Fraser Basin Council


8.4 Financial and Human Resources


“Water is a liquid more precious than oil” Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister

Integrated water and watershed planning requires a dedicated and skilled team of people. Ongoing involvement in a collaborative planning process is a significant commitment for local governments and others, who often cite inadequate resources and overtaxed staff as primary limitations on being more proactively engaged in certain aspects of watershed protection. Some local governments also note that watershed planning is a specialized skill that is beyond the training of many people. Without the necessary financial and human resources it is challenging for some communities to effectively manage and/or participate in collaborative processes.

Within this challenging context of limited financial and human resources, the BC experience is showing that success in advancing water and watershed planning often comes down to creative initiatives and well-conceived projects. While an increase in both financial and human resources is desirable, it may not be realistic in many communities. Instead, communities are required to work more creatively with both internal and external resources in order to advance their goals for water and watershed protection.

8.4.1 Strengthen Human Resources

Human resources, both in terms of availability and expertise, can be a limitation to water and watershed planning and to climate adaptation. Both areas require a strong team of experts with specialized knowledge, expertise and skill sets. Contracting out portions of the work to supplement or complement staff skills and expertise may be possible in some circumstances; however, this option is not always available to local governments, which often have limited funds.

Capacity may be limited in smaller BC communities, where there may be only one or two municipal staff to cover planning responsibilities, and where funds may be too limited to cover the costs of hiring consultants. This may be a particular challenge for proactive initiatives, such as water and watershed planning, and for integrating climate change adaptation into such plans.

First Nations also have limited capacity to undertake water planning, management and governance due to small staff sizes and limited resources for training community members in key water planning and management skills. Compounding these challenges are circumstances where there are many other priorities for First Nations that compete for limited resources and staff capacity.26

In contrast, larger local governments, such as Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District, which have greater staff capacity, are able to attract more funds, and advance planning and management initiatives. These larger communities are also better able to interact with other initiatives and institutions, which can lead to more learning opportunities. 

Training and Education
It may be important to provide training and educational opportunities for individuals involved in a collaborative planning process to enable a meaningful understanding of key issues to in turn, support effective participation. Leaders within the process who have different areas of expertise can provide this training, or guest speakers can be brought in. Sharing information beyond the planning table to the local community is also important.

The Value of a Coordinator
Many communities have found that having a project coordinator is often key to the success of water and watershed planning initiatives. In the case of the Bowker Creek Urban Watershed Renewal Initiative, having a part-time Coordinator, whose salary is cost-shared by all three participating municipalities, has been key to securing project funding. This person is able to dedicate time to writing grant applications, and having a Coordinator has given the project greater credibility. A Watershed Coordinator has also helped secure funds for the Theodosia Stewardship Roundtable and Watershed Recovery Plan, and as a result, he is able to focus on both land and water management within the watershed. 

Proposal and Fund Development Skills
Success in obtaining project funding is often tied to having creative initiatives and well-conceived projects. Similar successful initiatives that have been undertaken elsewhere can provide guidance on effective fund development. Individuals involved in those initiatives can be invited to your planning process to help determine the purpose of your planning process and identify any questions that need to be asked. Being able to convey the objectives and expected outcomes of a planning process clearly to a funding organization is an invaluable skill, and a relatively easy one to refine with some guidance and practice. Project proposals need to be tailored to the requirements of each funding organization, and should provide details on how grant funds will be spent and what outcomes will be achieved. Numerous resources are available both on-line and through various education programs to help improve proposal development skills.

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8.4.2 Strengthen Financial Resources

Resourcing can significantly influence the success of planning, and is commonly cited as a limiting factor in planning processes. Resources are needed to establish and manage a planning process, and to implement its outcomes (i.e., the plan’s recommendations). Effective strategies for resourcing water and water planning arrangements include:

  • working with the financial resources that you and your partners have;
  • using consultants only when necessary (often best for technical work);
  • writing the plan with in-house staff can save money; and
  • hiring a Coordinator to oversee the planning process.

Whether a planning initiative is just beginning, in mid process, or ready for implementation, financial resources play a significant role in the timing, momentum, and in some cases, the outcomes of the process. The funding environment for water and watershed planning in BC is challenging and competitive. Funds are limited; therefore, competition for grants is high. Local governments indicate that funds are available for infrastructure work but are more difficult to obtain for watershed based planning work unless the work relates specifically to drinking water. Local governments also have limited human resources for developing project proposals and writing and submitting grant applications.

The situation is similar for climate adaptation planning processes. While funds may be available for climate adaptation planning, it is more difficult for local governments to secure funds to implement adaptation measures. Even in communities that have been actively developing climate adaptation plans, it is difficult to justify spending substantial sums of money on implementing those plans. For example, making proactive choices to upgrade municipal utilities may make sense on one level, but when there may be no immediate, tangible benefits, it can be difficult to persuade taxpayers and elected officials to commit to large investments.

Develop a Financial Strategy

Planning processes invariably take longer than expected. Thinking the process through in terms of phases and how those phases will be financed is an important step. It is first necessary to know what needs to be accomplished and what the measurable objectives are for the various aspects of the project. For each objective, consider:

  • When will the money be needed?
  • Where will it come from?
  • How will it be directed?

