How the Lake Windermere Ambassadors Group Formalized its Role in Water Management

Lake Windermere_David Sykes_Flickr

Lessons Learned

  • Opportunities exist for community-based water groups to formally advise, support, and influence local-level decisions;
  • Advocating for lake health—while retaining broad community support—is a challenge, especially when contentious, divisive issues arise; and
  • Community education and outreach is valuable and necessary for changing citizens’ attitudes and behaviours, but waiting for people to care about their waters should not necessarily preclude decision-makers from taking immediate needed actions and demonstrating leadership around watershed management.

Detailed Overview

Columbia Lake, the Columbia Wetlands and Lake Windermere form the headwaters of the Columbia River in the East Kootenays. In 2005, concerns about the health of Lake Windermere reached a tipping point: the lake’s burbot fishery had collapsed, and intensification of housing development and water recreation posed a threat to sensitive shoreline ecosystems. Wildsight – a regional environmental non-profit organization –conducted a lake-use survey and supported a public consultation process led by the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) that informed the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan. These activities confirmed that better protections were needed for Lake Windermere, and that this was an issue of public concern.

Collaborative projects among groups and organizations with a stake in the watershed helped build forward momentum. Wildsight convened lakeshore residents and partner organizations to form the Lake Windermere Project, with support from First Nations, all levels of government, community organizations, stewardship groups and research organizations. Between 2005 and 2010, the Project conducted water quality monitoring that adhered to provincial and federal water monitoring protocols at sixteen sites on the lake and lake tributaries. This data contributed to updating the provincial water quality objectives for the lake, which were originally set in 1985.

The Lake Windermere Project also worked with the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership to develop shoreline management guidelines for fish and wildlife habitats for Lake Windermere. The shoreline management guidelines and water quality data informed the development of the Lake Windermere Management Plan (LWMP), a planning process to address lake-related issues following the adoption of the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan. Implementation of the LWMP is the responsibility of the RDEK and District of Invermere, with support from all other agencies that have roles in Lake Windermere’s management. The LWMP also established a Lake Management Committee to advise and assist in the implementation of the Plan.

In 2010, the Lake Windermere Project was re-created as the Lake Windermere Ambassadors (the Ambassadors), an independent, non-profit society. The Ambassadors mandate is to conduct community-based water projects and maintain the Lake Management Committee through its Board of Directors, which includes representatives and advisors from the RDEK, District of Invermere, and Akisq’nuk First Nation. Acting as the Lake Management Committee, the Board of Directors provides comments to local government on development applications for the lake’s foreshore, indicating whether foreshore development should or should not be permitted at certain locations.

Despite these tremendous efforts and progress towards better governance of Lake Windermere, the lake’s health remains under threat. Recreational activities that pose the greatest concerns, such as the use of large motorized boats, are contentious issues for residents and business owners who rely on these activities for financial income. Weak enforcement from the Province on its own areas of jurisdiction (i.e., around shoreline structures) and continued jurisdictional fragmentation are also hindering progress. Several elements of the Lake Windermere Management Plan have not yet been implemented, and a number of local and regional government.

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