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Modernizing Land and Water Planning in B.C.

Rosie Simms, Laura Brandes & Oliver M. Brandes   |   October 2020

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Recent research from our team at the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project offers insights and specific actions for a modernized land use and water planning regime in B.C., contending that integrated land and water planning matter now more than ever in our COVID-changed world.

The report, Towards Watershed Security: The role of water in modernized land use planning in B.C. (and complementing focused decision-makers’ brief), responds directly to the provincial government’s mandate and commitment to modernize land use planning and its linked priorities of reconciliation, rural economic recovery, water security, and climate adaptation.

By offering an extensive review of past and current land use planning efforts, we draw clear conclusions on the future of water and land management and governance in B.C. and the urgent need for an integrated and comprehensive modernized approach.

We present a number of immediate practical steps that the provincial government can take to meaningfully achieve existing commitments, as well as long-term priorities to change how land and water use planning are undertaken.

A Modernized Planning Framework

To support a shift away from transactional and crisis-driven planning, the research sets out an overall planning framework for B.C. that consists of six design elements that can be adapted for local or regional land use plans (more detail on these elements in the full report):

  1. Attention to Governance, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and Capacity Building. Emphasis on governance from the outset and throughout the planning process will help identify key decision points, clarify roles, responsibility, and accountability, and enable better dispute resolution. Realizing UNDRIP commitments in the context of land and water planning will include processes for free, prior, and informed consent; co-governance; recognition, respect, and adherence with Indigenous title, rights, laws, and decision-making; and sustained resourcing.

  2. Planning in a Phased and Adaptive Process. Five key phases are critical to effective planning: visioning; risk assessment; planning and engagement; management and decisions; and evaluation and adaptation.

  3. Considering Water in all Plans and Making Water Protection the Planning Priority in High-Risk Watersheds. Water is a critical strategic consideration and must be elevated as a potential priority and focus in planning where watershed risks are significant.

  4. Determining Plan Scale and Scope According to the Risk and Complexity of Issues.  Planning must be explicitly flexible and nimble in both scale and sophistication.

  5. Deploying Crown Legal and Policy Tools While Recognizing Indigenous Laws and Structures of Authority in the Broader Regime. The ability to translate plans into law is essential to public confidence and to creating incentives and consequences that drive changes to how activities are conducted on the land and in the water.

  6. Adequate Resourcing. Modernized land use and water planning processes will need money and people to succeed.

A Way Forward

The time is right for B.C. to adopt a modernized, integrated approach to land and water planning to provide a better path forward—not just for watershed security, but also to ensure meaningful reconciliation, community prosperity, and economic recovery.

As we begin our collective recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and begin to “build back better” here in B.C., we cannot lose sight of the urgent need for watershed security and healthy resilient communities – things that will only be possible if we have an effective way to plan and manage land and water use.

Rosie Simms is a researcher and project manager at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. Laura Brandes is communications director at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. Oliver M. Brandes is the associate director at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies and co-director of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.

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