Communities throughout the province are restoring watersheds and wetlands to protect aquatic ecosystems and promote healthier environments for British Columbians and wildlife.
During the past six months, more than 60 Healthy Watersheds Initiative projects have been launched at more than 200 sites around the province, restoring rivers and wetlands, creating spawning grounds for salmon and expanding protection of aquatic species. First Nations and lndigenous-led organizations are managing and participating in many of the projects underway.
“Investing to restore environmental health is one of the ways we are supporting biodiversity and species recovery,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We have much to learn from Indigenous Nations about stewardship of the land and water and, by applying their traditional practices and knowledge in concert with western science, together we are creating a healthier future for communities and species across B.C.”
B.C.’s streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands store carbon, absorb flooding and storm surges, supply drinking water and provide critical habitat for fish and other species. To conserve and restore more than 70 wetlands, the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s Wetlands Workforce Project employs more than 100 people around the province.
The Lower Kootenay Band is one of the Wetlands Workforce partner organizations and has been working to restore 517 hectares of floodplains, wetlands, streams and rivers on traditional Yaqan Nukiy territory in the Creston Valley. The work supports target species such as waterfowl, elk, grizzly bears and amphibians.
“Everything out here was connected before. This project is basically putting the land back, as closely as possible, to its natural function,” said Norman Allard, community planner for the Lower Kootenay Band. “These areas are just as important to the world as lakes and rivers. Having more people learn about that and become interested in it will get us away from the stigma that wetlands are just mosquito-infested areas that need to be filled in.”
For people living in southeastern B.C., the Columbia Basin is an essential part of life, but a changing climate is having an impact on the region’s watersheds and glaciers. The Living Lakes Canada project includes 25 people focused on environmental monitoring and collecting data in areas of the Columbia Basin. The project supports community decision-making about water resources as part of its climate preparedness planning.
“It is imperative that we support local and First Nations governments in their quest to build water-related adaptation strategies in our communities,” said Kat Hartwig, executive director, Living Lakes Canada. “Water is the underpinning of local economies and is essential to the well-being of our communities. This initiative will increase water awareness, local engagement and climate resilience for residents across the Basin.”
Through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, the Gitksan Watershed Authorities are working on a multi-year project to restore connectivity and the quality of critical salmon habitat in McCully Creek near Hazelton. Using native species like willow, red-osier dogwood and cottonwood, berms are being created to stabilize banks and encourage single channel water flow. Gitksan members are also developing hands-on experience in restoration and monitoring activities.
“We talk about restoration, but we don’t always have the resources to do the effectiveness monitoring. Six new staff for our small organization is a big undertaking,” said Taylor Wale, project lead, Gitksan Watershed Authorities. “What makes this project so great is that everyone is on site together sharing perspectives, developing solutions informed by our different experiences, and at the end of every day, we have to come back to what we all agree on, which is our priority to protect wild salmon.”
Healthy Watersheds Initiative projects are supported through a $27-million investment from StrongerBC, the Province’s $10-billion COVID-19 economic recovery plan. The Province has partnered with the Real Estate Foundation of BC (REFBC) to administer the funding and is working with Watersheds BC to support project implementation. A six-month report about the Healthy Watersheds Initiative is available at: https://healthywatersheds.ca/reports
“Against a punishing backdrop of summer wildfires, farm drought and salmon struggling to find spawning grounds, the crucial jobs, nature, community and cultural benefits of watershed work has been underscored by HWI projects,” said Mark Gifford, CEO of REFBC.
These projects contribute to B.C.’s commitment to develop a Watershed Security Strategy and Fund. Nature-based climate solutions like these projects are part of B.C.’s draft climate preparedness and adaptation strategy, to be finalized next year.
For more information about projects being supported by the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, visit: https://healthywatersheds.ca/