THIRD ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM ON WATER STEWARDSHIP IN A CHANGING CLIMATE: An inter-regional perspective on why the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island is viewed as an incubator region in British Columbia for collaboration precedents (Announcement #1in November 2019 for the Comox Valley 2020 Symposium – which was postponed and then reimagined due to COVID 19 pandemic)

Note to Reader:

Have you heard about the Vancouver Island Symposia Series on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate? The unifying theme is the power of local government collaboration with the stewardship sector. The Symposia Series is a building blocks process: Nanaimo in 2018; Parksville in 2019; and next, the Comox Valley in 2020. Each event builds on the last and points the way to the next.

Are you wondering why the Comox Valley in 2020? Did you know that, for a decade and more, the Comox Valley has been an incubator region for provincially significant ‘collaboration precedents’ in British Columbia. This history prompted NALT and the Partnership to reach out to the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership to co-host Comox Valley 2020.

Starting with this announcement, and continuing through April 2020, the Partnership will publish a series of bi-monthly articles. These will feature individual modules in the Comox Valley 2020 storyline. The process for foreshadowing module content is designed to both inform those who are curious and establish expectations among those who decide to register. To launch the series,  this Story #1 sets the context through an inter-regional lens. 

To Learn More:

If you curious to learn more, click on the link to download the COMOX VALLEY 2020 BROCHURE

“Our model as a conservation partnership is very unique in British Columbia. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only one that focuses exclusively on the arena of local government policy,” states Tim Ennis, Comox Valley Conservation Partnership

“Watersheds and aquifers don’t align with regional district boundaries; to achieve effective water stewardship we need to work across political boundaries and jurisdictions. It will take a broad-based effort to sustain restorative policies and actions,” states Paul Chapman, Executive Director of the Nananimo  & Area Land Trust (NALT). He is also chair of the Vancouver Island Symposia Series and co-chair of Comox Valley 2020.

“Over the last number of years NALT has been part of a growing community of water conservation. With the participation of numerous community stewardship groups, the City of Nanaimo and the Regional District of Nanaimo, NALT has seen concerns, understanding  and actions related to restoring watersheds and water balance become a priority in our region. Through the lessons learned and interaction at the various water symposiums, we have expanded the tools of restoration and expert contacts available to enhance our stewardship efforts.

“The saying from the hiking community is: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The challenges of urban and rural expansion, multiplied by the instability of climate change mean we are in this for the long-haul and we are all in this together. A community of conservation is the surest way to sustain the effort needed.”

The Vision: Improve Where We Live

Nanaimo 2018 was a ‘call to action’. The symposium introduced a vision for ‘restorative land development’. And it energized the audience with this challenge: How will communities ‘get it right’ through collaboration as land develops and redevelops?

Building on the energy that was released in Nanaimo, the dot-connecting theme for Parksville 2019 was: Restorative land development would result in sustainable stream restoration. The symposium celebrated local government initiatives that are on a pathway to reconnect hydrology and ecology.

In April 2020, the third in the series will further open eyes and minds as to ‘what can be’ – because the Comox Valley has emerged as an incubator region for provincially significant precedents. Collaboration, across sectors and among rightsholders and stakeholders, is essential in order for communities to mobilize.

Historical Perspective: Comox Valley as an Incubator Region

The Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia (REFBC) has historically played a key role as a funder of Comox Valley initiatives. REFBC financial support made it possible to bring innovative approaches to fruition, notably the proof of concept for the ‘regional team approach’.

Catalyst Role of the Real Estate Foundation:

“In the 1990s, the REFBC adopted a philosophy that ‘use and conservation of land are equal values’, states Tim Pringle, founding Executive Director (1988 until 2008). “The REFBC then identified the importance of supporting the stewardship sector as one of the core sectors for use and conservation of land. The Comox Valley was one of several regions of the province where the REFBC focussed its program funding in the first decade of this century,” recalls Tim Pringle. “Support was provided through joint funding of salmon and stream mapping initiatives with the federal and provincial governments, respectively.”

