An inter-organizational strategy for a healthier Nechako watershed kickstarted this fall.
On Oct. 13, about 30 researchers, community members, regional environment initiatives, as well as local, provincial, and First Nation government representation gathered at the University of Northern British Columbia for the official launch of the Nechako Watershed Strategy.
Incorporating suggestions from community groups and technical experts expressed at community meetings across the region this fall, the strategy aims to inspire and facilitate collaboration, not prescribe actions, stated roundtable coordinator Theresa Fresco.
“We want to get people thinking about an easy commitment to make at this stage,” Fresco said. “Some might need to go back and think about future actions, which can be added during the next stage — the implementation plan.”
To address watershed concerns regarding water quality and quantity, lakes and wetlands, as well as invasive species, the strategy proposes various actions including public education of existing issues, citizen science training, mapping of nonfunctioning areas, and beneficial management practices that help to restore natural flows in the Nechako River and reduce pollution and erosion.
Though no specific commitment of resources or timelines were discussed during the strategy, attendees presented on some of the many current projects that illustrate or address the highlighted issues.
Represented by John Rex and Chelton VanGeloven, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is finalizing the Omineca Watershed Assessment, which will describe watershed characteristics and include ecological and infrastructure risks.
Projects to restore stagnant creeks and eroded riverbanks are also underway, through ministry partnerships with local institutions and environment groups such as the Society for Ecological Restoration in North Central BC, Nechako Environment and Water Stewardship Society, and University of Northern British Columbia.
The Northwest Invasive Plant Council is looking to apply expertise from their recent work in the Columbia River basin to promote native species and watershed health.
However, next steps for the strategy — implementation — are contingent on funding availability. The NWR is currently supported in part by the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. and in principle by the new inter-agency Sustainable Funding for Watershed Governance Initiative.
NWR is one of the three projects across the province chosen by the initiative since its start in January.
“We’re looking at helping organizations to secure sustainable sources of funding,” said SFWGI’s Zita Botelho. “Whether it is through taxation, service fees, licensing, or other sustainable funding mechanisms, we’re trying to put some energy into organizations working for watershed governance.”
For David Hendrickson from the Real Estate Foundation of B.C, whose mission includes transforming land use attitudes and practices through innovation, stewardship, and learning, the project is an opportunity for the foundation to complement regional projects that lack resources.
“Working together is really hard work,” Hendrickson said. “To have this many people come together and hear different pieces of this initiative, I’m interested in what’s next.
“In my point of view, it’s great to have a strategy, but the implementation is what can have far-reaching impacts for the watershed.”
The Nechako Watershed Roundtable was formed in 2015 as a platform for different organizations to share information and brainstorm ideas about ongoing work to mitigate problems of the Nechako watershed, such as impacts of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, climate change, and damming of the Nechako River.
It builds on work performed by the now-disbanded Nechako Watershed Council to research healthy Nechako River flows, Fresco said.
“People’s values have not changed, but recent factors such as climate change and the mountain pine beetle need to be taken account,” she said.
For Henry Klassen, former chair of the Nechako Watershed Council, the strategy is a way to continue the decades-long conversation to restore the health of the Nechako River.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for people to bring information and say, ‘Hey, you can’t ignore the real problems, which are lack of water and ill-timed flows,” Klassen said. “Ultimately we face the same problem: what do we do without water?
“Things do change socially, mentally, or environmentally, and they become politically attractive to do.
“Do I have hope for the future of the Nechako river? Yes, I do.”
NWR has so far produced a Nechako Watershed Health Report and a Nechako Watershed Atlas, illustrating the watershed’s present situation through 20 indicators and map layers. Feedback and comments from the Nechako Watershed Strategy Launch will be released by November.