The audience in Victoria for the Victoria leg of the National Discussion Series: Securing Our Water Future, sponsored by FLOW and hosted in partnership with ACT and POLIS at the University of Victoria, raised a wide variety of water governance issues with immediate relevance for BC residents.

One audience member asked about the role of demand-side management in our contemporary water discussions. Oliver Brandes responded that demand-side management is currently, and will continue to be, indispensable for reducing water consumption. He explained that we could easily reduce water consumption by two-thirds in the urban sector through this approach; it’s all about behaviour change and helping people to understand the benefits of conservation.

Another question pertained to the Water Act Modernization (WAM) process and whether the panelists felt water was in danger of being characterized as a commodity because of the brief mention of water markets in the draft documents that have been prepared. Oliver responded that the commoditisation of water can be a risky proposition in the residential or urban context; however, for agriculture, this approach may be an option, and this has partially explained the rise of water markets in places such as Australia.

Bob Sandford commented that water markets could be problematic, as we have to figure out to whom the water belongs as a first step. For example, he asked, how much water is allocated to nature? What are the implications for water ownership in First Nations land claims?

Many participants were intrigued by Jon O’Riordan’s presentation on integrated resource management (IRM) in North Vancouver. One participant asked how North Vancouver’s vision might be applied in other jurisdictions. Jon suggested that government infrastructure grants, which might drive this development, should be conditional on the inclusion of integrated resource management, and ensuring that financial systems are in place to promote ecological engineering. In addition, we need to enable municipalities to be collaborative by facilitating their working together on a common approach to infrastructure.

One participant raised the urgency of acting on climate change adaptation and water in BC, and asked the panelists what, if they could do one thing in BC with respect to water, it would be.

Bob remarked that he would make water the principal focus of analysis for appropriate action in all sectors; make water policy reform a priority; and ensure we have time to prepare for and respond to climate impacts. Oliver referred to the importance of codifying the public trust doctrine so people become personally accountable for their decisions. Jon stressed that we must conserve water for nature. Moderator Rod Dobell agreed, and mentioned that framing this approach as thinking about the ecological needs of nature can help prioritize the issue for water managers.

Another question addressed the concept of water regimes and water rights and how much these can restrict or promote water policy reform, alluding to the “First In Time, First In Right” (FITFIR) regime we have in BC. All three participants remarked that there is a real need in Canada to deal with this issue, for while there is an opportunity to regulate this and ensure ecosystem protection, dealing with the change to reform FITFIR is difficult politically and this must be addressed by those wishing to drive effective change.

The Victoria tour stop, like Vancouver, was successful not only because of the extensive knowledge, energy and enthusiasm of the panellists, but also the input and involvement of the diverse group of audience members. This energy and diversity of interests will be critical as BC and Canada move ahead with water policy reform in a changing climate.

The stories and ideas shared by the panelists are inspiring, but their impacts and transferability depend on the public, who must send the message to elected leaders that we need a shift in water reform in Canada. A recent WWF poll revealed that 98% of British Columbians see water as their most precious resource, and our policies would do well to reflect this crucial finding.

Bob’s next stops on the tour are Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta on November 21 and 22nd respectively. To follow the tour and to learn about some of the comprehensive issues related to water management in these Canadian cities, please follow the ACT blog.

Robert W. Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade, and author of ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance reports, is touring Canada speaking about water governance policy. Tim Shah, ACT PICS Water intern is reporting on Robert’s progress in this blog.