Fraser Basin Council


8.5 Information and Knowledge


The importance of accurate, relevant and meaningful data, information and knowledge cannot be underestimated in relation to water and watershed planning. Although subtle nuances differentiate data from information and knowledge, for the purposes of this section of the guide, the term “information” will be used explicitly, and data and knowledge will be considered as being related implicitly.

Information is critical to water and watershed planning in a variety of ways. Information about current (or historical) water issues, challenges and conflicts alerts communities and decision makers about the need for planning, policy and/or operational management actions. Information about future scenarios, such as population projections or climate change scenarios, can help inform planners and others about possible issues they may need to address. Information about the effectiveness of management options can be used to assess recommended actions in response to current or future challenges.

8.5.1 Information Needs and Sources

The following are some examples of data and information that may be beneficial or necessary to inform a water and watershed planning process:

  • Current and projected future water supply:
    • seasonal and annual streamflow (volume and timing);
    • surface and groundwater reserves (extent and volume);
    • changes to precipitation and evapotranspiration as a result of climate change; and,
    • changes to storage and distribution capacity associated with water supplies.
  • Current and projected future water demand:
    • current water use by all human consumptive and non-consumptive uses;
    • current instream flow requirements for fish, wildlife, habitat and ecosystem functions; and,
    • changes to water demand as a result of population growth, community and economic development and/or climate change.
  • Current and projected future threats to water quality:
    • changes to settlement patterns, land use and associated pollutants; and,
    • changes to hydrology and geomorphology as a result of land use, land cover and/or climate change.

Data and information are also needed to monitor and measure performance in relation to the objectives and desired outcomes of a water or watershed plan (or related regulatory requirements). For example, it may be necessary to monitor compliance with water licences, instream flow requirements, water use restrictions, wastewater discharges, riparian area regulations and/or water quality standards or objectives. If performance measures are not established and assessed, it may not be possible to determine if the goals and objectives of a water or watershed plan are being achieved.

Some examples of information sources to support water and watershed planning are listed below (in alphabetical order). In many cases, further analysis of available information and/or more detailed local information will be necessary to support planning processes. See Section 9 of this guide Tools and Resources for more information (including web links) about where to go for relevant information on water, watershed and climate science.

  • BC Hydro – Regional Hydromet Data
  • BC Ministry of Environment – Environmental Protection Division, Water Quality
  • BC Ministry of Environment – Groundwater Wells and Aquifer Database
  • BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations – River Forecast Centre
  • Environment Canada – Meteorological Service
  • Environment Canada – Real-Time Hydrometric Data
  • Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium – Plan2Adapt

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8.5.2 Information Gaps and Limitations

Data for water, watershed and climate change planning is not available consistently across the province. Numerous information gaps present a challenge to water and watershed planning. For example, there may be gaps or limitations in:

  • spatial coverage (e.g., available information may not cover a particular river, stream, lake or watershed);
  • temporal coverage (e.g., a full range of historical or current information, or future projections may not be available); and,
  • measured parameters (e.g., information may be available for only a subset of the necessary water quantity or quality variables).

Basic hydrological information is not available for many streams, lakes and aquifers in BC. Similarly, water quality information is limited. Although there are requirements for measuring and reporting on drinking water quality, there are many information gaps on instream water quality for waterbodies that are not used for drinking water.

In some regions, such as the Capital Regional District, where communities are close to academic institutions, there is a relatively good supply of data and information to inform planning efforts. However, in small to mid-sized communities, less data is available both for climate and water and watershed planning. Also, in some cases, local governments do not always know what data are available or how to source or use the data.

While it is widely recognized that in many regions of the province aquifers are vulnerable to multiple sources of depletion and pollution, groundwater data are relatively limited. The submission of well log information, which is housed by the Province, is voluntary for wells that were constructed before the new Ground Water Regulation came into effect in 2005. However, it should be noted that MoE has records for over 85,000 across BC. Accessing data for privately held upland areas in watersheds is another significant challenge for local governments. Forest companies are required to file detailed environmental plans for every cutblock; however, this information typically is not made available.

Communities may be able to acquire data, but in many cases it is not in an accessible format. Local governments have experienced considerable challenges related to the format and completeness of data. Often, data are developed for specific purposes and are not compatible with other purposes or a particular study area. In other cases, available data may not be specific enough for developing plans for a particular region or watershed. Regional districts report that it is sometimes challenging to work with data from various member municipalities because there is no standardized format for the data. Finally, the level of detail in which data are presented is not always useful. For example, in a community such as Tofino, which has very localized weather cells, it is difficult to use general climate data because the nearest weather station is not representative of the weather in Tofino.

