Fraser Basin Council


1. About This Guide

Water is the lifeblood of British Columbia. We depend on it, we value it, and with growing awareness of the potential impacts of population growth, climate change and other pressures on our water resources and watersheds, we must plan in order to effectively manage and steward our water resources long into the future.

Water enables the ecosystems, cultures and communities of British Columbia to survive, thrive and flourish. The future of species, ecosystems, communities, regions, provinces and future generations will undoubtedly be influenced, by how we manage this precious resource.

This guide has been developed for local governments, First Nations, and other government agencies, stewardship organizations, water use sectors and community stakeholders. The purpose of the guide is to help these organizations and individuals:

  • understand the value of water and watershed planning
  • navigate through the web of current and emerging water issues
  • understand the range of planning options that are available in BC, and
  • build capacity to develop and implement plans that will strengthen watershed health and community sustainability.

The guide:
  • provides an overview of a variety of water and watershed planning processes that are available to communities in BC
  • helps communities understand how to integrate climate change considerations within water and watershed planning
  • shares knowledge, experiences and lessons learned from the literature and from practitioners that have undertaken water and watershed planning, and
  • connects community planners and other practitioners with a wide range of available tools and information resources.

Communities and ecosystems in BC are experiencing unprecedented changes at many different scales related to population growth, settlement patterns, use of natural resources, release of waste products into the environment, and a changing climate. From these changes, flow many impacts, including impacts to water resources, watershed health, and community health and sustainability.

Communities rely on water and watersheds for several immeasurable values including:

  • A safe, secure, and adequate supply of water for domestic, agricultural, commercial, industrial, recreational and tourism uses;
  • A receiving environment for wastewater discharges;
  • Provision of fish, wildlife, habitat and biodiversity;
  • Provision of ecosystems services including moderation of flooding, erosion and sedimentation processes;
  • A host of other social, cultural, economic and spiritual values.

Planning plays a critical role in how communities define their vision of the future and their path to achieve that vision. Planning can be reactive or responsive, helping to make course corrections in response to existing issues and challenges. It can also be proactive in anticipating emerging issues on the horizon and helping communities to prepare for and manage those issues. When it comes to communities and watersheds, there may be as many different approaches to planning, as there are communities. However, there are many common principles, practices and desired outcomes across the spectrum of different planning processes used in BC and beyond. These are discussed in further detail in the sections that follow.

Section 2 of this guide provides an overview of planning for water and watersheds. The rationale for and benefits of water and watershed planning are described, and examples of the desired outcomes of planning are identified. Overall guidelines for designing a planning process are described as well as some general challenges and opportunities associated with watershed planning processes. Ten different planning processes are profiled. These are described in more detail in later sections of the guide (5, 6, 7). See section 8 for a more detailed discussion about several concepts that are relevant to planning for water and watersheds, including integrated watershed planning, water centric planning, design with nature and the soft path approach.

Section 3 provides general information about the impacts of climate change on water and watersheds in BC. Some basic information about how to identify local and regional climate vulnerabilities, risks and risk management strategies, and how to integrate climate change into these strategies is also provided. Lastly, this section includes general comments about how climate change information might influence water and watershed planning processes, resulting in plans that help communities address the impacts of climate change.

Section 4 provides information about the roles and responsibilities of different agencies and organizations in water planning, management and governance. These include:

In addition to roles and responsibilities, Section 4 includes some additional information regarding Living Water Smart: BC’s Water Plan and modernization of the Water Act.

Sections 5, 6 and 7 provide information about a variety of specific approaches to water and watershed planning. These sections provide an introduction and overview of each of the different approaches to water and watershed planning, including a general description, an overview of the key elements and steps, as well as the characteristics, benefits and applications of each planning process. The planning processes have been grouped into the following three themes:

Section 5: Managing Water Supply and Demand

Section 6: Protecting Drinking Water Quality

Section 7: Integrating Water, Land and Watersheds

Section 8 provides a synthesis of several relevant issues to consider in relation to water and watershed planning. Several common themes emerged from the literature that was reviewed in the preparation of this guide, from project advisors, from interviews with communities and from water and watershed planning case studies. These broad themes are shared to help communities build a deeper understanding about the dynamics of watershed planning. These themes include:

Section 9 of the guide includes several Tools and Resources to provide additional sources of information to support individuals and organizations on their path through water and watershed planning.

About Rethinking our Water Ways

This website is a guide to help BC communities learn more about planning for local watersheds and water resources, navigate current planning processes, consider relevant issues and challenges — including regional climate change impacts —  and build capacity to develop and implement plans.


The Rethinking our Water Ways guide and website are possible thanks to funding support from the BC Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Canada's Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program. The guide and website were launched and distributed through a series of regional workshops throughout BC, with funding contributions from the Fraser Salmon and Watersheds Program, Environment Canada and the Real Estate Foundation of BC. Learn more about our funders and advisors.

We want to hear from you

Share your suggestions for this website, and ideas for future water workshops, with:

Steve Litke
Senior Program Manager
T: 604 488-5358

About the Fraser Basin Council

Rethinking our Water Ways is an initiative of the Fraser Basin Council (FBC), a charitable non-profit society that advances sustainability in the Fraser River Basin, across BC, and beyond. Established in 1997, FBC brings people together from multiple sectors to learn about sustainability and find collaborative solutions to current issues. Learn more about FBC by visiting