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Scoping a Water Sustainability Plan

In August 2019 and 2021, Ministerial Orders under the Water Sustainability Act were 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. The 2019 order was the first fish population protection order issued under the Act in the province.

Partnership Approach

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 committed to a scoping process that took place in summer 2020. This process engaged regional partners and community members, and used collaboration, creativity, and effective science-based planning to help address drought and changing hydrology for the benefit of all Koksilah residents. The process was 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 collaborated 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 Process

The Interim Letter of Agreement committed 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) was 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 work towards making sustained, substantive progress towards:

  1. Seeking consensus recommendations regarding Koksilah watershed planning

  2. Seeking consensus on values and principles to guide the Koksilah watershed planning process

  3. Scoping a long-term agreement with respect to ongoing collaborative management of the Koksilah watershed


The Steering Committee was struck to implement the workplan associated with the Interim Letter of Agreement (ILOA). This workplan included 3 distinct initiatives that took place through the Summer and Fall 2020 and informed the Steering Committee’s recommendations regarding the feasibility of a water sustainability plan process.

  1. Technical Assessment: An external consultant was 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. See report. 

  2. Outreach & Engagement: The primary purpose of this initiative was 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 was 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. See report.

  3. Cowichan Tribes Internal Engagement: Cowichan Tribes carried 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.


The Koksilah / Xwulqw'selu Water Sustainability Planning Steering Committee has been meeting every 2 weeks for close to 16 months. Despite the challenges associated with the COVID pandemic, the steering committee remained committed to this project, maintaining the meeting schedule without exception. The work mandated to the Steering Committee through the Interim Letter of Agreement was to look at options for land and water management planning in the Koksilah and make recommendations; it was not itself a planning process.


The steering committee meetings have allowed Cowichan Tribes and Provincial representatives to explore a wide range of water and land use topics and build both a common understanding of the issues and challenges facing the watershed and a more informed perspective of the cultural and organizational context of their partners at the table. The reports for the technical assessment and outreach and engagement initiatives can be accessed on the Resources page.   


The steering committee has also had the opportunity to “learn together” over time about technical aspects of the watershed through guest speakers including hydrologists, foresters, agrologists, and biologists as well as share cultural and organizational perspectives on water and watersheds.

Through this scoping process, Steering Committee members have come to agreement that the subsequent planning process should be grounded in both western science and Indigenous knowledge and provide robust engagement opportunities for Cowichan Tribes members, stakeholders and the broader community. There was also agreement that a holistic “whole of watershed” approach should be taken and that land and water use are inextricably connected. 

A core commitment of the partners is effective watershed stewardship, including the protection of fish populations, ecological communities, and Cowichan Tribes Indigenous rights and responsibilities. The partners are committed to early and transparent engagement with the community, decision makers, and water and land users as we transition into the next steps of this process.


The Steering Committee has reached a consensus recommendation that will be presented to Cowichan Tribes Chief and Council and British Columbia Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for consideration and decision. An update to this website will be provided once this decision has been made.


Following approval of the steering committee's summary and recommendation report by Cowichan Tribes and Provincial decision-makers, Minister Conroy authorized a Ministerial Order designating the Xwulqw'selu - Koksilah Watershed a water sustainability planning area. This is a significant achievement of the steering committee and milestone of the planning process overall that opens a door to substantial work ahead for the development of a water sustainability plan.



The Xwulqw’selu (Koksilah) Water Sustainability Plan (WSP) planning process is nearing launch. Details will be released later this spring, with kick-off events anticipated in spring/early summer. For more background information – on why a WSP is being undertaken, watershed analysis, feedback from past community outreach, and more – please visit the Resources page on

The Xwulqw’selu WSP is first-of-its-kind initiative in the province of BC. Beginning in 2020, staff from Cowichan Tribes and the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship have worked collaboratively to affirm mandates, develop foundational agreements, design the planning process, and secure resources for this multi-year initiative. These up-front investments will help the WSP planning process be efficient, transparent, and impactful.

The planning process is premised on government-to-government relationship. There is shared commitment by the Province and Cowichan Tribes to meaningfully involve Cowichan Tribes members, community members, and stakeholders in planning, and to communicate early, often, and sincerely.

There will be a range of opportunities to get involved, get information, and provide input towards short and long-term watershed solutions. Stay tuned for more updates and resources on this page in the spring as planning moves to launch.

Photo caption: Members of the Xwulqw’selu Transition Steering Committee gather in Bright Angel Park to receive guidance from Cowichan Tribes elder Luschiim in September 2022

"Water Sustainability Plans can go beyond water allocations and allow communities to think about broader watershed health and function and longer-term outcomes beyond management that primarily responds to the crises of drought and flood. They can put in place comprehensive, cumulative, and adaptive management processes to improve watershed governance and deal systematically with root causes—not just symptoms"

Deborah Curran & Oliver M. Brandes 

Water Sustainability Plans: Potential, Options and Essential Content  (2019)

Ist' hwialasmut tu Xwulqw'selu Sta'lo' – We are taking care of the Koksilah River. 

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