The Peachland watershed is the focus of a UBC research effort to develop a new integrated management model to protect its water resource.
Participants in that project spoke at the virtual 5th annual Community Water Forum on Nov. 30, focused on efforts to find shared environment management solutions in a changing world.
Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin voiced how pleased she was the watershed that provides drinking water to her community was chosen for the study, saying the management of conflicting uses of watershed resources continues to be a frustrating process.
John Wagner, an associate anthropology professor at UBC Okanagan and research team member, said Fortin’s frustration might be eased by all the stakeholders sitting around the same table and acknowledging the goals ultimately set out by the research effort.
“From a social science perspective, this has been attempted on different scales in lots of places…you bring the watershed users to the table to work together and make decisions,” Wagner said.
The research effort will undertake water quality protection, downstream and upstream management options to ensure quality drinking water, and impact uses of the watershed such as logging and recreational pursuits.
Jeanette Armstrong, a UBCO associate professor of Indigenous studies, said the environmental risk assessment of the Peachland watershed also is open to accounting for Indigenous Syilx values, leading to her participation in the effort.
She said Syilx area chiefs and the Okanagan Nation Alliance need to be involved in that decision-making process, which she says needs to be reauthorized from government officials based in Victoria to the local level among the stakeholders who live with and benefit from the watershed resources.
Armstrong said traditional approaches to land management carried on for thousands of years before the colonization of North America began should not be discounted.
“Understanding how an ecosystem works in a given watershed, how all those various factors in a system contribute to the health of that system or the cumulative damage to that system need to be understood,” she said.
Looking forward at water protection measures, Adam Wei, UBCO professor of earth, environment and geographic sciences, said society can’t deal with water in isolation, that water is a key linkage to the health and viability of any watershed ecosystem.
Other forum and research participant speakers echoed similar themes of integrated watershed management, of developing a management model that accounts for watershed protection and diversity.
“One of the things I am most excited about with this new cluster, this new (research) project, is that I have been really looking at what is an ecosystem and look at that system from the perspective in terms of how people are integrated into those natural systems,” said Armstrong.
“Governance models where legislating making decision thousands of miles away and the people of the watershed not represented, that includes First Nations people who have lived thousands of years in these watersheds and are intimately connected to it…we really need to create new models of authority.”
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