DRINKING WATER & WATERSHED PROTECTION IN THE COWICHAN REGION OF VANCOUVER ISLAND: “We have taken on responsibilities downloaded by the provincial government because we have a necessity to get things done. Yet downloading is especially hard on regional districts because of the demands it places on everyone to pick up the slack,” stated Lori Iannidinardo, Chair (2022) Cowichan Valley Regional District

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 25, 2022 featured an interview with Lori Iannidinardo, outgoing Chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional Board on Vancouver Island. Lori Iannidinardo’ s family moved to the region in 1969. First elected to the Regional Board in 2008, she has served four terms. Her key takeaway is that collaboration among all levels of government is necessary and essential to advance drinking water and watershed protection. 



“We need a provincial hammer. But there is nobody on the ground to take responsibility and follow through to resolve issues and concerns” – Lori Iannidinardo

Know your history. Understand the context. Build on experience. Collaboration at all levels would help everyone better deliver on policy goals and regulatory requirements. Inter-regional collaboration helps the champions in each region understand what other regions are doing, what works, and what does not.

In October 2022, the Partnership for Water Sustainability published  a preview extract from Drinking Water & Watershed Protection in the Cowichan Valley Regional District on Vancouver Island. The publication is the first in a series of comprehensive “stories behind the regional stories”. The Partnership for Water Sustainability will publish the series in 2023.

The Inter-Regional Collaboration Series traces the history of inter-regional collaboration under the umbrella of the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative (IREI). The spotlight is on how learning from each other has influenced, as well as been influenced by, initiatives and outcomes within the five partner regions involved in the IREI.

Regional Team Approach is fundamentally different than a Regional Approach

Reflections by Lori Iannidinardo provide insight into the Cowichan Water Journey. She is the outgoing Board Chair, Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). Her key takeaway is that collaboration among all levels of government is necessary and essential.

Lori Iannidinardo elaborates on the consequences for local government when provincial downloading is coupled with hollowing out of the civil service. She points out how the situation can be turned around once the nature of the issue is recognized.Her context for reflection is the notion of shared responsibility in tandem with the regional team approach. Shared responsibility means that everyone has a role to play in accomplishing community, watershed and regional goals.

The “regional team approach” seeks to align local actions with over-arching provincial and regional goals. Everyone needs to agree on expectations and how all the players will work together. After that, each community can reach its goals in its own way.



“There is no formal mechanism to enable or facilitate inter-regional collaboration in British Columbia. For the past decade, the Partnership for Water Sustainability has filled this gap in the southwest corner of the province, where 75% of the population lives, through the Georgia Basin IREI,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.

“Launched in 2012, the IREI facilitates peer-based education among local governments located on the east coast of Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland. In 2016, five Regional Boards – Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo Region, Comox Valley, Capital Region, and Metro Vancouver – recommitted through 2021 to support inter-regional collaboration.”

“In 2023, rollout of each regional story in the Inter-Regional Collaboration Series will inform the five newly elected Regional Boards about the contributions of their regions to a pool of knowledge and understanding. They will learn that the IREI is a unique mechanism for collaboration that seeks to bridge the “implementation and integration gap.”

Through sharing and learning, ensure that where everyone is going is indeed the right way

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Re-engage provincial staff in a regional team approach, achieve watershed protection outcomes at multiple scales

“The context for my conversational interview with Chair Lori Iannidinardo was the Cowichan Water Journey over the past three decades,” continued Kim Stephens. “Three themes emerged: (1) revolving door describes the constant turnover in provincial staff; (2) local governments need provincial support to solve local problems; and (3) without provincial participation, the regional team approach breaks down.”

“CVRD is the second regional district to create a regional service function for drinking water and watershed protection in BC. The first was the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN), in 2008. The milestone moment for CVRD was the resounding referendum result in October 2018, a full decade after the RDN referendum was approved by voters.”

Essence of the regional team approach

“CVRD is guided by a philosophy of working with the community within each watershed to find solutions. The model is a collaborative, cooperative arrangement with various partners,” explained Kate Miller, the lead person for the Drinking Water & Watershed Protection service function.

“In the 2000s, we had capacity at the provincial level and within key organisations (because) professionals came up under a mentorship and a collaborative structure. When they retired, however, they were replaced by folks who do not have that depth of career experience and commitment in their DNA. This has destabilized our ability to make long term foundational change.”

Revolving door describes the constant turnover in provincial staff

“You can only try to work with relationships and move things forward for so long. It is exhausting. As soon as you establish a relationship with someone in a provincial ministry, they move on. It is every year or two. Staff turnover is constant. Or they do not have staff,” stated Chair Lori Iannidinardo when she reflected on the hollowing out of the provincial civil service.

“Relationships are important. Working together is important. But it has to be both sides working together, and I do not see that. It is a constant frustration to watch and anticipate what is going to happen next, or not, when provincial ministries have jurisdiction but do not act.”

Local governments need provincial support to solve local problems

“You need a team to be effective. Land use is a local government responsibility. But we need much stronger provincial regulations and support so that regional districts are able to mandate requirements for better and more effective land use practices. That is where the importance of intergovernmental teamwork comes into play,” Lori Iannidinardo continued.

“We all need to be backed up by each level of government responsibility. As a Regional Director, I will take on my responsibility regarding land use. But so must the other levels of government. Senior governments need to use their regulations to help local governments solve local problems.”

Without provincial participation, the regional team approach breaks down

“We need a provincial hammer,” emphasized Lori Iannidinardo. “But there is nobody on the ground to take responsibility and follow through to resolve issues and concerns. All the agencies have cut back staff.”

“The result is a free-for- all. Sure, we believe the Cowichan Valley Regional District is doing amazing work. But that can go down the drain when you do not have a team supporting each other.”

“When I look back and reflect on my 14 years as a regional director, I feel good in saying CVRD has come a long way as an organization that does good work. We have taken on responsibilities downloaded by the provincial government because we have a necessity to get things done.”

What is missing

“Yet downloading is especially hard on regional districts because of the demands it places on everyone to pick up the slack.”

“Land use is our primary responsibility, but we also have our fingers in many pies that are super important. What is missing is support from senior government for drinking water and watershed protection.”

“The breakdown of the team is what I have noticed over 14 years. I wish we had every level of government working on this as a team. How do we get everybody up to speed and working together when participation on committees is not a provincial priority to help local government?”

A Closing Thought

“I do give the Province credit with the new Land Water Resource Stewardship Ministry. This month, Cowichan Watershed Board Co-Chair Chief Lydia Hwitsum and I met with Minister Osborne. We had a very productive meeting and see a bright future for more attention paid to our valuable resources and opportunities for more teamwork with our newly elected CVRD Board,” concluded Lori Iannidinardo.

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