NANAIMO REGION’S DRINKING WATER & WATERSHED PROTECTION PROGRAM: Strong, Informed, Enduring Political Leadership is a Foundation Piece for Living Water Smart

Note to Reader:

“SHARE INFORMATION. INFORM DECISIONS.” This soundbite lines up nicely with the mission of Waterbucket eNews which is to help our readers make sense of a complicated world. Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the vision for Living Water Smart in British Columbia to build greener communities and adapt to a changing climate; and embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land, fish, and water in altered landscapes. 

The edition published on March 22, 2022 featured an interview with Ben Geselbracht, a local government elected representative, about his role in shepherding implementation of the Second 10-Year Action Plan for Drinking Water & Watershed Protection (DWWP), a precedent-setting program that serves the Regional District of Nanaimo. Director Ben Geselbracht is one of three Board members who guided DWWP Action Plan 2.0 over the finish line. 


British Columbians have arrived at an inter-generational moment in history. Viewed in this context, the enduring strength of “Living Water Smart as an idea” lies in its recognition that provincial collaboration with local government and community takes place outside the legislative framework.

The progress of a transformational process such as Living Water Smart is measured in terms of decades, not years. It is a journey. There is no short cut. In Decade One, build consensus and get the foundation in place. In Decade Two, erect the framework for action. Entering Decade Three, one should be ready for the bold leap forward.

Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships

The story of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Drinking Water & Watershed Protection program (DWWP) exemplifies and embodies all of the above. It took a decade of hard work to create the DWWP through a precedent-setting referendum.

In 2008, voters approved a parcel tax as a financial mechanism for assured program funding. The program is now in its second 10-year Action Plan. The program is defined by partnerships, internal and external.

DWWP Service is a container for ‘the 5Cs’

The Venn diagram below is a high-level way of visualizing the context for the DWWP.  An over-arching goal of drinking water and watershed protection in the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) is to transform good intentions and associated policies into effective practices on the ground. Getting such practices right is key to achieving beneficial outcomes, and, ultimately serving the common good.

Funding, People and Continuity

Beneficial outcomes depend on alignment of interests within a regional team framework, such that all players involved in the local government mix are guided by shared responsibility and collaborative leadership. These are foundational ingredients.

The 5Cs – communication, cooperation, coordination, and critical thinking and creativity – are also essential ingredients. The DWWP Service is the container to hold the 5Cs. What is the container? It is funding, people and continuity.

DWWP themes encapsulate what collaborative leadership looks like in practice

When leadership is shared among members, rather than turning to one heroic leader to guide and be the expert, it is known as collaborative leadership.

It involves bringing the right people together in constructive ways with good information, such that they create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of their organizations and community. Thus, collaborative leadership is an apt description of the DWWP process. The DWWP program is built on three themes.

DWWP Theme One is Education and Awareness (influencing behaviour).

DWWP Theme Two is Building Knowledge (science and data) for good decision-making.

DWWP Theme Three is Supporting Sound Land Use Decision-Making.

Scroll down and read about the interview with Ben Geselbracht, local government elected representative. He is one of three RDN Board members who were tasked with responsibility for guiding DWWP Action Plan 2.0 over the finish line in 2020.

Click on the cover image below to download a copy of “the RDN story” and learn much, much more:



“Viewed through a multi-decadal lens, three distinct eras provide structure for telling the story of the RDN journey and DWWP evolution. First, the period from 2000 through 2008 is bracketed by the case study process for Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, and the successful referendum,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director.

“After that, DWWP Action Plan 1.0 covers the ten years from 2009 through 2019 (aka the First Decade). Currently underway is DWWP Action Plan 2.0 (aka the Second Decade) for the period 2020 through 2030. The rainwater management emphasis closes the loop on the whole-system, water balance approach that was initiated 20 years ago with the Guidebook.”

DWWP Genesis…. Know One’s History!

“Circa 2000, the RDN was the partner region for the Guidebook. The RDN undertook a case study demonstration to test a watershed-based approach to land planning. The process planted seeds. These ultimately bore fruit with the 2008 referendum which created the DWWP Service.”

“The Guidebook was developed to support the rainwater management component of Liquid Waste Management Plans (LWMP) as required by the Province. Two decades later, the DWWP is the service delivery model for the Rainwater Program under the RDN’s LWMP. This directly links the two programs.”

DWWP perspective on water as a metaphor for collaborative leadership

The metaphor of water is relevant when talking about the incremental progress evolving land and water management in the RDN. Water flowing as a river and slowly washing over river rocks takes a while to shape those rocks. Meanwhile, the river channel itself is incrementally changing over time, is the way Julie Pisani, DWWP Program Coordinator, describes DWWP evolution,” continued Kim Stephens.

Water teaches us that progress is not always going to be a firehose. Sometimes it is going to be more like a trickle, or a pool. The ultimate process, one that will never be done, is to figure out how we can manage land and water and people and everything that comes along with it, concludes Julie Pisani.”

DWWP experience would inform the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund

“The RDN is one of five regional district partners in the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative (IREI). The Partnership for Water Sustainability functions as the secretariat for this collaborative initiative. The IREI purpose is to facilitate peer-based education among local governments on the east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland,” explained Kim Stephens.

“In March 2022, the Partnership released Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Watershed Security Strategy is a Building Block. This was the Partnership’s submission to the Province. A key message is that the Province has much to learn from the long-term experience of the RDN and the other IREI partners.”

An opportunity for the Province to re-engage:

“The Province has been absent from local government processes for the past decade, resulting in a leadership vacuum. Now, however, there is a golden opportunity for the new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship to leverage decades of collaboration to accelerate progress towards Watershed Security Strategy outcomes.”

“The Partnership has urged the new Ministry to deliver a consistent, unified message about Living Water Smart expectations. Only the Province can say, pay attention. Doing this would help align provincial, regional, and local actions for the common good as it relates to water sustainability in a changing climate,” concluded Kim Stephens.

Living Water Smart transcends governments

Drinking Water & Watershed Protection Program in the Regional District of Nanaimo: An interview with Ben Geselbracht

The program vision for the DWWP Service function, the motivating sense of purpose, and career commitment are enthusiastically shared by successive generations of program champions at the Board and senior management levels, and by program managers and doers. Success does not depend on one individual. It has been, and continues to be, a team effort. When the baton is handed off, everyone understands that the race is a marathon, not a sprint.

Strong and enduring political leadership is a critical success factor. Over the past two decades, successive Regional Boards have handed the DWWP baton to their successors to carry on the mission. Director Ben Geselbracht is one of three Board members who guided DWWP Action Plan 2.0 over the finish line. Elected to Nanaimo City Council in 2018, he provides a contemporary Board perspective.

Program Success Comes Down to Strong Political Leadership

“Having stable funding has been a huge part of the success of the DWWP program. It has enabled education of both the community and those who hold political office. This laid the foundation for strong Board support,” stated Ben Geselbracht in an interview for Drinking Water & Watershed Protection in the Regional District of Nanaimo – Right People in Place in Right Place at Right Time, Over Time.

“Because Board members are well-educated about the issues, we can provide informed and strong leadership that allows staff to achieve program objectives. We see the fruits of collaboration that brings people together at the same table to move processes forward. This collaboration has also led to the spread of important pieces of knowledge and understanding.”

“Education and collaboration – these are the key ingredients of the success of everything that the RDN does under the DWWP program.”

Watershed-Based Approach

“Prior to becoming a member of the Regional Board, I was well aware of the DWWP program and that the watershed is a fundamental management unit. The effectiveness of the community outreach by the team led by Julie Pisani made the DWWP a visible entity in the community. When I joined the Board, my focus was on updating the DWWP and making it a Strategic Plan priority.”

