Watershed governance: how to build a vehicle for any terrain

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” –  E.L. Doctorow

 I have a terrible habit of using car metaphors when I talk about water governance. I can’t say it is climate-friendly connection, but they come out of nowhere to carry the conversation.

A photo opportunity in a Canberra parking lot, May 2010

In a previous post, I talked about our quandary: needing to collaborate and make decisions about water, and not having a formal structure to work with.  The government of BC has recently invested in several reports on governance as part of Water Act Modernization, and the end result is likely to be “enabling legislation.”  That is, the ability to establish a watershed organization under law, without specifying what form it takes or authority it holds.

This is when we all start talking about vehicles for moving forward. To a certain extent, everyone would like to engineer some kind of ideal vehicle for watershed management – a car of the future that can make it through any terrain. We take this conversational detour, even while repeating “one size doesn’t fit all.” Continue reading


Who decides about the water?

It's difficult to photograph collaboration, as it takes place through large groups meeting and talking together. Here, government folks, community volunteers, and university people gather to sign a memorandum of understanding.

It’s less worry about being in over your head, if you know how to swim.”

There is a sense of urgency about leadership in the watersheds of BC. I know this, because there are at least five workshops this autumn dedicated, in some way, to governance.

What’s going on?

The world is changing, and everyone is trying to catch up. In this new era, “governing” by a central authority has become weaker. Our budget priorities are focused on health care and education (not many quarrel with this emphasis), and the resource agencies have downsized. In the absence of strong top-down control, watershed decision making has to broadened to include many different voices. This can be a good thing, but it can also be messy.

And there are really important decisions to make. Who should get water? What activities should be allowed in the forested drainages around drinking water sources? Who will go after the polluters? Who pays for what? Continue reading


Adapting to climate change – Part 1 of many

This farm, in New South Wales, has a whole array of soil moisture probes, linked to a computer monitor. The grower adjusts the irrigation system to keep the soil moisture at the optimum level.

As Mark Twain said: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it”.  This is wonderfully absurd at first blush, but lately it has been making me think. Suddenly, we are all having serious discussions about the weather and what actions we can take. And it isn’t just policy wonks: last week, I even heard some body builders at the gym talking about it.

There are two sides to climate change –  mitigation (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change overall) and adaptation (to deal with whatever comes down the pipe: from droughts to floods). When response to climate change really began to enter the public discourse (at the local level) in the early 2000’s, adaptation was viewed as appeasement – or giving in – and the action was all around mitigation strategies. Increasingly, it seems grossly irresponsible to not prepare in advance for potentially serious outcomes. Continue reading