FLASHBACK TO 2005: Convening for Action in British Columbia initiative formally launched at a conference about “Water-Our Limiting Resource” (held in the Okanagan region)

Note to Reader:

In February 2005 in Kelowna, 180 people gathered at a 3-day conference to discuss the past, present, and future of water management in the Okanagan. Hosted by the City of Kelowna, the conference was organized by the B.C. Branch of the Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA).

Water Balance Way-of-Thinking Championed by British Columbia Water Sustainability Committee

In 2005, the 3-day conference in the Okanagan served as the kick-off event for a sustained education process under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. The process, branded as Convening for Action in British Columbia, is designed to broaden the province-wide base for this shared vision:

In a fully integrated landscape, water is the unifying element.

The conference was designed to be a transformational event that would be a catalyst for change. The call for action was spelled out in the conference theme: “Water – Our Limiting Resource” – Towards Sustainable Water Management in the Okanagan.

“This event was an important first step in focusing stakeholder attention on the decisions that need to be made now if we are to move towards sustainable water management in BC. Inter-association collaboration is an essential ingredient if collectively we are to create the province-wide momentum that will result in substantive change related to water management and use,” stated Don Degen, President of the BC Water & Waste Association.

To Learn More:

To download a copy of the Conference Summary, click here. This presents a set of consensus-based recommendations for follow-up action.

To download a copy of the conference proceedings, click on “Water – Our Limiting Resource” – Towards Sustainable Water Management in the Okanagan.

Convening for Action in British Columbia

The British Columbia Water Sustainability Committee (WSC) provided the core content for Day Three. (note: In 2010, the WSC morphed into the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC, a not for profit society).

2010_-Ray-Fung_120p“This positioning fitted well with our convening for action mantra: What / So What / Now What. Our team of Oliver Brandes, Lynn Kriwoken and Kim Stephens provided the Now What part of the program,” reports Ray Fung, WSC Chair.

The “now what do we do” perspective by the WSC convening for action team comprised two companion papers:

Read together, these two papers articulate the philosophy that underpins and guides the Convening for Action initiative. Summarized below are the highlights of the paper co-authored by Stephens, Erik Karlsen, Ted van der Gulik and Ron Smith.


The paper focuses on the Okanagan Basin as a ‘water balance area’. Two success stories are presented to elaborate on what can be accomplished by promoting the water balance theme as a way of integrating water management with landscape development:

  • Demand Management of Irrigation District Water Supplies in the Okanagan Valley– Initiated in 1988 and completed in 1990, this initiative was comprehensive in assessing the potential for domestic and irrigation water conservation. It was also the trigger for a change in philosophy that resulted in implementation of new approaches and tools.
  • Water Balance Model for British Columbia – This decision support and scenario modelling tool is changing the way people think about the relationship between the built and natural environments, and the way we develop the urban landscape.

“In the Okanagan, approximately 70 percent of water use is for agricultural purposes. Given the sheer magnitude of the agricultural component of the ‘Okanagan Water Balance’, one of the purposes of our paper is to provide an historical bridge from the 1988 initiative to the present that addresses these three questions,” stated Ted van der Gulik. These questions are:

  1. What is our starting point?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How will we get there?

“The paper suggests expanding the application of the Water Balance Model approach to all land uses in the Okanagan, and in particular agriculture. In the urban environment, the main focus is on the individual development site because what we do at the site scale can create opportunities for cumulative benefits over time,” explained Kim Stephens. He is Program Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia.

“In applying the water balance philosophy to the Okanagan in its entirety, the proposed paradigm would be: ‘the Basin is the site’.   This would consider rainfall and infiltration as well as water used for growing and processing various agricultural products in relation to water sources.  Ultimately it would both pose and suggest answers to the question: How much of the basin’s water needs will have to be found through improved practices to ensure  the ongoing vitality of its  communities?”, added Ron Smith.

To Learn More:

Download  POWERPOINT – Water Balance Management in the Okanagan: Now What Do We Do?

The 1990 report examined the combination of universal meterng plus irrigation system changes. Most of the potential saving is in the agricultural sector.

NOW WHAT: How We Will Get from Here to There

The paper also introduced the What, So What, Now What mindmap for moving from talk to action. This is explained below.

“The goal is three-pronged in providing security – for the Okanagan situation, this means a sustainable supply of water; certainty regarding how security will be provided (e.g. water rights, demand management strategies, etc.) and a focus on overall well-being (e.g. livability and protection of the natural landscape),” explained Erik Karlsen.

“The application of this process is intended to address needs at the challenge level, before they escalate to problems, issues and crises (or even chaos).”


The process starts at the lower left hand corner of the larger aggregate triangle and proceeds to its apex and then down the right side and along the bottom.  It addresses three questions and then uses the answers to these to establish and engage in an adaptive management approach which in turn will generate ongoing knowledge to address changing needs.

  1. What are the conditions that create the need for change?  This involves generating and transferring knowledge that systematically addresses causal links.
  2. So what are the options and what is the best choice?  This involves looking for practical opportunities and overcoming barriers.
  3. Now what are the strategies and actions that will provide the security, certainty and well-being needed for sustainable outcomes?  This involves defining outcomes and making commitments to achieve these.

Adaptive Management

The final step involves monitoring performance of the action plans.  The actions taken will lead to new conditions.  Other influences will have changed conditions too.  These changes – and knowledge about them – may result in the need to revisit the three overarching questions and go through the process again.

Turning Points

A further point about the choice of a triangular diagram to illustrate this process, rather than a circular or Venn diagram:  making choices to go through this whole process requires turning points.   At each corner a commitment must be made to proceed to the next step.