes a recognition of ecological components in allocation systems. Other positive developments include sharing, real sharing in decision processes – not just the notional let’s have a meeting and give some advice to a decision maker. An example of real sharing of decision making is a situation where First Nations have an equal seat at the table.”


Winning Conditions for Doing Business Differently

“At the POLIS Project at the University of Victoria we have done some work for a number of years around these themes. I describe them as the WINNING CONDITIONS. These are lessons we can learn from other places that might influence us or make us think a little bit differently here on Vancouver Island.”

“One of these winning conditions is the lessons we can learn from legal changes and instituitional changes elsewhere. Senior governments still play a role. They are not going to disappear. Rather, senior government will move from being a top-down manager to being an enabler of local action and decisons.”

“Another condition that we need to recognize is what I call the blue economy. This is the notion that water is fundamental to community prosperity and our economic systems.”

“A third condition is decentralized power. This means that we think about the scale of certain kinds of decisions, starting with water. But we know that water only reflects the activities on the land. So land and water decisions must happen together.”

“Finally, there is the matter of dispute resolution. We have to get a lot better at using less and a lot better at sharing what we are going to decide to use.”