Addressing British Columbia’s Biggest Water Challenges in a Changing Climate
A report by Rosie Simms and Oliver M. Brandes discusses “climate change and shifting hydrological conditions” placing British Columbia (BC) “into an increasingly uncertain water future.” (1) They have identified five water challenges in the province: “building resilience to drought and floods; sustaining water for nature; understanding the state of British Columbia’s watersheds; protecting water quality for drinking, swimming, and fishing; and reconciling the water energy nexus.” (1) Their report identifies ways of addressing the challenges in the context of a “changing water cycle, evolving water laws, and new forms of decision-making.” (1)
The first challenge, building resilience to drought and floods, focuses on the increasingly unpredictable periods of flooding and droughts in the BC region. The Government of British Columbia has seen costs increase due to being unprepared for these climate events. The researchers propose developing “community climate adaptation policies, including drought and flood response plans” (7) to reduce the impact of unusual weather events which affect the water supply.
The second challenge, sustaining water for nature, discusses water-use reduction to improve the health of the water ecology. Many regions in BC have over allocated water for human use “at an increasing cost to ecosystem health.” (9) Increased logging, energy production, and stream redirection also negatively impact water health. Unsustainably increasing water use to meet human needs have a long term effect on the ecological health of BC’s natural environment. The researchers propose protecting BC’s water environment by reinstating habitat protections, creating local processes for usage thresholds, and expanding the available information on ground and surface water sources.
The third challenge, understanding the state of British Columbia’s watersheds, examines the limited availability of data about BC’s watersheds which makes it difficult to understand the health of those watersheds. Information about river flows, groundwater, and surface water provides decision makers with the data to understand the needs and usage of BC’s water and its impact on the ecology. The researchers propose developing policies that would require all major water license holders to report on water usage regularly and standardize data collection, sharing, and distribution.
The fourth challenge, protecting water quality, spotlights BC’s need to protect its water sources from
pollution and overuse to have a long-term sustainable water source. The researchers believe it is important to implement plans from the Water Sustainability Act and Drinking Water Protection Act first in high-risk watersheds, introduce legislation and policy to coordinate cumulative effects management, and “[protect] groundwater quality” (16) and surface water through regulation.
The final challenge, reconciling the water energy nexus, emphasizes BC’s energy demand increases. Hydroelectricity accounts for 90% of the electricity production in BC, and more energy infrastructure is needed to accommodate the growing power needs in the province. BC’s dependence on water based energy sources “has a substantial and growing impact on [its] water landscape, and that water availability, in turn, impacts the viability of different forms of energy production.” (19) The researchers propose decisions made on water related energy usage engage the parties affected, address all water issues in energy developments, and focus on energy and water conservation instead of expansion.
BC’s water ecology is being increasingly strained from the pressures of climate change and human use. The report highlights the biggest challenges, and suggest methods of addressing these challenges in a broader context. The ideas presented shifts the focus from “managing water and watersheds to managing our actions on the landscape and in the water.”
This is a summary article written by Imtihan Ahmed. For more information, please access the full document:
Simms, R. & Brandes, O.M. (2016, September). Top 5 Water Challenges that will Define British Columbia’s Future. Victoria, Canada: POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria.