A new guide is now available for local groups, collaborative organizations, and Indigenous and Crown governments in British Columbia (B.C.) seeking to better understand watershed governance.

The Handbook for Water Champions: Strengthening Decision-Making and Collaboration for Healthy Watersheds was released by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER) and the POLIS Water Sustainability Project.

Readers can find answers to watershed governance questions, such as:

  • Why is local involvement in decision-making a solution to many challenges?
  • How can we get started?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What does it look like to build respectful collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous neighbours?
  • What aspects of watershed governance can provincial and local government staff and politicians help deliver?

“Watershed governance is about ensuring local voices and concerns shape decision-making. It’s about ensuring Indigenous jurisdiction is exercised, in coordination with other jurisdictions,” said Natasha Overduin, lead author of the new handbook and program manager at the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources and POLIS. “When it’s done right, watershed governance can help resolve water problems and conflicts, like a scarcity of water for both human and ecological needs, or water quality degradation resulting from activities on the land.”

Despite an abundance of ideas about what is needed to improve water decision-making in B.C., few resources exist to provide practical assistance to existing watershed initiatives. This handbook addresses this gap, according to POLIS. A key feature is the Stepping Stones to Watershed Governance framework, which helps groups strategically assess their progress and identify next steps to move forward.

“The handbook is designed to help advance skills and knowledge about increasing the impact of local organizations, communities, and governments to make meaningful progress on watershed governance from a ground-up perspective,” said Overduin. “We imagine the handbook will be particularly useful for coordinators and project managers. It offers practical guidance on how to work with different partners, as well as the steps needed to build effective collaborative watershed initiatives.”

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The guide was developed from multiple years of applied research and action on watershed governance in B.C. It was created by a team of leaders dedicated to finding solutions and supporting communities in their journeys to better water partnerships and decisions. It synthesizes a number of existing toolkits, legal analyses, and case studies from organizations including the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, the Fraser Basin Council, the First Nations Fisheries Council, and the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria.

“This is the first edition,” said Overduin. “Watershed governance is a constantly evolving field, so this guide will need to evolve, too. It will be a ‘living document’ with revised editions released as we learn from the ongoing community action and experimentation happening across B.C.”

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