“Because the updating and educational process for DWWP Action Plan 2.0 was so thorough, the entire Board had a clear understanding of why it was important and necessary to: 1) address climate change adaptation; and, 2) integrate what had been learned in Decade #1 of the DWWP into regional policies and land use planning in Decade #2.”

“Design With Nature” as a Guiding Philosophy

”When I think about sustaining the DWWP legacy from one Board to the next, it is about viewing it within a larger vision for creating sustainable human settlement. Looking through an inter-generational lens, the term permaculture is what resonates with me. It has three guiding principles. The first is care of land. It is foundational because the other two build on it. The second principle is care of people, and the third is care of the process.”

“When our perspective is the watershed, water is fundamentally what keeps everything moving. It maintains biodiversity; it maintains our health. The watershed is the foundational scale of consideration, and therefore we must base our design of human settlements upon it.

“The DWWP is helping us to identify the care of land considerations that we must design human settlements around. We are not there yet, mainly because watershed governance is distributed due to fractured jurisdictional responsibilities (i.e. federal, provincial, regional, local).”

“A long-term and shared community vision is necessary to integrate all the care of land considerations such that Design With Nature is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. And when that happens, people will understand why our communities must be built based on care of land principles.”

DWWP would inform the “Watershed Security Strategy & Fund”

“The RDN Board is proud of the staff report that we submitted to the Province in response to their Discussion Paper on a Watershed Security Strategy and Fund. The RDN provided feedback on exactly what municipalities and regional districts need from the Province so that we can take on more initiative and responsibility around watershed-scale decisions,” added Ben Geselbracht in a recent interview update.

“This is a time for regional districts and stakeholders to speak up to ensure that what goes in the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund is adequate to meet the needs that we have been calling for. Fundamentally it comes down to resourcing. Funding will enable all the outcomes that the Province is hoping to achieve.”

Working Towards a Responsible Water Culture

“We need everybody at the table. And regional districts are very well positioned to be the facilitator at the watershed scale. While it is good to see the Province refocusing its efforts on watersheds and watershed health, the Province must also bring adequate resourcing. At the end of the day, a lot of the regulatory authority and funding for beefing up support for watershed-scale actions must come from the Province.”

“The DWWP program coordinates collaborative regional programs advancing water awareness and stewardship; water information and science; and water-centric planning and policy support. The RDN submission to the Province reflects professional and community perspectives, local concerns, as well as solutions and priorities based on the input of our experienced staff, elected officials and advisors.”

“Funded by member municipalities and electoral areas alike, this service operates at the watershed scale, developing partnerships across jurisdictions, sectors, departments and geographic areas in order to support effective watershed management and stewardship.”

Regional Coordination is a Key to Success: 

“DWWP initiatives include community education and outreach, rebate programs, community-based monitoring initiatives, scientific studies and reporting, water-expertise to support development referrals, and advocacy for policy improvements.”

“As DWWP Program Coordinator Julie Pisani reminds us, we always come back to the DWWP vision. It is over-arching, outcome-oriented and lays out what we need to do to understand and manage water in our region. The program is a ‘one-stop’ source for local government initiatives on water stewardship.”

“Cooperation with the four municipalities results in consistent messaging, efficient use of resources and a concerted effort to establish strong water-awareness and cultivate a responsible water culture in the Nanaimo region,” concluded Ben Geselbracht.

Partnerships are central to Community Watershed Monitoring Network because: 1) stewardship groups collect the data; 2) the Province provides data standards, protocols and data analysis; 3) private Forestry provides land access in the upper watersheds and safety gear; and 4) the RDN coordinates the program, manages the equipment, volunteer communications, data entry and reporting to community and decision makers.

Did you enjoy this article? Would you like a PDF document version? Waterbucket News feature stories are published online as part of the Living Water Smart Series. Click on the image below to download your copy.



About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.