When the Water Dries Up - Water Entitlements Workshop

Deborah Curran, Hakai Professor of Environmental Law and Sustainability, in partnership with the University of Victoria's Water Sustainability Project and Oliver Brandes, hosted a two-day workshop in Vancouver, B.C. on water entitlements recently. The session, "When the Water Dries Up: Lessons from the Failure of Water Entitlements in Canada, the U.S., and Australia," brought together 40 individuals from a diversity of sectors in B.C. and a number of experts from other regions that are grappling with this challenge.

The workshop provided a space for discussion between provincial government, First Nations, BC Hydro, funding organizations, the business community, academics, consultants, and NGOs, as well as representatives from some of the main water-use sectors—including agriculture, energy, and water purveyors.

With B.C.'s Water Act modernization process underway, the main purpose of the workshop was to disseminate knowledge about legal entitlements in the province, and take lessons from other jurisdictions, including Australia and the United States. Participants discussed how disputes about water entitlements can be resolved when there is limited water supply—exploring the gaps between legal theory and on-the-ground community-based responses in times of water scarcity.

The workshop opened with a keynote presentation by Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, about the Klamath Basin Agreements of 2010. These agreements offer a recent example of stakeholders and First Nations in a watershed working together, and moving beyond the enforcement of legal entitlements, to implement a workable solution to water scarcity in the U.S. Northwest.

Contributing to the conversation about B.C.'s Water Act modernization process, discussions also focused on expanding the dialogue about possible water governance reform options and opportunities. The workshop was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. A proceedings report and a water entitlements discussion paper from the workshop are forthcoming.