In British Columbia, and elsewhere, water managers are faced with the challenge of balancing competing demands for water. Limits in supply or high demand create situations of water scarcity where not enough water is available for both human (out-of-stream) and ecological (instream) needs. As well, governing laws, institutions, or managers often do not to recognize that instream needs have a prior, or at least equal, right to water comparable to other users. In some situations water is allocated to out-of-stream users first, with instream needs being an afterthought or only if “excess” water exists. Current trends in B.C. suggest that balancing needs for water will become increasingly difficult in the future: the population is growing; rates of water consumption are among the highest in the country and the world; water use is currently in conflict with instream needs in many locations; climate change is increasing water scarcity; and populations of freshwater reliant fish species, such as Pacific salmon, are in decline.
In 2008, the Province of British Columbia released Living Water Smart, a plan of action for improving water management and water laws in the province. Given the opportunity presented by Living Water Smart, ESSA led a research project for the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council to clarify options for resolving conflicts between out-of-stream and instream uses and draws insights from case studies and other sources about the strengths and weaknesses of these options for B.C.’s citizens, water users, water managers, and policy makers. Though the Water Sustainability Act has since been drafted as a legislative proposal, the policy options and case studies summarized through this research have broad relevance across jurisdictions interested in improving the management of their water resources to balance between human and ecosystem needs.