Commencing in 2007, the REFBC and two provincial government ministries joined forces to co-fund the multi-year CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island program. Comox Valley local governments embraced an invitation to be a demonstration region for a regional team approach, guided by aspirational targets in Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan.

Comox Valley Regional Team: 

Then, the CAVI program brought together the Comox Valley Land Trust (as one among equals) and the four Comox Valley local governments on the Comox Valley-CAVI Regional Team. The context for collaboration was the Comox Valley Regional Growth Strategy, mandated when provincial government intervention created the Comox Valley Regional District.

Through 2016, the Comox Valley-CAVI Regional Team was all about peer-based learning and sharing. In addition to the Land Trust and local governments, this roundtable subsequently included TimberWest and the Ministry of Highways.

Reflections on the ‘Regional Team Approach’:

“The Partnership for Water Sustainability describes the Comox Valley as an ‘incubator region’ because key players have been willing to test new ideas and approaches,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability.

“One such idea is the ‘regional team approach’. The Comox Valley is comparatively compact. This provides an impetus to work across boundaries for the common good. The term ‘regional approach’ has been part of our vocabulary for more than a generation. A decade ago, it was a revelation that insertion of the word ‘team’ had such a profound impact on how those in local government would view their world.

“Team implies there is personal commitment.  For this reason, the ‘regional team approach’ is fundamentally different than a ‘regional approach’. The team concept also resonates with the notion that it is important to develop talent to cope with demanding issues pertaining to settlement and climate change.”

Nature without Borders

Initiated by the Comox Valley Land Trust in 2005, the Nature Without Borders initiative lays out a long-term approach to wise and informed land use decisions, and conservation actions.

A history of working across boundaries, aligning efforts at a watershed scale, and walking the talk in applying the ‘4Cs’ – that is, communicate, cooperate, coordinate and collaborate – has garnered attention outside the Comox Valley, including:

By the Metro Vancouver Regional District:

The regional team approach in the Comox Valley informed the advisory Reference Panel framework that shaped development of the rainwater management component of Metro Vancouver’s Integrated Liquid Waste & Resource Management Plan.

By the BC Water & Waste Association: 

The Comox Valley-CAVI Regional Team was the recipient of the Leadership in Water Sustainability Award for 2010. A convergence of interests had created an opportunity for all the players to set their sights on the common good, challenge the old barriers of jurisdictional interests, and make water sustainability real.

“The learning opportunity for all of us was extraordinary at these CAVI seminars,” stated Jack Minard, (former) Executive Director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, when the award was announced. ”Municipal and Regional District departments learning from each other, the various jurisdictions learning from each other and the incredible opportunity for the Stewardship community to learn better how local government works and for all practitioners to learn what the environmental constraints really are and what they mean. This type of collaboration can only benefit all interests, improve processes and deliver better outcomes.”

By the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance:

At the 2011 State of the Island Economic Summit, a ‘forum within the summit’ showcased how the Comox Valley-CAVI Regional Team was approaching the ‘Infrastructure liability’ challenge confronting all local governments. The summit goal was to start an Island-wide conversation about getting it right at the front-end of the land development process in order to achieve long-term sustainability, especially financial.

A Unique Model for Collaboration:
Comox Valley Conservation Partnership

Formed in 2008 as a program of the Comox Valley Land Trust, the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership (CVCP) was an outcome of the Nature Without Borders initiative. The driver for action was the lack of a regional plan in the Comox Valley to prioritize and protect sensitive ecosystems on private land.  The CVCP brings together local community-based groups and other stakeholders to support their projects and provide a voice for the value of conservation in natural areas. 

“Our model as a conservation partnership is very unique in British Columbia,” states Tim Ennis. “There are at least six other conservation partnerships, but to the best of my knowledge we are the only one that focuses exclusively on the arena of local government policy. The Comox Valley Conservation Partnership brings together 23 different local groups and associations in one common forum to work proactively with local governments.”

To Learn More:

In this video, Tim Ennis explains the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership to the Parksville 2019 audience: