Doing Business Differently: What ‘Convening for Action in the Okanagan’ Means

Note to Reader:

In April 2009, the original Water Sustainability Committee of the BC Water & Waste Association (BCWWA) organized the Penticton Forum in collaboration with the Okanagan Basin Water Board and three provincial Ministries, namely: Community Development, Agriculture & Lands, and Environment. BCWWA hosted the Forum as an adjunct to the Annual Conference. The Forum attracted close to 80 participants from communities around the province, including a contingent of Okanagan elected representatives. In 2010, the Water Sustainability Committee morphed into the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, a not-for-profit society.

The 2009 Penticton Forum

The Penticton Forum showcased three regions where communities are ‘convening for action’ and embracing a ‘regional team approach’ to make a difference. Each regional initiative is developing a vision and road map to change the way that land is developed and water is used. Each is responding to this challenge:

  • How do we align our efforts at three scales – provincial, regional and local – to do business differently, prepare communities for change, and choose to be water smart?

“In the Okanagan, we are ‘convening for action’ at four levels to facilitate valley-wide change,” states Anna Warwick Sears, Executive Director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board. She identifies these levels as follows:

  1. Inter-jurisdictional elected officials convening as  Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) directors
  2. Key partner positions that have been added to the Board
  3. The Okanagan Water Stewardship Council
  4. The way the OBWB does business

Penticton forum - okanagan topography (240p)“The Convening for Action concept can be expanded to encompass all our activities,” continues Anna Warwick Sears. ““The Okanagan Basin Water Board is the hub for people to convene around when the topic is water. Our mandate is to communicate and coordinate. In the process, we are tapping into a huge reservoir of volunteers. This is what creates the energy, the will and the momentum to do business differently in the valley.”

The OBWB does not have regulatory authority, but has taxation powers to support its activities, the only example of its kind in the province. Because everyone in the watershed contributes, we focus on projects where everybody benefits.”

Okanagan Basin Water Board

The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) was established in 1969 to provide leadership for defining and solving water resource problems in the valley.

Penticton forum - anna warwick sears (160p)“The OBWB is a unique form of inter-regional government,” explains Anna Warwick Sears. “The OBWB was designated to implement the recommendations of the 1974 Okanagan Basin Study, and to take on a range of responsibilities for Basin water management.”

“Our jurisdiction is defined by the geographic borders of the Okanagan Basin rather than political boundaries. In 2006, the OBWB took on a Water Management Initiative and a more active leadership role in the valley. This brought the OBWB closer to its original 1969 mandate.”

Board of Directors

Nine of the twelve Directors are elected officials appointed by the three Okanagan regional districts, and (since 2006) the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Water Supply Association of BC, and the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council each appoint an additional Director.

“From the ‘convening for action’ perspective, the OBWB provides a forum for the member local governments to address regional service delivery matters and issues; and to collaborate with key stakeholders in determining how best to do business differently in order to create our future.”

Penticton forum - obwb logo (360p)

Okanagan Water Stewardship Council

Penticton forum - tom siddon (160p)“The Okanagan Water Stewardship Council was established in 2006 as part of the Water Management Initiative, but authority to convene an advisory Liaison Committee dates back to the 1970s,” states the Hon. Tom Siddon, Chair. “The goal of forming the Council was to capitalize on local water expertise and improve long-term decision making.  The Council is a broad-based body of water stakeholder groups and technical experts that provides independent advice and policy recommendations to support sustainable water management.”

Penticton forum - ted van der gulik (160p)“The Council’s Vision is that the Basin will have clean and healthy water in sufficient abundance to support the Okanagan’s natural ecosystems, agricultural lands and high quality of life for perpetuity,” adds Ted van der Gulik, Vice-Chair. “Accurate, up-to-date water information and scientific knowledge will support community and regional planning. Water will be managed in a spirit of cooperation, and a valley-wide ethic of conservation will create a lasting legacy of sustainable water resources for future generations.”

Okanagan Sustainable Water Strategy

The Okanagan Sustainable Water Strategy was developed by the Council. “This document sets out a long range vision and twelve Guiding Principles to manage water, in both quantity and quality, for decades to come,” continues Dr. Tom Siddon. “The Council has Penticton forum - okanagan water strategy cover (240p)devoted several thousands of hours over the past thirty months in preparation of this important work. Our findings, conclusions, and recommended Actions are based on a remarkable degree of consensus among all participants.”

Completed in late 2008, the Okanagan Sustainable Water Strategy  seeks to ensure water resources are managed in a broader sustainability framework – working towards a future for the Okanagan where water quality or quantity does not compromise human health and well-being, the environment, or the economy.

Guiding Values when Convening for Action

Five guiding values provide a framework within which the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council evaluates specific water management policies or proposals, and when convening for action:

“The Council, comprised of more than two dozen water management experts, representatives of user groups, and concerned community leaders, has tendrils that extend throughout the Okanagan Valley community,” observes Anna Warwick Sears. “Council products include a shared understanding of issues and concerns. This understanding is then fed back to the Water Board.”

Collaborative Governance

Penticton forum - anna sears“When you think about it, the story of Convening for Action in the Okanagan is really about putting collaborative governance to work. At all levels of convening, we are actively and proactively undertaking collaboration for action,” reflects Anna Warwick Sears. “In short, ‘convening for action’ equals the synergy that results when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

“The shared problems in the Okanagan are not radical. They are fundamental things that everyone agrees on, in particular protecting quality of life. The way the OBWB does business is collaborative. Through our grant programs, we are able to maximize partnerships; and in turn increase the convening of the community by bringing together the resources to make things happen.”