B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan this week included $27 million for watershed protection, which advocates say acknowledges the water shortage risk the province faces because of the climate crisis.
The NDP government unveiled its $8.27 billion restart package Thursday, a plan that contained previously announced money, federal funds, health care spending and programs designed to help small businesses survive a possible second wave of coronavirus.
Also included in the package was the watershed stimulus, which the B.C. Watershed Security Coalition has long been advocating the government include in its budget.
“We have never seen this scale of funding before for watersheds in B.C.,” said Coree Tull, a spokesperson for the B.C. Watershed Security Coalition, in an interview Saturday.
The government is acknowledging that B.C.’s water security and low salmon returns are tied to the climate crisis and that the watersheds are increasingly under threat from wildfires, drought, and erosion, said Tull.
“It also demonstrates that economic stimulus opportunities are good for the environment and by investing $27 million in watershed and wetland projects it is investing in employment opportunities for those hardest hit by COVID, and that’s women, youth, and Indigenous people.”
The government has not yet decided on specific projects for the funding, but Tull said they will likely focus on clean drinking water, water conservation, climate adaptation, and watershed renewal, including wetland and river restoration, and restoring fish populations.
Other projects on the table focus on reconciliation and creating employment in First Nations communities such as water guardian programs, and working with farmers to create sustainable agriculture, Tull added.
The coalition estimates a $1 million investment in watershed restoration can create between 13 and 32 jobs and $2.2 and $3.4 million in economic activity.
Andrew Patrick, a spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said, in an email Saturday, that the funding will create more that 1,000 new short-term jobs to protect natural spaces and help B.C. prepare for the effects of climate change.
Examples of this may include using restored wetlands to buffer waterbody surges instead of concrete barriers, conserving species and habitats to maintain natural pest control services or improving water monitoring to better identify climate risks and support effective adaptation policy planning.
Funds will be transferred to third party grant administrators who are experts in this area and whose mandates align with the projects chosen, said Patrick.
Tull said the coalition hopes the funding announced this week is the start of a long term strategy to restore and mange fresh water resources.
The group is advocating for a dedicated watershed security fund that could be supported by the water rentals paid by the largest commercial and industrial users of fresh water.
Some of the other funding announced in B.C.’s recovery plan included $100 million in infrastructure grants for local governments, roughly $660 million for business tax relief, and a $300 million “recovery grant” for small and medium sized businesses.
In addition to the watershed funding, there was also $10 million earmarked for species and ecosystems conservation and restoration.
The BC Watershed Coalition is made up if 27 organizations, including the BC Wildlife Federation, BC Outdoor Recreation Council, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Watersheds BC, Rivershed Society of BC, BC Freshwater legacy Initiative, POLIS Water Sustainability Project, and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.
-with files from Rob Shaw