Watershed Protection Plan Stakeholder Meeting

The stakeholders

I recently had the privilege to sit in on a stakeholder engagement meeting to review the final draft of Aqua-Tex’s Watershed Protection Plan for the Comox Valley Regional District in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A Watershed Protection Plan is a bit different from Watershed Management Plans. The main focus of this Watershed Protection Plan is to protect where the region gets its drinking water from (Comox Lake) at the source rather than let the source degrade, which would eventually result in the installation of an expensive filtration plant. The main ecosystem service in this case is clean drinking water. Currently all sorts of recreation are allowed on the lake including swimming, the use of motorized boats as well as other activities and the only method of treatment is chlorination. However, literature has shown that allowing body contact with drinking water increases chances of the presence of human waste in the drinking water, which can have large public health consequences. There are many examples of communities disallowing recreation in an effort to protect their water source, which ultimately avoids the need for a filtration plant.

The meeting started with what is called a “grounding”. This required each of the 20 or so present to introduce themselves, say who they were representing and answer two questions: 1.) What would be the worst-case scenario if this plan were not properly implemented? 2.) What would be the best-case scenario if this plan were properly implemented? Some of the stakeholders present, who are more formally known as the WAG (Watershed Advisory Group), included civil and environmental engineers, a rep from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, a local politician, reps from two timber companies who own large amounts of land within the watershed, the regional water manager, a Fish and Game Club rep, parks and recreation managers and reps from the Ministry of Health as well as many others. In these introductions I was very glad to hear the concern for the social, environmental and economic implications of this plan as well as a need for considering future generations. The two questions unfolded some vastly different answers from the stakeholders; some said the worst-case scenario is no longer being allowed to swim in the lake and others said the worst-case scenario was human death.

We at Aqua-Tex knew that recommending a halt on recreational activities in or around the lake would not be taken easily by some of the stakeholders, so an extremely comprehensive risk assessment, which ended up totaling over 70 pages, was assembled to give more of a justification as to how these risks were arrived at. Tables were used to the show the likelihood and consequences of risks to the watershed, which determined the level of each risk ranging from low to very high, and were based off of the Alberta Water Safety Plans and British Columbia Source-to-Tap Guidelines. Some of the highest of the 22 risks established in the plan are “Body contact recreation on Comox Lake”, “Lakeshore cabins, camping at designated campsites and Fish and Game Club on Comox Lake”, “Flooding on the order of 100 to 200 year event”, and “Wildfire”. Some of the low risks to the lake included “Underwater log salvage from Comox Lake”, “Transportation on roads distant from watercourses or Comox Lake” and “Potential aircraft crash in other areas of the watershed”.

Overall, the experience was very valuable in that it linked what I had previously studied in more of an abstract manner to real-world application. Reading watershed plans without context in a library does not yield the same understanding as being around the people who are actually drafting the plan and then seeing it presented to the people who will actually be implementing the plan.

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