Mark Angelo and Coree Tull: Defending our river systems has never been more urgent

Opinion: Two-thirds of British Columbians are now concerned about the potential for a major water crisis in their community.

Article content

As the world celebrates Rivers Day, here in B.C. the urgency to defend and invest in our waters has never been more important. Rich and abundant river systems such as the Fraser, Skeena, Peace, Columbia and Cowichan are global river icons and provide the foundation of our province’s health, security and prosperity.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The 17th annual World Rivers Day has its roots in the great success of B.C. Rivers Day, which is this weekend enjoying its 42nd anniversary. This day provides a chance for British Columbians to join the hundreds of community groups, First Nations and local governments that are coming together to celebrate B.C.’s rivers and streams.

Article content

And while it’s a time to get out and enjoy the beauty of B.C.’s rivers, it’s also a day to learn about the pressures facing them because many of B.C.’s river systems (or watersheds) are in trouble. The combined effects of poorly planned development, fragmentation by dams and diversions, and industrial pollution are meeting the ever-increasing impacts of the climate crisis.

According to a public poll commissioned by the University of Victoria and Real Estate Foundation B.C., two-thirds of British Columbians are now concerned about the potential for a major water crisis in their community in the next few years.

Advertisement 3

Article content

The benefits of taking better care of our watersheds are substantial. Healthy watersheds strengthen critical natural defences against climate disasters like the unprecedented droughts, fires and floods that devastated many parts of B.C. in 2021 and the fires raging in communities right now.

Watershed assets like wetlands, mature forests and natural stream banks slow down the flow of water, mitigating floods, and then release water into rivers and streams during dry summers when water is needed most. And that’s not all. This natural infrastructure helps to filter and purify water, keeping drinking water sources free of pollution and avoiding multimillion-dollar water treatment costs. Studies also show that spending time near, on or in water provides for our mental and physical health.

Advertisement 4

Article content

This is why investing in our watersheds is such an effective strategy to make communities stronger, healthier and more resilient to extreme weather. And according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development, natural infrastructure provides the same protections at half the cost of human-built infrastructure.

B.C. Rivers Day shows the reverence that British Columbians have for our incredible river systems, and it has become the template for celebrating watersheds across the world. It’s now time for B.C. to demonstrate that the stewardship of its precious waterways can also lead the world.

The provincial government can begin by moving on the commitment it has made to create a B.C. Watershed Security Fund, something that has been called for by local communities, Indigenous Nations, municipal governments and watershed experts for nearly a decade.

Advertisement 5

Article content

This fund would support the critical work required to rebuild our natural defences, strengthen our planning and management practices, and bolster monitoring efforts so we know if our watersheds are getting better or worse. And by implementing the fund in partnership with Indigenous Nations, the work to heal our watersheds can also help heal relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in B.C.

Initial provincial investment in watershed projects over the last two years has shown the tangible impacts such a fund can make. As part of the provincial government’s economic recovery plan, the Healthy Watersheds Initiative created 1,200 jobs, while restoring thousands of hectares of wetlands, stream banks, flood plains and fish habitat, and laying a pathway for tangible progress.

Advertisement 6

Article content

However, this initiative is coming to a close and more piecemeal funding will not get the job done. It’s time for the B.C. government to make good on its promise by immediately creating the B.C. Watershed Security Fund to invest the long-term resources required to secure our watersheds now and into the future. This smart investment will save billions of taxpayer dollars, employ workers throughout the province and strengthen community resilience to climate change.

On this Rivers Day, let’s celebrate by setting another example for the rest of the world.

Mark Angelo is the Outdoor Recreation Council rivers chairman and founder and chairman of B.C. and World Rivers Day. Coree Tull is co-chairman of the B.C. Watershed Security Coalition.

Advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Leave a Comment