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State of Water in British Columbia

FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 4): “B.C. First Nations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could bring more intense and frequent flooding and wildfires, with many reserves and treaty lands located close to water or forest, yet minimally protected,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


“First Nations jurisdiction must be recognized in all areas, including emergency management,” the B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief, Terry Teegee, said after the November 2021 floods. “We are the most at risk during these catastrophic climate events, which are sadly no longer isolated incidents but ongoing repercussions of climate change.” A 2015 study by the Fraser Basin Council found 61 reserves and other parcels of treaty lands in the Lower Mainland could be inundated in either a major Fraser River flood or a coastal storm surge flood.

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 3): “There are more than 350 communities, First Nations and regional districts in B.C. trying to figure out if they have a wildfire problem, each trying to figure out what the solution might be, each trying to come up with a prevention plan, each fighting for the same small pot of money,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


The increased wildfire risk and potential for more frequent, larger fires is exacerbated by warming temperatures. It’s why a paradigm shift is needed, one where forests are managed for resilience on a much larger scale and not just mainly for their commercial timber value, says Lori Daniels, a University of B.C. forestry professor with expertise in wildfire. It also means targeting priority areas rather than relying on ad hoc grants that do not target priorities. “We’ve set ourselves up for a total lose-lose situation,” she said.

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 2):”Local governments, responsible for much of the mitigation work after the province reduced its role in 2003, face huge costs they cannot pay, putting people, homes, businesses and infrastructure at increasing risk,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


“Provincial efforts have fallen far short of what is needed to properly prepare for and reduce risks from an expected increase in both the frequency and intensity of floods and wildfires in the face of climate change. Our four-month investigation found a majority of B.C. communities do not have a comprehensive, costed, flood-mitigation plan. For those that have a costed plan, the total bill tops $7.74 billion,” wrote Glenda Luymes. “As a result of climate change, experts believe what is now considered a 500-year flood, meaning a river level that in the past occurred once in 500 years, could become more frequent.”

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 1): “The devastation, driven in part by climate change, say experts, is expected to worsen with drier, hotter summers, more frequent floods and rising oceans,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


“Many communities face both wildfire and flood risks. Underpinning the findings is the fact local governments, which the province had made responsible for much of the risk reduction work, face huge costs they cannot pay,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra, lead author for the 7-part series. Four-month examination drew from responses to questions put to more than 85 municipalities, First Nations and regional districts; thousands of pages of government-commissioned, academic and other independent reports, and community wildfire and flood protection plans.

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CHALLENGES & GAPS IN THE WSA: “Why we need to talk about unvested water in British Columbia” – the story behind the story as told by Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei, retired senior civil servants in the Ministry of Environment (April 2022)


When BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) came into force in 2016, “certain things were left behind”. Released in January 2022, the government’s Discussion Paper on Watershed Security Strategy represents a once per decade window of opportunity to revisit assumptions and decisions that defined the WSA scope, reflect on the context for those assumptions and decisions, and determine what action should be taken in light of new understanding. “It is possible that no water-related legislation, bylaw, plan or strategy can be applied to unvested water,” stated Mike Wei.

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STRENGTHENING THE FOUNDATION FOR WATER LAW IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei bring an informed perspective to their quest to strengthen the foundation for BC water law. They draw on decades of experience to pull threads of understanding from the past through to the present,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (April 2022)


“Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei have drawn attention to a jurisdictional gap in the Water Sustainability Act because of the potential for a domino effect. Initially I had trouble wrapping my mind around why Waterbucket eNews would feature a topic related to water law. However, I do respect the passion Donna and Mike bring to a conversation about challenges and gaps in the Water Sustainability Act. So, I asked, is there a “story behind the story” that would interest our readers? The real issue, they emphasized, centres on what government cannot do when the water use involves unvested water,” stated Kim Stephens.

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CHALLENGES & GAPS IN THE WSA: “What might a Water Sustainability Act 2.0 look like?” – a joint submission by Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei to the government of British Columbia lays out five issues of concern (March 2022)


“So far, the current engagement for the Watershed Security Strategy has prioritised the questions that relate to: ‘what can First Nations and local organisations do to help with the management of BC’s water’. Our submission focused on government’s actions that we believe need to be discussed and addressed in conjunction with the Watershed Security Strategy in order to unlock the full potential for sustainable water management in BC. Since climate change is all about water – too much or too little – these changes should fit into climate related initiatives as well,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA IS A CRISIS IN THE MAKING: “But no amount of localized planning for healthy, more resilient watersheds will be credible if we don’t have a firm handle on who is using our shared water resources and how much they are using. And that assessment absolutely has to include licensed groundwater users who are in compliance,” stated Donna Forsyth, former legislative adviser in B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in an article for The Tyee (February 2022)


“What will the government do, come March 1, 2022? Enforce a law that it passed with broad support from both the governing party and opposition, and effectively shut businesses down by turning off their taps? Or will it turn a blind eye and allow thousands of business owners to use their water illegally, while their counterparts who did the right thing and applied for their licences follow the law? Either outcome guarantees trouble ahead and must be avoided. But before saying what needs to be done, we need to understand why we are in this mess,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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WATER RESOURCE USE AND CONSERVATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Over the past several years, the B.C. government dropped the ball on several important and varied water-related files with the result that threats to public health and safety, critical infrastructure and food security have all increased,” stated Donna Forsyth, lead author for an opinion piece published by the Vancouver Sun newspaper (January 2022)


“Mandates to facilitate development conflict with the protection of our water. This must change and it will require strong political leadership and the creation of a dedicated, independent and comprehensive water agency with a clear mandate to ensure the protection of our water resources as a top government priority. Last year’s floods and heat domes are a wake-up call. We can expect more and failure to make water policy changes now guarantees a torrent of trouble ahead,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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THE ERA OF WEATHER EXTREMES IS UPON US: “Scientists are generally reluctant to attribute single extreme weather events to climate change, but the exceptional events of recent years are shifting opinion,” stated John Clague, Emeritus Professor in Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University (November 2021)


“The West Coast of Canada is known for its wet autumn weather, but the storm that British Columbia’s Fraser Valley experienced over the weekend of November 13-14, 2021 was one for the record books. A weather system called an “atmospheric river” flowed across the southwest corner of the province and, over a period of two days, brought strong winds and near-record amounts of rain, which caused widespread flooding and landslides,” wrote John Clague.

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