“If you wait until you have enough money, you’ll never do it.”  Tom Rutherford, Georgia Basin Living Rivers Program

When developing a funding model or strategy it is important to be creative. There is no single, certain way of securing funds for a watershed project. Each community has its own set of challenges and opportunities. A successful financial strategy will take both challenges and opportunities into consideration. The following are recommendations, gathered from various communities across the province, for successfully obtaining project funding:

  • Be strategic; look at the bigger picture. Design your project so that it can advance multiple objectives, such as climate change mitigation and/or adaptation and environmental enhancement. Recently, the integration of climate change adaptation into planning projects has become strategic from a funding perspective. Local governments, such as the Capital Regional District, intend to draw on this to the best of their abilities by tapping into funds for pilot initiatives. Another “big picture approach” is to integrate watershed planning within land use decisions. This may open up new opportunities by diversifying funding sources.

  • Align with common objectives. Identifying how various departments and/or external organizations can contribute to project objectives is important for moving a project forward, both within the planning process and during implementation. The approach adopted within the Whistler 2020 Plan was intended to allow the community to use community resources in a more strategic and coordinated way. The community of Whistler invested time in identifying common goals and a shared vision across organizations within the community. Rather than requiring new resources, the Whistler2020 approach is based on the alignment of existing budgets and resources to ensure that all relevant organizations and individuals are dedicated to moving toward a shared goal rather than working inefficiently or at cross-purposes. This approach seeks to optimize the use of existing financial, human and technical resources.

  • Be realistic about project timelines and budgets. The Bowker Creek Initiative adopted a 100-year timeline because the work that needs to be done in the watershed is too costly to be funded all at once. Rather than getting bogged down in the high costs of implementation, the team developed a long-term plan that focuses on specific reaches of the creek and on achieving incremental progress. Municipalities can agree in principle about the scope and direction of the plan without being held responsible for spending a specific amount of money. The idea behind this strategy is not to deflect responsibility and “do nothing”; rather, once the regional district saw past the financial challenges, they committed to moving the plan forward by working on key short-term actions now that would set them up for bigger things in the future.

  • Leverage funds. Grant leveraging entails using one source of funds to attract and match funds from other sources. It is an effective means of bringing in additional money to support an expanding project or one with an extended timeline.

  • Consider what can be accomplished without financial contributions. Participants in the Theodosia Stewardship Roundtable state that planning groups do not need a lot of money to initiate watershed planning. In-kind contributions can be a significant source of resources for getting a project started. Once successes start to be demonstrated through the use of these contributions, it becomes easier to attract funds from other sources. Participants in the Theodosia planning process expect that down the road, when they have established a good mechanism for making watershed-based decisions, their Roundtable will actually attract money rather than cost money. They expect that outside funders will see value in the process, and will want to support it.

Consider Alternative Sources of Funds

Various means of generating funds for water management projects have been tried in different communities. Some of these are listed below. It is important to consider the potential that these may bring, within the context of each community. Conducting an economic analysis of which mechanisms are most appropriate to a community would be beneficial, as would an assessment of public and political support for those mechanisms.

  • Development Cost Charges (DCCs) have been used in some BC communities to support operational initiatives in water management. As a pilot project, the town of Oliver, BC received approval to use DCC funds collected from new development to help establish water meters for existing homes with the resulting water savings becoming available to provide water services to new homes. DCCs have also been a key part of the City of Surrey’s strategy to build sustainable drainage infrastructure. Surrey has used the funds to pay for a roadside storm water management swale/multi-use greenway in a new development, rather than the usual purchase of 5-6% of the area for the purposes of a detention pond.27

  • Volume-based Water Use Fees can be applied either to individuals or water suppliers to target heavy-use water consumers and to provide incentives for water conservation. The fee structure needs to be equitable to avoid creating economic hardship for low-income residents and the agricultural community.28

  • Municipal Drainage Utilities can be formed as an alternate source of raising funding. This approach can help ensure dedicated funding for drainage and stormwater planning, infrastructure and operations.

  • Water Licence Fees collected by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations currently go into provincial general revenue. In theory, a portion of these funds could be directed to specifically support water and watershed planning. If local government becomes actively involved in licence administration at any level, some of these funds could be used to fund water conservation and management projects at the local level.28

  • Recreational User Fees applied to powerboat or off-road vehicle rentals are a means of targeting polluting activities of tourists or seasonal residents who do not otherwise contribute funds to water management in a region.28

  • Reserve Funds can be established by implementing changes in service delivery systems (e.g., contracting out a regional service), which can sometimes translate into savings for a local government. In the Region of Peel, in Ontario, such a savings translated into a permanent, annual cost reduction of 1.5% on water rates. Staff commitment and forward thinking leadership enabled these savings to be channeled into a fund, which is not constrained by the normal budget cycle. The City of Toronto directed revenue from property sales into the “Toronto Atmospheric Revolving Fund”, which finances innovative greenhouse gas emission reduction projects. Interest and royalties from these projects are returned to the fund. One merit of this approach is that it does not require any additional taxation.29

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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