Fraser Basin Council


8.3 Regional Approaches


Being proactive by planning for watersheds and climate adaptation can be especially challenging for communities that have limited human and financial resources. Introducing water centric thinking can be particularly challenging when facing common issues such as jurisdictional conflicts or a lack of expertise. Changing the “old way of doing business” does not happen overnight, and achieving water sustainability is less likely to happen if communities work in isolation of each other.

In some cases, local leadership can be supplemented and/or strengthened with collaborative approaches at the regional scale. This can be particularly appropriate when implementing a watershed-based approach and an integrated approach. For example, Convening for Action on Vancouver Island, the Okanagan Basin Water Board and the Fraser Basin Council offer several opportunities to collaborate at regional scales to strengthen community resiliency, protect watershed health, prepare for climate change and advance sustainability.

8.3.1 Convening for Action on Vancouver Island

Convening for Action on Vancouver Island (CAVI) is an exciting initiative that has emerged in response to the need to plan for sustainable water resources within the context of a rapidly growing population. CAVI is not a formal organization; rather, it could be considered as an “ad hoc group” designed to provide leadership, coordination, research and education for practitioners, specifically local government administrators, engineers, planners and elected officials.

CAVI’s focus is to build an understanding about how we should be dealing with water as it relates to conservation, development and land use. CAVI does not use a particular planning tool or process. Instead, it uses the informal process of collaboration to build capacity and a network of like-minded individuals across Vancouver Island so these individuals can harness the tools of local government (e.g., Official Community Plans, bylaws) to bring about positive change in local watersheds. Education and communication are other key tools that CAVI uses. Its aim is to move from talk to action by developing tools, providing training and building capacity.

At the heart of the initiative is the concept of water centric planning. Through education and awareness-building initiatives, including learning lunches, CAVI demonstrates how water centric approaches and specific tools can be integrated into existing planning processes.

“At CAVI, we bring together those who plan and regulate land use (local governments), those who build (developers), and those who provide the legislative framework (the Province). We provide the expertise and support to municipalities and organizations with a focus on achieving water sustainability and then help them to share their ideas and successes so that others can see how they too can get on board” 21

Since its launch in September 2006, CAVI has witnessed considerable success in getting its message out, and is seeing mindsets beginning to shift towards water centric thinking, planning and decision-making. Participants in the CAVI process include the BC Water and Waste Association, Real Estate Foundation of BC, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Community and Rural Development (now Community, Sport and Cultural Development), municipalities and regional districts, POLIS, private consultants, developers, academics, First Nations and citizens’ groups.

Participants attribute some of this success to the fact that “CAVI has no baggage, no requirements, no regulatory authority—it simply provides a forum for people to talk about common problems and solutions, and interact through workshops, the Waterbucket website, conferences, and seminars”. The emphasis on collaboration within CAVI, and focus on integration across the Vancouver Island region have also been critical success factors. Finally, many of CAVI’s activities fulfill the principles of Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan, and aligning with these principles has proven beneficial for local governments that are seeking funding to support water planning and management.

“On Vancouver Island, local governments are demonstrating what can be accomplished through partnerships and collaboration. Success in moving from awareness to action is ultimately keyed to a regional team approach that is founded on the notion of shared responsibility” - John Finnie, CAVI Chair

CAVI focuses on applying lessons learned in one community to another community. What is working in one area? Can that approach work in a different community? The CAVI regional team approach assists with building internal capacity through awareness raising and education. Ultimately, the information and approaches that CAVI promotes need to be integrated into existing planning processes. Learning lunches can be used to introduce people to different tools and show them how the tools are being used. Working together in this way builds a synergy and economy of scale. The participants are developing a shared vision and are helping reduce overall costs by working collaboratively. On Vancouver Island, the term “regional team approach” is resonating. Insertion of the word team in ”regional approach” has had a profound impact on how practitioners view their world. It implies that there is personal commitment. It also suggests that there is a game plan and a coachable context. The regional team approach is proving to be a powerful motivator.

According to Eric Bonham, a founding member of the CAVI Leadership Team and a former Director in both the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the strength of the CAVI approach is the engagement of its partners on a one-on-one basis, who “buy in” to the vision of water centric planning. The process is accumulative, as other people from diverse backgrounds are drawn to the common goal of achieving water sustainability.

