TEAM SUNSHINE COAST: “We can all agree that water is important, that water needs to be protected, and we need to do that sooner rather than later,” stated Mayor Bill Beamish, Town of Gibsons, when he reflected on outcomes flowing from the Watershed Dialogue
Note to Reader:
Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series vision. The edition published on October 11, 2022 featured an interview with outgoing Town of Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish. He shared his perspective on passing the baton to the next Council as well as the importance of the Sunshine Coast Watershed Dialogue, held in November 2021, as an inflection point in a journey.
Team Sunshine Coast – a regional approach to water security
In recent years, the Town of Gibsons has received accolades for being an innovator, pioneering a way forward for “natural asset management”, and inspiring other local governments to embrace responsibility to do more.
In 2014, for example, Gibsons established an accounting precedent that helped change the local government conversation in British Columbia. The Town added an auditor’s note to its Annual Financial Statement recognizing nature as part of the Town’s infrastructure system. Such a simple action, yet so profound in marking a paradigm-shift.
Transformational Moments, Past and Recent
To appreciate the full extent of Town of Gibsons contributions to provincial policy and outcomes over time, one must travel further back in time, to 1999. That was the year the Town co-hosted the Sunshine Coast Forum on Smart Development and Stormwater Management. It was the second in a series of four provincial forums held between January 1999 and March 2001.
Because it was a transformational moment for re-thinking how land is developed, the Sunshine Coast Forum was the lynchpin for a process that led to release of Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia in 2002. The Guidebook is a foundation piece for the ongoing Beyond the Guidebook initiative that the Partnership for Water Sustainability leads.
Water, our most important natural asset: Fast forward from 1999 to November 2021. The Town organized the Elphinstone-Gibsons Watershed Dialogue. The dialogue brought together a comprehensive group of stakeholders, and included participation by the Partnership, to address security of water supply challenges on the Sunshine Coast. This was a major undertaking, and with a clear call to action.
“The water challenges on the Sunshine Coast affect the overall sustainability of the Sunshine Coast and are expected to worsen for Gibsons. This situation calls for action to protect our most important natural asset, the Elphinstone-Gibsons Watershed and Aquifer,” stated Mayor Bill Beamish when the Town convened the Watershed Dialogue.
What We Do Next:
IMAGE CREDIT: Emanuel Machado, CAO, Town of Gibsons
EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE / CONTEXT FOR BUSY READER
“It was 20 years ago when I first met Bill Beamish. Back then, he was the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and Barry Janyk was the Mayor of Gibsons (1999-2011). Of note, Barry Janyk was the moderator for the SmartStorm Series. He was instrumental in building support for the Series outcomes within the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM),” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.
“After 40 years as a senior administrator with the Province and in various BC communities, Bill Beamish was elected to Council in 2018 as Mayor. He is not running for re-election in 2022. So, I wondered, what is his perspective on passing the baton to the next Council, and what is the legacy of the Watershed Dialogue?
Mayor Bill Beamish shared the “story behind the story” of the Watershed Dialogue. In his telling of the story, Mayor Beamish provides insight into the power of a “regional team approach”. He also points out that good outcomes flow from local government collaboration with the stewardship sector.”
“Gems have a way of emerging when individuals reflect on what they have experienced and learned during their journey. Know your history. Understand the context. Ask the question, what have we learned and how do we build on this understanding? Bill Beamish has an appreciation for local government through both the elected and staff lenses! “
TO DOWNLOAD A PDF COPY:
Click on “Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Team Sunshine Coast – A Regional Approach to Water Security”.
The Town of Gibsons is a Champion Supporter of the Partnership for Water Sustainability. Presentation of the “certificate of recognition” (September 2022). From left to right: Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director. CAO Emanuel Machado. Mayor Bill Beamish. This designation recognizes the Town’s support for water sustainability and green infrastructure outcomes dating back to 1999.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reflections on a Regional Team Approach to achieve Water Security on BC’s Sunshine Coast
Three themes emerged during my conversation with Mayor Bill Beamish: (1) a regional team approach to bringing together local governments is powerful and effective; (2) the Watershed Dialogue held in November 2021 is an inflection point, or transformational moment, in a journey that is ongoing; and (3) Gibsons leadership related to protection of natural systems has deep roots.
