540172066_729e3dead8_m The Columbia Basin represents one of the largest water systems in the world, over 2000km long and with a watershed about the same size as France. The Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) is an initiative committed to ensuring that residents’ values and views are represented, and current best practice  methods and techniques are applied to protecting this valuable resource.

The CBT hosted a Columbia Basin Watershed Network Symposium in Castlegar on May 21st and 22nd 2008, with representatives from many community advocacy groups, regional districts, and provincial authorities. Rossland was extremely well represented with members of two local community groups present, a further resident representing a national group, and myself as the City Engineer. It was disappointing to see that (as far as I could tell) I was the only municipal representative from the entire Columbia Basin. This issues raised during the proceedings were important, if nothing else, just to see where advocacy groups have succeeded in implementing changes in their local environments.

Read more after the jump…


P5230060 Certainly, there was more to the symposium than just that, with an introduction about the Columbia Basin Trust and the Watershed Network, which led into a round-the-room one minute “introductions session” showcasing each group represented. Break-out groups followed this, I participated in the one entitled, “Managing Development”, but others included Stream Monitoring, Independent Power Projects, Working With Governments and Community Education.

Integrated Watershed Management

After lunch Hans Schreier and Sandra Brown of UBC commenced the Integrated Watershed Management Short Course, an abbreviated look at the web based course that is offered through UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. This course continued on the second day presenting a variety of watershed case studies, climate change information, and the big picture for water security in Canada and around the world.

IRES : Certificate Program

There are very few university degree programs in water resource management and few graduates have the opportunity to be exposed to the interdisciplinary nature and methods of watershed management per se. For these reasons, the University of British Columbia developed the Certificate in Watershed Management program. It provides professionals with the conceptual and technical skills to formulate responses to water resource issues.

The Certificate in Watershed Management program familiarizes practicing professionals with the interdisciplinary nature inherent in watershed management while also providing a more detailed understanding of particular aspects. It will increase participants’ understanding of the ways in which knowledge from a number of disciplinary areas must be linked, and the collaboration required to resolve the escalating number of water resource conflicts. Elective courses allow participants to focus on specific aspects of watershed management that relate to their area of interest.

P5230072Outcomes of the Symposium

Many questions regarding the level of support for programs and initiatives that were raised during the two day event still need to be sorted out, with a general feeling of basin-wide support for the continued networking of government agencies, NGOs, stewardship groups, and environmental advocacy organizations within the region. But with direction from the existing steering groups, a framework for the organization should naturally grow out of the interest in the break out sessions, as well as ongoing educational and networking opportunities throughout the basin.

Development in the Columbia Basin

Concerns regarding the level of development in the Columbia Basin were high, not so much because of the damage already done, but the potential for damage in the future and the restorative efforts required to improve stream health. Even among the attendees at the symposium there seemed to be a slight disconnect between those who care only about “their” water, ie that which they drink, and those who’ve taken the next step of viewing streamflow and stream health indicators as critical biodiversity goals, but by the end of the symposium there couldn’t have been many who saw less value in one over the other.

As an engineer responsible for the management of a potable water system and the environmental impacts of all activities within the City – I must confess that the potable water issues take first place on any particular day. And that is why the knowledge in the CBT, as well as volunteer organizations with stream monitoring expertise are of utmost value to a community and their interactions with the natural environment.

One attendee stated –

Environments manage themselves – it’s people who need the managing.

Another thoughtfully stated, during an us-vs-them sort of debate about something water related…

Developers are people too, and they are stakeholders – even people who play golf are stakeholders.

In this part of the Kootenays, the greatest threats to water quality come from residential and commercial development. Unfortunately many management best practices have not undergone rigorous field testing in high snowfall areas, or areas that use large amounts of sand on roads. Even the concept of collecting roof runoff in rain barrels is difficult in Rossland, as many houses don’t have gutters because sliding snow makes a terrible mess of anything in it’s path.


Final Thoughts on the Water Network and Symposium

Overall, I was very impressed with the calibre of concerned citizens across the Kootenays. These were all people I could imagine standing up to big business or government and demanding a say in the activities in their watershed.

Some big picture thoughts that came out of the presentations by Hans and Sandra…

  • Land Use has equal or greater impact on water quality and quantity than Climate Change.
  • Historical variability of water yield from a catchment is greater than the modelled impacts of climate change.
  • The future will see greater variability in weather patterns and storm events.
  • Temperatures at altitude will increase more than those at lower elevations.
  • If you want scientifically defensible data – protocols need to be established and followed – including QA and QC practices.
  • Total water cycle management is the only way to have a full understanding of our use of water and where there are opportunities to improve efficiencies.
  • Community Engagement is good, multi-stakeholder discussion are useful – but things are achieved through strong leadership and the ability to make decisions.

Will I participate again? Absolutely! And I would encourage all of those who were invited but weren’t able to make it to find out what it was they missed out on, and when the next event will be held. A list of tasks for the Network are being compiled from the Breakout Sessions, assisting in getting standardized monitoring across the region would be great; and I’d love to see the development of Best Management Practices that relate to the terrain, climate and development that we are seeing in the Columbia Basin, perhaps that is something I can participate in?


Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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