Fraser Basin Council


2.2 An Introduction to Planning

Simply put, planning attempts to logically solve a specific problem or issue and identify steps that can be taken to reach desired future outcomes. Planning can be initiated either through voluntary means or by regulation. According to the Canadian Institute of Planners, “planning involves the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities.i

The goals of planning are oriented towards the future. Therefore, planning is an ongoing, dynamic process that needs to be attuned and adaptive to changing environmental conditions, social outlooks and community visions.

The Planning Process

Approaches used in planning processes vary greatly. Some processes follow a rigid schedule of meetings, while others adopt a more flexible workshop approach. The approach selected is determined, in part, by the characteristics of the planning area, the specific issues being addressed, the needs and interests of the community, and the individuals involved. Planning for complex environmental, social or economic problems typically requires a process design that integrates most, if not all, of the following steps:3, 4

  • Involve key decision makers and partners. Consider who should be engaged in the process in order for it to work. Strong partnerships make for a strong plan.
  • Characterize the area / issue to identify problems. If a problem is defined too narrowly, innovative solutions may be overlooked.
  • Model or analyze the situation or problem. It is important to understand the causes of the problem, as well as the dynamics that may help solve it.
  • Set goals and identify potential solutions, including resource requirements, and implementation and feedback procedures.
  • Evaluate potential solutions in terms of technical feasibility, cost effectiveness, probable effects and political acceptability
  • Make decisions and design an implementation program.
  • Implement solutions and take action.
  • Monitor and evaluate the success of the plan and its implementation.
  • Modify the plan as required.

Planning with water in mind, or water centric planning, is a primary objective of Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Historically, the provincial government coordinated planning for water resources. More recently, First Nations, local governments, stewardship groups and other community stakeholders have shared this responsibility. Examples of collaborative approaches to planning are profiled throughout this guide. Living Water Smart advocates for water and watershed planning to continue to be a shared, collaborative endeavour.

FBC_Pic1SMALL.jpgThere is no absolute template to follow for water and watershed planning. Every planning process and every plan is different. There are, however, many elements that are critical to the success of watershed plans. With this in mind, recommended guidelines for watershed planning processes include the following:

  • Develop a clear vision, goals, objectives and action items; and set priorities among these.
  • Seek involvement and support from elected decision-makers and those with legislative or regulatory responsibilities. The relevant decision makers have much to offer towards a plan that can be implemented.
  • Ensure full representation of all affected parties, while keeping the size of the process workable.
  • Ensure that the planning process is understood, used and broadly supported.
  • Provide access to appropriate technical and analytical skills and information resources.
  • Obtain sustainable funding.
  • Strive for planning that is done before further development will undermine the effectiveness of the plan.
  • Factor in the impacts of climate change and interception activities (e.g., farm dams and forestry) on future water inflows and recharge.
  • Include socio-economic analyses to inform planning.
  • Consult with those affected to improve the quality of decisions and build community confidence in the fairness of outcomes.
  • Give high priority to ensuring that the values and interests of indigenous peoples are included.
  • Develop capacity for learning and improving over time and the ability to evaluate the process.
  • Provide adequate resources to develop and implement water plans and evaluate their outcomes.
  • Improve monitoring and compliance of the use of water and other watershed resources.

Ideally, watershed plans and the organizations involved in implementing the plans should emerge from the planning process with:

  • improved understanding of the watershed and how it functions
  • clear objectives of how to manage the water sustainably and in an integrated manner
  • clearly specified community and environmental outcomes
  • decisions that are based on the best available information
  • adequately resourced management and implementation
  • good integration with other regional and resource-based plans

It should be acknowledged that planning would not solve all of the water-related challenges and conflicts throughout BC. However, it is an important component of the management and governance of water resources and watersheds.

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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