LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “In the oral history of the Sunshine Coast, I believe the 2021 Watershed Dialogue will be viewed as an important moment, an inflection point, for the regional team approach,” stated Mayor Bill Beamish, Town of Gibsons

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.

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


To read the complete story published on October 11th, 2022, download a PDF copy of “Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Team Sunshine Coast – A Regional Approach to Water Security”.