Information gaps and limitations grow significantly when it comes to understanding the complexity of watershed resources, health and function. In an ideal scenario, a watershed inventory and assessment is undertaken to build a broad understanding of the full resources, functions and characteristics of a watershed. In many cases, watershed inventories and assessments have not been undertaken or they have been limited in scope. There is no single, comprehensive source of watershed data.

Information resources should be considered in a similar light as financial and human resources. As with funding and people, information is a critical element to support a water or watershed planning process. However, there can be significant limitations and constraints that need to be understood and addressed in order to acquire and use the information necessary to develop and implement watershed plans.

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8.5.3 Traditional Knowledge—Making Space for Different World Views

Traditional knowledge can be an important source of understanding water and watersheds. Increasingly, traditional knowledge is being viewed as being complementary with scientific information. It may also be a source of filling information gaps. However, the use of traditional knowledge should be approached with sensitivity and understanding.

A challenging aspect of any planning process is the reconciliation and integration of different ideas, perspectives and worldviews. For local governments and other organizations participating in water and watershed planning processes, it is critical to find ways to integrate and honour First Nations’ beliefs, values and knowledge of water. This is not a simple process. Planning processes are not always designed to enable or encourage this: timelines are often short, budgets are tight and mandates are limiting.

Building the understanding, respect and trust that is needed to support healthy and enduring relationships with First Nations and other community members takes time. Investing time within a planning process to explore values and beliefs creates a foundation from which the ability to honour different worldviews grows. Creative process design that encourages relationship building, along with the support of political will, can empower a planning process and influence the outcomes of plans to reflect a diversity of values, perspectives and principles that are relevant to a watershed.

The Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative from Nova Scotia is an example of a creative process that supported the integration of differing worldviews.  It was formed, with representation from the Mi’kmaq First Nation and community, industry and government partners, to create a management plan for the Bras d’Or Lakes. The Initiative is informed, in part, by a Youth and Elder Council that requested that (1) the planning process incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge, (2) the lakes be protected from impacts and allowed to “heal”, and (3) the planning participants practice “two eyed seeing”.

“Two eyed seeing” is a concept introduced by Albert Marshall, a Mi’kmaq Elder. It seeks to bring differing worldviews together by exploring problems and solutions through the eyes of both Western science and (Mi’kmaq) Traditional Knowledge, values and culture. In this way, the strengths of both knowledge and wisdom become a part of the plan.30

“Two eyed seeing” involves learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledge and ways of knowing…and to use both eyes together, for the benefit of all." - Albert Marshall, Elder Eskasoni Mi’kmaq First Nation

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8.5.4 Development of Information by Local and Regional Organizations

Due to an overall lack of data, and to limits in accessibility and utility of existing data, many local governments develop their own data for planning and management purposes. However, the associated costs can present a significant challenge. For example, conducting watershed inventories is expensive and is rather specialized work, which may need to be contracted out. Knowing exactly what level of data needs to be collected can also be a challenge.

Some local governments have found a balance between the demands of their current responsibilities and the need to acquire additional data in order to undertake more proactive planning initiatives. Some governments, such as the District of Tofino, are developing their own monitoring capabilities for drinking water supplies due to a lack of available data. The Capital Regional District has reviewed its water quality program in order to identify information gaps and refine data acquisition. The Regional District is now taking on the responsibility of collecting much of its own data, including data on water storage in reservoirs, snow pack and runoff, land use inventories, and drinking water quality.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board has been very helpful in both collecting data and sharing it with local governments. By channeling limited funds through the Board, local governments are able to pool resources and get access to more and better information than they would on their own.

Other local governments have learned to be resourceful by working with universities, schools and other institutions to address monitoring needs. For example, the District of Mission has been able to access relevant data gathered through other processes, such as the Stave Lake Water Use Plan, which was funded by BC Hydro. The Fraser Valley Regional District lacks expertise in certain areas, so it uses other researchers’ studies to inform its own policy development, with assistance and direction provided by senior levels of government. Also, some local governments that have limited staff resources may use community volunteers to help with observations and reporting of violations such as erosion and siltation incidents. By working with resident volunteers, they can increase the number of “eyes on the ground.”

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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.

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

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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