Each step of the process builds upon the previous success story, with the recognition that eventually all the players, including government, business, developers, consultants, First Nations, academics and citizens, must be at the table. Only through such an inclusive partnership will the fundamental shift towards integrated “design with nature” water centric land use planning on Vancouver Island become firmly established and practiced.

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8.3.2 Okanagan Basin Water Board

The Okanagan Basin is one of BC’s fastest growing regions. With increasing demands for water by residents, tourists, and agricultural producers (which accounts for as much as 70% of water use in the basin), it is a region under pressure. Significant water shortages occur in the summer months, and groundwater resources are vulnerable to contamination and drawdown.22

In the Okanagan Valley, a regional approach has proven useful for advancing water management decisions. “The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) was initiated in 1968 (legislated in 1970) as a water governance body tasked with identifying and resolving critical water issues at the scale of the Okanagan watershed…The overall objective of the organization is to undertake strategic projects and programs at the Basin scale that meet the collective needs of Okanagan citizens for long-term sustainable water supplies while supporting the capacity of member jurisdictions to meet their own water management goals” (

The Board is comprised of representatives from each of the three regional districts in the basin: Okanagan-Similkameen, Central Okanagan and North Okanagan. The Board also has representation from First Nations, the Water Supply Association of BC, and the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council, which was formed in 2006. The Board is unique in its powers to tax and pass bylaws, and is supported through annual property tax assessments within the basin. The Board does not have regulatory authority but seeks to improve water management by providing a basin-wide perspective and improving communications among regions to reduce fragmentation in policy and planning. The Board also works to improve links between local and senior governments by participating as a partner in Okanagan water research and infrastructure funding.

Whereas municipalities and regional districts continue to plan for local water needs, watershed-scale considerations are addressed at the regional level through the leadership of the OBWB. Some key activities of the Board include:

  • implementing basin-wide programs for millfoil control, sewage infrastructure funding, water science and management;
  • acting as a hub for water information by increasing communication, building partnerships and reducing duplication;
  • acting as a voice for Okanagan water interests by advocating and representing local needs to senior governments;
  • providing science-based information to decision makers;
  • expanding local capacity by providing a stable source of funding and in-kind partnerships, and by being a single organizing body for coordinating watershed projects; and
  • providing a forum for debate about watershed priorities.23

Through its work, the OBWB has sought to integrate Okanagan water policy and planning on a basin-scale by bridging the interests of multiple jurisdictions and shifting towards implementing policies and agreements that protect water supplies. The Okanagan Sustainable Water Strategy (2008), which identifies top priorities for implementation in the basin in the coming years, illustrates how a regional approach can be applied to water planning and management. Numerous recommendations made in this action plan are being implemented incrementally, and successes in groundwater monitoring and establishing a water use reporting process have already been achieved. Many of the actions identified in the plan require inter-jurisdictional arrangements so that communities of the basin can prepare for climate change and population growth in the watershed. The OBWB is the mechanism for bringing these groups together on a regional basin scale to plan and manage water resources. 23

The Okanagan Basin Water Board’s use of a regional funding model has provided the Okanagan region with greater access to grants. The Board’s programs are supported through property tax assessments on all parcels of land within the watershed, and initiatives focus on activities that have basin-wide benefits: everyone pays, everyone benefits. Benefits of this regional funding model include increased guidance for local governments, introduction of best management practices, and greater buy-in, collaboration, and flexibility from various levels of government in planning and decision-making.

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8.3.3 Fraser Basin Council

In the Fraser River Basin, the Fraser Basin Council (FBC) strengthens regional and watershed-based approaches to address a wide variety of sustainability issues. Formed in 1997, the FBC is a charitable, not-for-profit organization with a primary mandate “to advance sustainability in British Columbia with a core focus on the Fraser River Basin.” FBC has a collaborative governance structure, which is led by 37 directors from the four orders of government—federal, provincial, local and First Nations—and from the private sector and civil society.

Well into its second decade of service, the FBC works to bring people together to find practical, common sense solutions to long-standing and emerging sustainability issues, such as community planning, watershed health and climate change adaptation.

