BOWKER CREEK BLUEPRINT IS A BEACON OF INSPIRATION: “It is exciting. Who gets to have a job where part of your job is to try and figure out how to get a creek out of pipes? Who gets to do that? Not too many! I feel so fortunate, and to be able to play a leadership role,” stated Jody Watson, Past-Chair (2005-2018) of the Bowker Creek Urban Watershed Renewal Initiative
NOTE TO READER:
Bowker Creek originates at the University of Victoria on southern Vancouver Island and flows for 8 km through three municipalities – Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay. The creekshed is completely urbanized. The impervious area coverage is 56%. Over 30,000 people reside in the surrounding creeks.
Released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in conjunction with BC Rivers Day in September 2021, A Beacon of Inspiration: Bowker Creek Blueprint and 100-Year Action Plan is a short history of building bridges of understanding from the past to the present and future. It is a story of local government champions and community leaders who share a vision, embrace shared responsibility, and are bringing Bowker Creek back to life.
In A Beacon of Inspiration, the Partnership tells the “story behind the story” to showcase the history and evolution of the Blueprint process over the past two decades. The storyline is structured in three parts. The first two cover the past two decades. The third part comprises interviews with current players who are collaborating to set a direction for the second decade of Bowker Blueprint implementation.
Presented below is the interview with the Capital Regional District’s Jody Watson, the visionary who has provided outstanding leadership in guiding the Bowker Creek Blueprint process through ups and downs over the past two decades.
A Tribute to Remarkable Leadership
The Capital Regional District (CRD) has the coordinating role and chairs the Bowker Creek Initiative (BCI). After the BCI was created in 2004, Jody Watson was appointed as Chair in 2005 and served in that capacity until 2018. Her tenure was a remarkable period of 13 years of notable accomplishments. In her current role at CRD, Jody Watson continues to provide oversight for the coordinator function.
When the BCI Steering Committee met on the 10th anniversary of the first Bowker Creek Forum, they surprised Jody Watson with a special award to recognize her sustained commitment and leadership over many years. They also recognized the contributions made by Natalie Bandringa, who was then the Bowker Creek Coordinator. Ian Graeme made the presentation.
Flashback to April 12, 2012
“I was reviewing my calendar this morning and the date – April 5, 2002 – jumped out – does anyone know the significance of that date? Well, 10 years ago last Thursday was the date of the first day of the Bowker Creek Watershed Forum (in April 2002),” stated Ian Graeme.
“The Forum was the process that led to the Watershed Plan, the formal establishment of the Bowker Creek Initiative and the creation of this Steering Committee. Ten years later we’ve just achieved some very significant milestones: the $738,000 federal gas tax grant – which of itself is a tremendous achievement; completion of the Blueprint, of course; and now, the video project that tells our story.”
“So, it is an opportune time to recognize a couple of people on the committee – namely our Chair, Jody Watson; and our Coordinator, Natalie Bandringa.”
“As we all know collaboration can be really hard work; and it usually doesn’t just happen. It takes genuine and committed leadership to cultivate those relationships, build trust and a community. I believe you will all agree that Jody and Natalie have provided us with some remarkable leadership, and we’d like to recognize that leadership here today,” stated Ian Graeme.
“Jody, here a just a few of your leadership qualities that impress me: You excel at communicating the vision and instilling a sense of mission that is true to the watershed plan. You have put a lot of emphasis on developing relationships and trust. You are a great communicator and are always looking for opportunities and focusing us on results.”
“Natalie, we are very fortunate to have you. You are one of those exceptional people that brings strong technical knowledge and understanding with superior people skills. That combination has really inspired many in the community and is helping cultivate a sense of ownership. It is that sense of ownership that is so essential if we are to move from ideas to action.”
“So, on behalf of the steering committee, I again want to thank both of you and express how valuable you are to the success of the BCI. Yes, it took a group effort to conclude the Grant and the Blueprint, but these two individuals did most of the ‘heavy lifting’,” concluded Ian Graeme.