The three themes are interweaved. Conversation highlights under each theme are presented next as a series of quotable quotes.
What do you wonder?
Context for the Watershed Dialogue is provided by the document titled Considering the Future of Watershed Governance and Management for the Sunshine Coast, 2018.
Watch the Watershed Dialogue on YouTube
“Team Sunshine Coast” branding is powerful and effective
“The 2018 local government and school board elections provided the opportunity to have fresh eyes looking at government and governance on the Sunshine Coast. With the exception of two incumbents, all were new to elected office,” Mayor Bill Beamish told me at the start of our conversation.
“When I sat at my first meeting of the Regional Board after the election, all but one Director were first-time elected representatives. The new Directors came with different ideas, different experiences, and different knowledge of their communities. It was exciting!”
“The three local governments now go to the UBCM annual convention as Team Sunshine Coast, not as three separate entities. Provincial staff are used to the Team Sunshine Coast brand and allocate more time for our annual meeting with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and others. This has been a really good experience.”
“You must have a regional team approach to be effective. Right from the start in 2018, the Regional Board Chair and Mayor of Sechelt get credit for a really great job in making this happen, and I appreciate their efforts.”
2021 Watershed Dialogue is an “inflection point” on a journey
“The challenge facing all communities is that we have borders,” Mayor Beamish continued when our conversation shifted to the story behind the story of the Watershed Dialogue.
“In many cases, working relationships between organizations do not cross boundaries. Each area within a region has its own interests. Going from a municipal to rural area is a lifestyle change in addition to crossing a line on a map.”
Convening for Action on the Sunshine Coast
“The idea behind the Watershed Dialogue was to bring everyone together around something that we can all agree on as issue – and that is water supply security. Recharge of the Gibson water supply aquifer occurs in the rural area above the town.”
“Although the Town has regulations for aquifer protection, the rural area does not. Activities outside the Town boundaries have the potential to impact on the quality of water. Yet we just do not know what is happening in those areas; and have no input.”
“The water conversation has been ongoing for a long time, but with relatively little resolved. What pleased me about the Watershed Dialogue was that all the parties organizationally that needed to be in the room were present.”
“Afterwards, elected representatives from the District of Sechelt said that they now understood the water issue from the Town of Gibsons perspective. They now recognize how everything is interrelated and why the aquifer must be protected.”
Groundwater protection is on the regulatory horizon
“We can all agree that water is important, that water needs to be protected, and we need to do that sooner rather than later. And it was not just the elected leaders of the three local governments doing the talking. The stewardship sector, Squamish First Nations and provincial government were represented too.”
“Now, as a direct outcome of the Dialogue, the Sunshine Coast Regional District is looking at creating an aquifer protection area and is doing that work in concert with the Town of Gibsons. The Town looks forward to a strong protected area that will benefit the Town as well as other communities reliant on groundwater.”
Alignment with stewardship sector
“A second important outcome is the building of a relationship between Town staff and the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association. That is a real positive. It was a milestone for us to collaborate with the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association in planning for the Watershed Dialogue and sharing data and ideas.”
“In the oral history of the Sunshine Coast, I believe the Watershed Dialogue will be viewed as an important moment, a turning point, for the regional team approach. Over time, the people may change but the water issue is firmly on the table and the need for action is recognized,” concluded Mayor Bill Beamish.
Gibsons leadership in natural asset management has deep roots
When I observed that we tend to focus on recent history, and then mused that I wonder how the Partnership for Water Sustainability might have evolved without the early success on the Sunshine Coast circa 1999, this prompted Mayor Beamish to reflect on his experience as the Town’s CAO during that era.
“Former Mayor Barry Janyk was a strong leader who advocated for smart growth planning and the environment in an era before other people were talking about it,” he said. “Gibsons was tied in with the smart growth work of Patrick Condon at UBC. And we were looking at models for climate change and sea level rise back when I was CAO.”
“This community has continued to be a leader. The work of Councils and staff since 2011 in the area of natural assets is a continuation of the work started by Mayor Barry Janyk and others.”
To Learn More:
Read Historical Importance of SmartStorm Forums (1999-2001): Series was the Catalyst for Looking at Rainfall Differently in British Columbia