OUR LAND ETHIC HAS CONSEQUENCES FOR WATER: “I see lake stewards playing a supportive role as a partner in provincial climate change strategies,” says Eric Bonham, a director of the BC Lake Stewardship Society


Note to Reader:

Published by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. Storylines accommodate a range of reader attention spans. Read the headline and move on, or take the time to delve deeper – it is your choice!  Downloadable versions are available at Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series.

The edition published on October 24, 2023 featured Eric Bonham and his story behind the story of the creation of the BC Lake Stewardship Society (BCLSS) in 1997 by Ministry of Environment colleagues Rick Nordin and Ken Ashley.


Our Land Ethic has Consequences for Water!

Eric Bonham is a former Director in two provincial ministries – Environment and Municipal Affairs. While in government, he was a driving force behind the partnership-based Urban Salmon Habitat Program (USHP) of the 1990s.

“The success of the USHP was in the integration and partnership that was encouraged between local government and the steward,” recalls Eric Bonham. “The win-win approach greatly enthused citizens and elected officials alike to commit to the program.”

He describes this experience as life-defining because it influenced his history of commitment to his community, with a deep passion for community stewardship and engagement.

MISSION POSSIBLE: “top-down and bottom-up” engagement of community

In this edition of Waterbucket eNews, Eric Bonham shares the “story behind the story” of the BC Lake Stewardship Society of which he is a director. “Stewardship operates under a different dynamic than the private sector or government. Stewards are drawn together for a common cause, like-minded individuals with a vision for the greater good,” explains Eric Bonham.




“Eric Bonham has long been a source of inspiration for me. When we first met in the 1990s, I was instantly impressed by Eric’s courage to speak from the heart and tell it like it is,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.

“We served together on the provincial working group that developed A Water Conservation Strategy for British Columbia, released in 1998. Eric was ahead of his time with his advocacy for a One Water” approach at a time when the notion of water conservation was in its infancy.

Eric Bonham retired from government in 2004, but his mission and commitment to community stewardship and engagement has continued in collaboration with Rick Nordin, Ken Ashley and many others. He frames this as Mission Possible. The term aptly describes the “story behind the story” of the BC Lake Stewardship Society as told by Eric Bonham.

“Mission Possible” is a call to action

In 2006, Eric Bonham was a founding member of CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island, an initiative of the Partnership for Water Sustainability. Educational in scope, the CAVI program was built around peer-based learning.

A credible formula:

Eric would open these capacity-building sessions for local government staff with a spirited call to action built around the Mission Possible theme. Drawing on his experience, both as civil servant and community steward, he would state that:

“Major breakthroughs happen when decision-makers in government work with grass-roots visionaries in the community to create the future desired by all. Collaboration grows from a shared vision about the future and commitment to action. This is the ‘top down and bottom up’ approach.”



STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When there is trouble in the lake, there is trouble in the watershed! – a conversation with Eric Bonham 

In September, the BC Lake Stewardship Society held an in-person conference for the first time since 2019. Appropriately, the venue was Prospect Lake in the District of Saanich.

“The conference identified the value and benefit of the BCLSS lake stewardship program, working as it does, collaboratively with scientists, environmental professionals, First Nations, lakeshore residents, government officials and the general public to assist with maintaining healthy lakes throughout the province,” explains Eric Bonham .

His guest essay is included with the downloadable version of this edition of Waterbucket eNews. The essay is complemented by the interview that follows.



THE BIG THREE: Climate Change, Introduced Species, and Eutrophication

“What I found really valuable about the conference is that the subject matter captures writ large the big picture of what is happening in a lot of our lakes. Climate change, introduced species, eutrophication…each one represents the existing situation somewhere in BC.”

“The importance of each has been brought into focus or accentuated because of climate change. I look at lakes as the end of the chain. When there is trouble in the lake, there is trouble in the watershed!”

“And therein we find the value of the lake stewardship initiative. To put that in context, the Province cannot possibly do or cover the range of challenges in our lakes in BC.”

Genesis of the BC Lake Stewardship Society

“In 1997, former Ministry of Environment colleagues Rick Nordin and Ken Ashley understood this existential dilemma. They were ahead of their time when they boldly said:



“And that is how the BC Lake Stewardship Society came into being. From that humble beginning in 1997, the BCLSS has grown into a provincial network of lake stewards. A quarter-century later, there are some 50-plus member groups located around the province.”

“Lake stewards offer a vital contribution, namely passion and commitment, and in a volunteer capacity, leadership within their community.”

A community response to climate change is a call for all hands on-deck

“My involvement with the BCLSS began around the year 2000 through the Friends of Fork Lake stewardship group in the District of Highlands where I lived.”

“You suddenly hit a button that everybody did not know what to do, but said, how do we get involved. And then you realize that working together we can make a difference through lake stewardship.”



There is magic in a shared purpose

“Another thing that I like to put in context is that, with climate change, we must have all hands on deck. But I doubt that the provincial government realizes…YET…the value of community taking responsibility in some aspect of its local area.”

“Engaging citizen lake stewards throughout the province would extend the ability of government, as we face climate change. It is a growing agency, with huge potential, of embracing provincial direction with engagement of its citizens.”


Combining the heart and the head 

“A stewardship ethic is something that you cannot explain in political terms because you are talking about a different system and a different way of thinking about the world around us.”

“You are talking about what I call combining the heart and the head. You go forward because you believe in the concept and what you are doing. You also have to have pragmatism. Otherwise, it is just airy-fairy talk.”

Our relationship with water has to change

“There are so many things happening around a lake that we are not aware might influence the health of that lake. It is time for us all to take responsibility and look at water differently. We must be pragmatic and inclusive.”

“Lakes cannot be considered in isolation, but rather within an integrated whole watershed system context, for the health of the lake is vulnerable and dependent upon land use activities in the surrounding watershed.”

“It has also become evident that the integration of indigenous knowledge and western science is long overdue as we reframe, through partnership, our relationship with water,” concludes Eric Bonham.



Living Water Smart in British Columbia Series

To download a copy of the foregoing resource as a PDF document for your records and/or sharing, click on Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Our land ethic has consequences for water. The downloadable version includes a Bonus Feature – the complete essay by Eric Bonham.

DOWNLOAD A COPY: https://waterbucket.ca/wcp/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2023/10/PWSBC_Living-Water-Smart_Eric-Bonham-on-lake-stewardship_2023.pdf


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