Elk River Alliance

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Detailed Overview

Origins of the Elk River Alliance

The Elk River Alliance (ERA) formed in 2010 as an initiative of the Elk Valley branch of Wildsight, a regional non-profit environmental organization. The ERA became an independent non-profit society in 2013 and in 2017 applied for charitable status. Its four key goals are to: 

  1. Increase watershed literacy;
  2. Engage community participation in water decision making;
  3. Prioritize and conduct watershed stewardship action; and
  4. Promote safe and sustainable recreational use of the Elk River.

Activities that Contribute to Watershed Governance

Providing Information, Research and Solutions to Address Watershed Issues

The ERA produces research documents with the goal of informing sustainable water decision making in the watershed. The group’s research and initiatives are based on community priorities and inputs, such as concerns expressed after the 2013 flood. Community members are engaged in workshops throughout the research process to provide input alongside the provincial government, local government and industry decision-makers. Examples include the following: 

  • The 2014 Elk River Watershed Valley Bottom Assessment: Report to Residents on River Health rates the health of valley-bottom ecosystems in municipal and rural areas.68 Through assessing the current land cover of the Elk River valley bottom from Elkford to Elko, the study identifies the current fish and wildlife habitat available, including the extent of natural and disturbed areas. The ERA collaborated with a number of partners to produce the document, including Teck, the RDEK, BC Parks and the Nature Trust of BC. The information from this study is intended to provide baseline data describing current conditions and to be a tool for decision-makers in land use planning (e.g. to help maintain or improve conditions into the future) 
  • The Elk River Flood Strategy compiles existing flood chronology, reports, hydrologic and climate change modelling and watersheds studies focusing on: 
    1. how the local watershed functions within the larger environment; 
    2. current and forecasted stream flow and flooding in the Elk Valley;
    3. effects of flooding on community, fish and wildlife; and 
    4. effective measures available to help mitigate against future flood risk.
  • Development of the flood strategy involved extensive public education and outreach throughout the watershed to provide information about flooding and seek public input on suggested flood mitigation strategies (e.g. through a Solutions Symposium on Flooding held in Fernie in 2016). The report is intended to benefit community members and local governments interested in options to mitigate against future floods. At the time of research, a local Elk River Flood Committee was being developed with representatives from the provincial and local governments, industry and community members, to explore options for implementing the recommendations from the flood strategy. 

Collaborating With Partners to Leverage Funding and Expertise

The ERA aims to align its work with other planning processes, such as the Elk Valley Cumulative Effects Management Frameworkxii and local government official community plan processes. The ERA leverages funding and in-kind support from multiple sources and, through coordinating the pooling of resources, does valuable work that likely could not have been completed by any one organization on its own. The ERA completes fee-for-service projects like the Flood Mitigation Options for Priority Sites with the RDEK Area A as part of the Elk River Flood Strategy.74 The ERA has positive working relationships with the coal mining industry in the watershed and partners with Teck in various projects on Teck’s land, like the Alexander Creek streamside restoration. The ERA is also a founding member of Teck’s Community of Interest panel and represents the environmental sector. Receiving funding, in-kind data like LiDAR and orthophotos, and expertise from Teck has helped the ERA build knowledge, expertise, community relationships and science-based programs, and develop collaborative solutions for watershed challenges. Teck’s local manager of environmental compliance sits on the ERA Board.

Providing a Community “Water Voice” in Decision-making and Engagement Processes 

Through its growth in knowledge, expertise and partnerships, the ERA has increased its capacity to participate in and contribute to municipal and regional governance processes, including the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan process and Provincial Cumulative Effects Management Framework initiative. In these processes, the ERA aims to act as a “community water voice” and provide a watershed-wide perspective to decision processes.

Role in Watershed Governance

The primary ways the ERA engages in watershed governance are through: 

  • providing watershed knowledge and perspectives through participation in watershed planning and management initiatives, as well as local planning and policy processes;
  • developing solutions-oriented research reports (e.g. the Valley Bottom Assessment, Elk River Flood Strategy and Silver Springs Stewardship) designed to meet community needs and interests;
  • leading citizen-science water monitoring projects and sharing information with decision-makers, including industry partners; and 
  • working to engage citizens in water issues through education, engagement and water stewardship action projects.