Government Freshwater Leadership: The Regional District of Nanaimo’s Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program

Screenshot 2019-12-19 at 2.39.24 PM

Lessons Learned

  • Local governments can kick start effective collaborative watershed protection programs without waiting for other governments to provide funding or leadership;
  • Building a strong plan and engaging communities is essential for early success; and 
  • Local governments’ provision of core funding can help attract and leverage other funding resources.

Detailed Overview

In the early 2000s, the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) was facing the realities of a growing population, competing land uses, and diminishing provincial resources. The RDN’s Board of Directors started to look at ways to address watershed protection in cooperation with the many other stakeholders in the region. In 2008, the RDN launched its Drinking Water and Watershed Protection (DWWP) program. A reliable funding source for the DWWP program was established through the collection of an annual parcel tax from both urban and rural parcels. This initial – and potentially ongoing – source of funding has catalyzed collaborations between the RDN and senior government and lays the foundation for the RDN to build partnerships with First Nations. Stable funding often attracts more funding! 

The DWWP began through a strategic planning process. The Board established a Drinking Water-Watershed Protection Stewardship Committee that represented a variety of stakeholder interests. The Committee produced an Action Plan focused on identifying priority action items and initiatives for the long-term, sustainable provision of water and the protection of surface and groundwater drinking water sources for RDN Electoral Area residents. Seven program areas were identified: (1) Public awareness and involvement in water stewardship and management; (2) Water resources inventory and monitoring; (3) Management of land use and development; (4) Watershed management planning; (5) Management of water use; (6) Management of water quality; and (7) Adapting to climate change. 

Goals and objectives were developed for each theme area, alongside a suite of about 60 actions or projects to be initiated over the next 10 years. The Plan also provided budget and funding recommendations to the Board. Extensive public outreach and engagement was required to ensure that the public understood the Plan, and to build support for the parcel tax (which was later decided through a referendum). 

The DWWP grew and built credibility through initial projects to gather data and information. For example, a region-wide Water Budget Study provided the foundation for a better understanding of regional water resources, including current water demands, availability, use, stressed rivers/creeks and aquifers, and the anticipated long-term impacts of climate change on the region’s freshwater resources.