Bowker Creek Champions: From left to right: Soren Henrich (Friends of Bowker Creek), Natalie Bandringa and Jody Watson of the Capital Regional, and Ian Graeme (founder, Friends of Bowker Creek). In April 2012, this occasion was a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first Bowker Forum.
Vision + Conversations = Collaboration + Action
“It is exciting. Who gets to have a job where part of your job is to try and figure out how to get a creek out of pipes? Who gets to do that?” asks Jody Watson rhetorically and with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Not too many! I feel so fortunate, and to be able to play a leadership role. I am super-proud of what we have done, and it is because of the people at the table. It is because of the conversations we have. We always have the conversations. We do not shy away from the hard conversations. Sometimes they are really hard, and sometimes we have to had bring in external people to have those conversations.”
“But nobody has ever thrown up their hands, said I am not having this conversation, and walked away. We have always managed to be able to have the conversation and been able to go back to the Blueprint vision. If the vision says this, we ask, can we do that if the creek is in a pipe. No, we cannot? Okay, then what do we need to do?”
“We have spent 20 years of trust-building, of credibility-building. All that is part of collaboration, and that is what makes collaboration work. We had little successes and we had big successes. And we had more than one setback. But we did not walk away when we had a setback. We came at it from a different angle. We said where did we go wrong? What do we need to do? What is the barrier that we are not seeing and that is stopping us? Then we would figure out what that (barrier) is and how to get around it.”
“How do we re-think things? It takes tons of conversations. Getting out on the land is the other thing. We can sit in a room and talk all we want. But going out to the site – with a developer, with the community, with the politicians, with the engineers – looking at the site and saying: here are the problems, this is what we need to fix, how do we work together to do that?”
“That is about commitment and about people believing in that vision. People really believe in that vision! And they are a really great group of folks too. I have so much respect for all of them. Everybody has their role. They all know what their role is, and they are actively engaged in fulfilling that role. That is across the board now.”
“Now it just happens organically. We get to reflect, smile, and say look at what we did. We did this together. And now it is happening. Now the Councillors are talking about it. Look at what is happening in the City of Victoria with the work that Councillor Loveday and Soren Henrich are doing. It is going to be brilliant!” concludes Jody Watson.
Watch the video of Jody Watson on YouTube:
“We Have Done Good”
“Look at all that has been accomplished,” says Jody Watson. “Now, the next step is that the City of Victoria is asking how do we daylight all our historic creeks. That is huge!”
“The BCI is more than the people sitting around the BCI table. They are representatives of an extensive network that includes three Councils, every department, 11 community associations, and the CRD too. This network is a true community-driven collaboration made up of people with a lot of heart, grit, commitment, and dedication. They are dedicated to achieving the Bowker Blueprint vision.”
“That is what makes it the best. We are watching it implement organically and operationally, unlike how it was 10 years ago when we were always banging at doors and saying don’t forget about the creek. It is very gratifying and a real feather in the cap for all BCI members. We can be proud of our accomplishments. We have done good. (long pause) We have done good.”
To Learn More:
The Bowker Creek Blueprint is a 100-year action plan to peel back the pavement, daylight an historical creek, and restore nature within the Victoria urban region on Vancouver Island. The intergenerational commitment by so many players is inspirational.
A Beacon of Inspiration is the 10th in the Partnership’s Watershed Blueprint Case Profile Series. Because there is no equal to the Bowker Creek Blueprint and the intergenerational 100-Year Action Plan, the intent is that this “story behind the story” will have lasting value as a legacy resource for the Bowker Creek Urban Watershed Renewal Initiative. The Partnership’s hope is that others will be inspired by the Bowker experience.
To read the complete story, download a copy of A Beacon of Inspiration: Bowker Creek Blueprint and 100-Year Action Plan.