Field workers surveying wetland habitat. Photo: Francisco Martins/Flickr
Field workers surveying wetland habitat. Photo: Francisco Martins/Flickr

 

By Brianna van de Wijngaard –

Community Liaison

Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society

2016 brings yet another World Water Day (WWD) on March 22. Part of its purpose is to keep water conservation and preservation top of mind at both local and global levels, but also because each WWD theme is part of a strategic sustainability initiative established by the UN Water department. This year’s theme is Water and Jobs, meant to “highlight the two-way relationship between water and the decent work agenda in the quest for sustainable development” (Stockholm International Water Institute).

So, of course, this makes us curious: what kinds of green (or blue) jobs currently exist in the water management sector? And what might they look like in the near future for a more sustainably managed water sector?

As of 2013, Canada had an estimated 83,500 professionals working directly in core water quality jobs. There are 4,600 members in the BC Water and Waste Association alone, which represents water professionals such as facility operators, utility managers, engineers, consultants, and government policy and regulatory staff. But most industries have some level of demand for water quality practitioners, the top three being government, consulting firms, and water utilities, according to ECO Canada.

BC also has the highest percentage of labourers in the water quality workforce –16% out of all the provinces – and in Williams Lake, we have 10 full-time staff working directly on the maintenance and quality of the City’s water system. This doesn’t include other contributory positions in local labs, private engineering firms, development, or other government agencies such as Interior Health or Environment.

ECO Canada also surveyed water quality professionals who indicated that jobs directly related to water quality and conservation will either increase, and/or drastically change due primarily to effects of climate change. In the Cariboo-Chilcotin, for example, precipitation levels are expected to increase in future years, which could mean changes in water quality and quantity would have to be mitigated through new water resource engineering strategies.

In addition to these projected changes, a new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) is in effect in BC as of this year, which could also impact the number of core water quality jobs. The new WSA was approved on May 29, 2014 after four years of public engagement and policy development, and is to take effect in early 2016. According to the BC Government, “The Water Sustainability Act will provide new tools to help ensure that water stays healthy and secure for future generations of British Columbians.

It will allow government to manage surface water and groundwater as one resource, provide water users with greater certainty regarding their water rights, and establish clear rules about managing water during times of scarcity.” The new Act is significantly more complex than the last, and phases 1-3 are already complete. Phase 4 includes new fee, rental, and licensing regulations, while phase 5 will cover water sustainability plans, measuring and reporting, license reviews, etc. All in all, it is clear that the public water management sector is changing in BC and this will no doubt require a greater or more varied workforce: public administration already contains 20% of Canada’s water quality staff.

The ECO Canada report cited earlier concluded in 2013 that the demand for water quality professionals will increase, particularly in the green building sector. Job vacancies have increased, standards are changing, current water quality professionals are retiring, and the cost of water is rising. Hopefully, all equitably and for the better.

You can have a look at the new fees and rentals schedule for 2016, on the Government of BC’s website, under the Water Sustainability Act files.

But, of course a UN observance like World Water Day is about more than ideas and strategies and research. It’s about awareness and action on issues outside our own backyard. On March 22, for example, there will be communities around the globe accessing water that is either miles from their homes, or unfit for consumption. Or both.

We may have a great water source here in Canada – some of the best – but we still have inequitable access issues that we need to deal with, such as the 138+ drinking water advisories in First Nation communities across the country (Health Canada, September, 2015), and continually high levels of consumption by global standards. The small act of donating is an easy, yet impactful, place to start. Here’s a good list of water charities to start with: http://www.goodnet.org/articles/1000, (check out charity: Water’s Story. So great!)

It is encouraging to note that most BC residents that contributed to the BC government’s engagement process on a new WSA indicated they would favour increased rates for water usage, as long as they were allocated fairly.

So we will keep an eye on developments, and remain optimistic. In the meantime, CCCS always loves to celebrate our natural resources and thank the community for supporting our work. We are sponsoring a free swim at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex this World Water Day: Tuesday, March 22, from 6:30 p.m. -8 p.m.. Join us for a free spring splash in the pool! We’ll also have a display on site, with some prizes and fun facts and tips on water conservation.

Happy World Water Day, ya’ll!

Brianna van de Wijngaard is the Community Liaison for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society, in Williams Lake, BC, working on various Water and Waste Wise-related projects and events in the community. She has a BA in Global Studies and Geography from Vancouver Island University, and enjoys making anything that involves dirt or an apron. Contact CCCS at (250) 398-7929 or
waterwise@ccconserv.org.

 

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