A healthy natural environment can provide us with clean drinking water. For nature to provide what communities need to be healthy and safe the health of the natural environment needs to be kept intact. This is especially important now as we face climate change and increasing development.  

Community in Nature - Clean water for healthy communities

People across BC are voicing the need to protect their drinking water. The environment around us can naturally provide clean drinking water. For nature to continue to keep our drinking water clean we need to plan for climate change impacts and design human uses in ways that keep the natural environment intact. 

About the Project

Community water-users in the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) Area E have highlighted the need for a coordinated community effort to protect the watersheds that provide their clean drinking water. 

The communities determined that Nature-based Planning was the next step in their path towards solutions to keep their drinking water clean. With a Nature-based Plan (NBP) a community can build the knowledge needed to understand how the watershed provides safe, clean drinking water, and learn about areas that need to be protected and restored for the watershed to continue its natural function. Communities can bring NBPs and the knowledge they have gained to land use decision makers to engage meaningfully in their planning processes. 

The Area E Watershed Steering Committee formed to develop a common vision, mission and goals for Nature-based Planning in Area E. The West Kootenay EcoSociety was asked to apply for funding and manage a project that would lay the foundation for NBPs in Area E.  

This current project will be complete by December 2021 with hopes to build on the outcomes into the future. This year, are working with experts to create Preliminary Nature-based Plans (PNBPs) for water users in the Glade and Laird watersheds to understand and plan for their long term resilience. This will look like: 

  • A set of maps depicting landscape features considered vital to the protection of drinking water, climate change resilience, and biodiversity protection; and
  • A report to help with the interpretation of maps and understand the reasoning behind the methods.

We will also complete: 

  • data collection and preliminary analysis of other selected Area E watersheds
  • community involvement on a values map and survey
  • basic natural benefit analysis to outline “natural assets/benefits” 
  • a report on processes and lessons learned to help governments and other rural communities wanting to do similar work across the region, British Columbia, and Canada.

A key aspect of this work is the inclusion and engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local water users’ communities. We will be supporting this engagement with the understanding that the strict time frame of the project does not allow for the full engagement nature-based planning requires. This is the starting point. 

This project is supported through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is delivered by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Watersheds BC, with financial support from the Province of British Columbia as part of its $10 billion COVID-19 response, and through Area E of the RDCK.

Keep up to date with us!

Sign up to our mailing list to learn more about Nature-based Planning and to keep up to date with this project. If you’re concerned about the security of your clean drinking water, we’ll be sending updates on legislation and anything we learn of that can help British Columbians with their water security. 

Defending Drinking Water

What is a watershed?

A watershed is identified by the highest point of land that drains into a body of water from all sides. A watershed may have several smaller streams or tributaries each with their own physical definition that drain into a main body of water. The Columbia Basin is a large watershed that includes many smaller watersheds. A small watershed example is Glade Creek. 

A consumptive watershed is a watershed that a community relies on for their drinking water. These watersheds are typically not able to be managed by the community to ensure that their drinking water is protected from development. 

Water Security in BC

Every day, many British Columbians experience the privilege of living in an area with an abundance of clean water. Occasionally, we also experience the repercussions from too much water or not enough. 

The health of clean drinking water and watershed ecosystems is more at risk now than ever before. Watersheds are being pushed past their capacity to provide ecological, cultural and economic functions due to the effects of climate change, industrial use, and community demands. This comes at the cost of human health and well-being and risks the loss of unique species like Selkirk Caribou and Kokanee Salmon that call these watersheds home. 

Current understanding of climate change in the Kootenays predicts more extreme weather events. Predictions include less snow accumulation, faster snow melt, increased peak flows, longer dry spells, higher winds, and changes in water quality, quantity and timing of flow which will negatively life on land and in the water, including people. 

Scientists studying the functions of watershed ecosystems agree that ecologically intact (healthy) watersheds are needed to curb extreme events like flooding, landslides and wildfire. These extreme events have far-reaching environmental repercussions and often dire effects for our communities. They can result in extreme circumstances such as loss of life and home and lasting psychological effects to our well-being. They also seriously impact our economy both in the short and long term through job loss, decreased property value and rising insurance costs. 

Imagine your family no longer has access to potable water from your home or community water source. What would you do to get access to potable water? Would you need to pay to bring in large quantities? Would you need to boil water from then on and set up a storage system? How much would this cost your family? How much would it cost to solve the problem at the water source? How could it affect your property value and ability to sell your home and move? What about having to deal with the effects of landslides, floods, and forest fires? When these situations happen, it is the homeowner and taxpayer that shoulders these costs. Defending a healthy watershed can help prevent these issues and save money. Taking precautionary action to prevent these issues from happening is a big part of Nature-based Planning. Planning with an understanding of how features in the natural environment provide human communities with “infrastructure” (for example water filtration, flood mitigation and storm runoff) is also known as Natural Asset Planning. 

Why Nature Based Planning?

Meaningful Engagement for Watershed Users

Through a Nature-based Plan (NBP), a community will build the knowledge needed to understand how the watershed provides them with safe, clean drinking water and what needs to be protected and restored for the watershed to keep functioning to do this. Community watershed users can bring the NBPs and the knowledge they have gathered to land use managers and decision makers in local government and industry to engage meaningfully in their planning processes. 

Best Practices

The idea of nature-based planning is rooted in Indigenous knowledge and western science. Nature-based Planning provides a picture of the ecological framework that is necessary to protect, and the ecological limits within which human uses must stay within to be sustainable. It is an organized process during which local communities (including local Indigenous communities) and professionals work together to develop meaningful protection and use of land, fresh water, and oceans, as applicable to the work. Designing these plans with the values and needs of the communities in mind results in a framework that is sustainable because it means more to the communities, and the communities are invested in taking action. 

Local Economy, Too

The protection of natural areas often raises concerns for the economy – will it be negatively impacted by taking land away from future industrial use or resource extraction? Protecting the ecological integrity of our watersheds doesn’t have to be at the cost of our local economy. In fact, Nature-based Planning has the capacity to create jobs and support stable local economies through a sustainable framework. For example, mechanization of forestry practices is far more responsible for job loss in the industry than protecting areas from being logged. In a Nature-based Plan, wood can be processed locally creating value added products and supporting good local jobs that will be around for a long time instead of sending raw logs overseas. A local example of this is the Harrop-Procter Community Forest. The health and well-being of our communities, which includes the local economy, rely on the strength of these watersheds.

Participating Communities

The nearly 4,000 residents in RDCK Area E are vulnerable with rudimentary drinking water systems and rural properties at the bottom of steep slopes.

Area E communities we are working with in 2021:

  • Bird Creek
  • Eagle Creek
  • Glade
  • Forty Nine Creek
  • Laird Creek
  • Redfish Creek
  • Sandy Creek

Resources

Here you will find links to helpful resources. Check back, we are regularly updating and adding to our resource library.