LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern always acts as a great sounding board about the concepts underpinning our network approach in general and our Ambassadors Program in particular,” stated Derek Richmond, Partnership for Water Sustainability (November 2022)

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. The edition published on November 22, 2022 featured the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative. Launched in 2012, the IREI facilitates peer-based education and collective leadership among local governments located on the east coast of Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland. The IREI partners demonstrate “collaborative leadership in action”.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Initiative, a unique mechanism for local government collaboration

There is no formal mechanism to enable or facilitate inter-regional collaboration in British Columbia. For the past decade, the Partnership has filled this gap in the southwest corner of the province, where 75% of the population lives, through the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative.

The IREI facilitates peer-based education and collective leadership among local governments located on the east coast of Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland. A goal of inter-governmental and inter-regional collaboration is to leverage more with the same resources.

In 2012, the Partnership for Water Sustainability asked five Regional Boards – Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo Region, Comox Valley, Capital Region, and Metro Vancouver – to formally collaborate under the IREI umbrella. The five passed Board Resolutions affirming their support. And so, the IREI was launched.

Board Resolutions enabled the transition from the successful ‘proof of approach’ on Vancouver Island, during the period 2006 through 2011 (i.e. under the CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island banner), to full-scale IREI implementation by 2014.

In 2016, the five Regional Boards recommitted to inter-regional collaboration when the Partnership launched the EAP initiative (where EAP is the acronym for the Ecological Accounting Process).

In 2023, the Partnership for Water Sustainability will be asking the newly elected Regional Boards to recommit once more.

PART ONE – Focus on Context, Intent and Results

The IREI is nested within the Water Sustainability Action Plan which, in turn, is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Cascading is the reverse way to think about this nesting concept. Each successive layer in the cascade adds depth and detail to enable the move from awareness to implementation – that is, ACTION.

Watershed Health, Rainwater Management and Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery have been related priorities for communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Metro Vancouver region for the best part of two decades, and in some cases longer.

Furthermore, local governments have for years been struggling with the question of how best to move forward on these priorities, particularly in light of a changing climate and community expectations to provide higher levels-of-service at reduced levels-of-cost.

The ‘implementation challenge’ is the driver for collaboration under the IREI umbrella. 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.

‘Mind Map’ for Collaboration:

The implementation spotlight is on what does the Watershed Health Goal mean in practice, and how will it be translated it into action on the ground. Collaborating regions view Watershed Health Goal through complementary lenses. Together, these lenses form a complete picture. This is illustrated in the image below.

PART TWO – What inter-regional collaboration looks like

In 2012, each region hosted a ‘sharing and learning’ event to initiate the IREI program. Year 1 constituted the ‘proof-of-approach’ for aligning efforts and leveraging more with the same resources. 25 local governments participated.

In 2013, a group of local government champions representing the five geographic regions convened as an “inter-regional leadership team” and committed to working together to achieve this goal: Restore and/or protect stream and watershed health. Alignment with provincial policies was deemed to be a critical success factor.

In 2014, the partner regions hosted a series of Inter-Regional Collaboration Sessions. This process aligned with each region’s priorities and individual work plans. Regions shared with, and learned from, each other. Beyond the Guidebook 2015 was the deliverable.

Since 2016, the IREI spotlight has been on the 6-year program of applied research to test, refine and mainstream the methodology and metrics for EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process. EAP provides local governments with a path forward to address the Riparian Deficit. This is the environmental equivalent of the Infrastructure Funding Gap. It is game-changing.

Guiding principles for successful collaboration: 

Systemic change is possible, even in the complicated sphere of planning for use and conservation of land. It requires understanding and pursuit of holistic outcomes. Partnership experience is synthesized as the set of 10 guiding principles for success (as listed in the image below).

The IREI process involves drilling down from the vision and goals of a regional plan and exploring the ‘how-to’ details of implementation and integration. One can have “implementation” without “integration”; but implementation will likely be ineffective without integration.Integration means a holistic approach to use and conservation of land and water. It encompasses physical infrastructure, the built environment (land use, development and building design) and the ecosystems within which we work and recreate. And it includes all practitioners whose profession, work, volunteer role or responsibility as a landowner affects land and water sustainability


To read the complete story published on November 22nd, 2022, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative, a unique mechanism for local government collaboration .