Scoping a Water Sustainability Plan
In August 2019, a Ministerial Order under the Water Sustainability Act was issued to specific water users (including surface and groundwater licensees, and unlicensed groundwater users) to stop using water, in an effort to help protect fish populations in the Koksilah Watershed. It was the first time that such an order was issued in the West Coast region.
Cowichan Tribes and the provincial government are working together in an innovative partnership to build better water management and resilience in the Koksilah watershed.
As a first step, Cowichan Tribes and the provincial government have committed to a scoping process taking place in summer 2020. This process will engage regional partners and community members, and use collaboration, creativity, and effective science-based planning to help address drought and changing hydrology for the benefit of all Koksilah residents. The process will be transparent with an initial focus on:
addressing environmental, economic; and social risks around drought and low flows;
building relationships, capacity, and knowledge; and,
laying the foundation for a whole of watershed approach to water management for the benefit of all members of the wider community.
Cowichan Tribes and the provincial government are collaborating on this effort in a government-to-government relationship. Each partner is an equal authority with distinct legal traditions and responsibilities. Government-to-government partnerships like this one are an important part of BC’s commitments to reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In February 2020, Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, met with Chief William Seymour of Cowichan Tribes in Duncan on Feb. 7, 2020, to sign an interim letter of agreement to initiate this project. - see Provincial News Release.
"This agreement is an excellent example of how governments can work together to benefit residents and help protect valuable natural resources. Effective stewardship of the Koksilah Watershed is a goal that we all share."
Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development
“Cowichan Tribes appreciates that action is being taken by the Province to look after the Koksilah Watershed in partnership with us. Help for the Koksilah River is long overdue. Climate change is causing repeated droughts year after year and massive flooding like we saw this week. We can’t wait any longer. We need to work together, government to government and with all the affected people in the community, to deal with this and plan for a better future. A water sustainability plan sounds like a possible way forward, and we’re pleased to have the opportunity to pursue that together with the Province in our territory.”
Chief William Seymour of Cowichan Tribes
The Interim Letter of Agreement commits the partners to seek consensus recommendations regarding the Koksilah Watershed planning including scoping of a long-term agreement with respect to ongoing collaborative management of the Koksilah watershed. A steering Committee (SC) has been struck to oversee this process, with a workplan and a Terms of Reference as defined by the Interim Letter of Agreement between Cowichan Tribes and the Province of BC (FLNRORD).
The Steering Committee representatives from Cowichan Tribes are accountable to Cowichan Tribes Chief and Council. Provincial staff are accountable to their respective Ministers. The Steering Committee is also guided by jointly appointed advisors from POLIS Water Sustainability Project, University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, Cowichan Watershed Board, the BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative, and BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
The Steering Committee will work towards making sustained, substantive progress towards:
Seeking consensus recommendations regarding Koksilah watershed planning
Seeking consensus on values and principles to guide the Koksilah watershed planning process
Scoping a long-term agreement with respect to ongoing collaborative management of the Koksilah watershed
The Steering Committee has been struck to implement the workplan associated with the Interim Letter of Agreement (ILOA). This workplan includes 3 distinct initiatives to take place through the Summer and Fall 2020 and will inform the Steering Committee’s recommendations regarding the feasibility of a water sustainability plan process.
Technical Assessment: An external consultant is being hired to assess the potential causes of low flows in the Koksilah Watershed and identify technical data gaps through a request for proposal (RFP) process.
Outreach & Engagement: The primary purpose of this initiative is to provide information to, and learn from, community members through a commitment to an early and transparent engagement with the community, decision-makers and water and land users about the WSP scoping exercise. The outreach and engagement process will be developed and led by an external consultant jointly selected by the Steering Committee and guided by a Working Group comprised of Steering Committee representatives and jointly appointed advisors.
Cowichan Tribes Internal Engagement: Cowichan Tribes is carrying out internal outreach and engagement to:
identify technical gaps and probable causes of seasonal drought and flooding issues within the Koksilah watershed;
identify needs and concerns in the Koksilah watershed as they relate to water use;
identify relevant traditional knowledge, use information and goals/objectives of Cowichan Tribes members as they relate to the Koksilah watershed; and
scope the feasibility of a water sustainability plan or other regulatory tools under the WSA to address and achieve Cowichan Tribes goals and objectives in the Koksilah watershed.
It is anticipated that each of these initiatives will be completed by the end of the fall 2020. The outcomes of each of these initiatives will inform the Steering Committee’s development of recommendations regarding the scoping of a long-term agreement with respect to ongoing collaborative management of the Koksilah watershed.
Methodologies associated with implementing all components of this work will be subject to current recommended safety guidelines as per POH COVID-19 pandemic, Cowichan Tribes and WorkSafe BC protocols, and timelines may vary accordingly.
Ist' hwialasmut tu Xwulqw'selu Sto'lo – We are taking care of the Koksilah River.