Fraser Basin Council


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Welcome to Sustainability Snapshot 3

I am pleased to present, on behalf of the Directors and staff of the Fraser Basin Council, our 2006 State of the Fraser Basin report: Sustainability Snapshot 3. The report offers insights into the important sustainability trends in the Fraser Basin today. It is intended to inform, to encourage dialogue and to inspire action.

In these pages, you will learn about some of most dramatic sustainability issues unfolding today-such as the reality of climate change in our communities, now and projected for the years to come; the persistent economic vulnerability of some people, even in a time of economic boom and high employment; the impacts of an increasing population and rate of consumption; and, on a very positive note, the wonderful opportunities that emerge when people choose collaboration over conflict to solve problems.

Caring for the Fraser Basin-its people and its natural heritage-is an important responsibility we share. We will see the Basin thrive if we make a collective commitment to sustainability in all its dimensions-social, economic and environmental. May this report help deepen your understanding of the issues and renew your enthusiasm for making changes when and where they are needed.

Dr. Charles Jago, Chair, Fraser Basin Council

The Fraser Basin Council

Click on image to enlargeThe Fraser Basin is a special place. Keeping it that way demands that people share in the responsibility for its future.

That is where the Fraser Basin Council comes in. Formed in 1997, the Fraser Basin Council (FBC) is a charitable, not-for-profit body that plays a unique role in advancing the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability in the Fraser Basin.

The FBC is led by 36 Directors representing the diversity of the Basin-from the four orders of government, including First Nations and from the private sector and civil society. All Directors commit to the vision, principles and goals of the Charter for Sustainability, which includes making decisions through collaboration and consensus, based on mutual understanding, respect and trust.

This governance structure is the first of its kind in Canada and has served as a model to others in this country and abroad. The structure also positions the FBC to help others in public and community life find shared solutions through collaboration and long-term thinking. This is one way the FBC brings a unique and lasting value to the Basin and its people.

Sustainability Today

The latest research shows that Canadians support the concept of sustainability, although defining the word itself presents a challenge. What does sustainability mean today?

In 1987 the United Nations report Our Common Future gave a contemporary meaning to the term "sustainable development" by saying this: "Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable by ensuring it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Today, nearly 20 years later, the word "sustainability" is in common use and embraces social, economic and environmental considerations. Although different people may give it different meaning or emphasis, the word reflects the need for long-term thinking in all human endeavours.

The Fraser Basin Council defines sustainability this way:
"Living and managing activities in a way that balances social, economic, environmental and institutional considerations to meet our needs and those of future generations."

This is in keeping with the FBC vision statement for the Fraser Basin as a place where social well-being is supported by a vibrant economy and sustained by a healthy environment.

The Fraser Basin: Our Shared Heritage and Future

From its source at Mount Robson in the Rockies, the mighty Fraser River travels almost 1,400 km to meet the Pacific Ocean at the Strait of Georgia. It is British Columbia's longest river and, together with its many tributaries, drains a quarter of the province. This is the Fraser River Basin, a land of spectacular beauty, diversity and opportunity. It is our heritage, and our future.

For thousands of years, the Basin has been home to many Aboriginal peoples, including the Halquameelem, Hun Qui Min Um, Nlaka'pamux, Secwepemc, Stl'atl'imx, Tsilhqot'in, Carrier and Okanagan-speaking Nations. Aboriginal peoples are an integral part of the Fraser Basin's history, its cultural heritage and its future.

The faces of the Basin are ever changing. Today, almost 2.8 million people-two-thirds of BC's population-call this place home. Ours is now a community of many cultures, languages and religions. In addition to this rich cultural heritage, the Fraser Basin offers a diverse natural heritage. It boasts one of the world's most productive salmon river systems, supporting six salmon species, including steelhead, and 65 other species of fish. Here also is British Columbia's most productive waterfowl breeding area, home to hundreds of species of birds and mammals as well as reptiles, amphibians and insects.