To achieve its goals, the FBC serves as an impartial, trusted facilitator operating under a unique model of collaborative leadership. The FBC was founded on the belief that the major sustainability priorities, including management of the Fraser Basin, cannot be effectively addressed by any one jurisdiction but rather by bringing together the diversity of interests and jurisdictions to solve complex problems. The reason so many contentious issues remain unresolved is often because leaders in different sectors are working in isolation of each other.

The overall framework for the Fraser Basin Council’s work is the Charter for Sustainability. The charter is a good-faith agreement, signed in 1997, by representatives from multiple sectors across the Fraser Basin who believed in collaborative action for a more sustainable future.

From the charter comes FBC’s vision statement and guiding principles, along with a definition of sustainability, described as:

“Living and managing activities in a way that balances social, economic, environmental and institutional considerations to meet our needs and those of future generations.” 24

The Fraser Basin Council delivers programs and projects in each of the five regions of the Fraser River Basin: Upper Fraser, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Thompson, Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver-Sea to Sky.

The following are a few highlights of Fraser Basin Council accomplishments, all of which were undertaken with regional and collaborative approaches. The FBC:

  • worked with more than 100 local governments and 26 First Nations across BC on community sustainability planning and climate change adaptation;
  • improved Fraser Basin salmon habitat, stock management, fisheries information and related outreach with a high level of Aboriginal engagement and many working partnerships for the health of BC fisheries;
  • launched and contributed directly to the development of a land use planning process for the Shuswap Lakes system to encourage development in less sensitive areas of Shuswap and Mara Lakes, to improve wastewater management and to study recreational impacts. Current priorities and next steps include protecting and restoring foreshore habitat, maintaining and improving water quality, informing and educating the public and industry groups, and initiating coordinated development and recreation plans;
  • led a panel of independent experts, resulting in Canada’s first provincial legislation on drinking water protection;
  • published four comprehensive Sustainability Snapshot indicators reports, and several regional reports, on the health of the Fraser Basin and province of BC to raise awareness and encourage action across sectors on economic, social and environmental issues; and,
  • developed the strategy for, and created BC’s first council on, invasive plants, which has received national recognition.

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8.3.4 Other Examples of Regional Approaches

While some water sustainability challenges (e.g., drinking water treatment, water distribution) are best dealt with at a local level, many others (e.g., source water protection) benefit from a regional approach. Experiences from across the province suggest that the pooling of limited human and financial resources can lead to greater efficiency and ultimately greater gains and improvement in regional watershed issues that are truly too large for any single local government to address.

As noted with the OBWB example above, a regional funding model can be helpful in implementing regional planning processes. One example is the Shuswap Lake Integrated Planning Process, which is now moving forward to implement various components of the Strategic Plan (completed in 2008). The implementation stage requires continued collaboration among organizations and interests within the watershed, and ongoing funding to achieve the full potential of the process. To see this through, the planning partners have developed a governance framework that will address funding needs through taxation within regional districts.

In the case of the Coquitlam River Watershed Strategy, a governance model has been developed to ensure the continuation of funding for the implementation of the plan. A proposed new funders group is made up of representatives of governments and other entities such as foundations, businesses and utilities that invest in the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable or implementation strategy. This is intended to ensure that stable funding is available for a Coordinator’s salary. Instead of having the Roundtable apply for funding and compete with existing groups, the intent is that it would apply for funding to coordinate and implement watershed-wide tasks. Thus, each group in the Roundtable would continue to apply for funds, but in a more coordinated way.

With the Bowker Creek Blueprint now in place, local governments are finding it much easier to finance watershed actions. The blueprint provides the “big picture details” for departments such as Engineering, which can then work those details into their operational plans. Now that the engineers are familiar with the blueprint, they know where pipes need to get re-routed and they can work these changes into their capital costs and budgets in a coordinated way, thus advancing implementation of the plan. 

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The values of regional approaches to water and watershed management are also being considered by First Nations. For First Nations, adopting a regional approach could reduce their reliance on the federal government. By setting up independent organizations, First Nations may be able to access non-traditional sources of funds and establish greater independence. At a 2010 workshop, First Nations brought forward a recommendation to consider involving Tribal Councils more in securing water infrastructure funding and maintaining the operation of this infrastructure, and to reduce reliance on the federal government for the management of water infrastructure. First Nations have also expressed interest in, and support for, adopting a regional approach like that used by the Asishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre, which serves 40 First Nations, to collectively gather funds and develop programs for many areas.25

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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