From Prince George to Williams Lake to Kamloops, and throughout the most populated stretches of the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver, communities depend on the Basin to support a range of economic activity-from natural resource industries, to agriculture to businesses of all types. This is the land where we live, work and play. Our well-being is so closely tied to the Fraser Basin that its future is our own. That connection should instill in us an attitude of respect, inspiration and responsibility-to each other and the life around us.


Sustainability in the Fraser Basin: the Story behind the Statistics

"More People, More Consumption, More Waste"

The population in the Fraser Basin in 2003 was estimated to be 2.8 million. Through efficiency and conservation over the last 10-15 years, residents of the Fraser Basin have reduced, on a per capita basis, their use of both energy (by 6%) and municipal water (by 7%). However, the total rates of energy and municipal water use have increased by 20% and 21% respectively over the same period, suggesting that the per capita improvements have been outpaced by population growth.

In terms of solid waste generation and diversion from landfills through recycling and composting, there are mixed results that are also related to population growth and consumption rates. Between 1996 and 2002, the Basin communities achieved an 18% decrease in the disposal of solid waste in landfills. However, there were increases in three of five Fraser Basin regions over this period as well as a Basin-wide increase between 2001 and 2002.

Clearly, there is room for improvement in reducing and managing solid waste, an increasingly important challenge given the rate of population growth the Basin is experiencing and the continued growth that is forecast (4 million by 2031).

"Climate Change-The Sustainability Challenge"

Climate change has profound implications for many aspects of sustainability, and is a recurring theme throughout Snapshot 3. Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activity have grown by 30% in BC since 1990, and in 2004 reached a 15-year high of 16.8 megatonnes. Although GHG emissions per capita during this period were relatively constant, there were increases of almost one tonne per person between 2002 and 2004 (also a 15-year high).

While the causes and impacts of climate change are still not fully understood, current trends signal a range of significant potential implications. For example, sea level rise and extreme storm events threaten to increase flood risks. The frequency, magnitude or intensity of other natural hazards, such as forest fires and drought, may also increase. A continued warming of freshwater temperatures and low river flows could devastate the health of salmon stocks in the Fraser Basin. The health and distribution of forests, grasslands and other ecosystems may also change dramatically, impacting on native species and biodiversity. With such dramatic environmental impacts come numerous social and economic consequences; however, the scale and scope of these are difficult to determine. Warmer temperatures in winter have already made it easier for Mountain Pine Beetle to infest forests in a number of areas across the Basin. The full extent of the social and economic costs associated with the current outbreak is not yet known.

Looking ahead to other sobering possibilities, if climate change were to contribute to the future extinction of Fraser River salmon, or result in severe water shortages in different parts of the Basin, there would be serious consequences for fisheries, agriculture and industry-not to mention, social, cultural and environmental costs. Critical questions arise, including: What is the cost for communities to take action against climate change? How can communities adapt and protect themselves from some of the harmful impacts of climate change? Finally, what are the social, economic and environmental costs of doing nothing?

"A Tale of Two Economies"

There are significant discrepancies between the growth and vitality of the economy as a whole in BC, and the economic hardship that many individuals and families experience. The average income for families and individuals in BC increased by 8% from 1995-2004 and is the 3rd highest in Canada; however, BC also has the highest percentage of its population below the Low Income Cut-Off in Canada. Similarly, while unemployment rates in BC are the lowest in 20 years, the proportion of working poor in BC is twice the national average.

The gap between the highest 20% of income earners and the lowest 20% is widening. The relative gap is an important measure of inequality. However, even more striking is that the lowest 20% of income earners actually saw their income decrease by 16% between 1995 and 2004. Rates of low-income and working poor are exacerbated by the housing affordability crisis in the Lower Mainland and other parts of the Basin. For example, the average income for families and individuals in BC in 2004 ($47,800) was below the qualifying income necessary to purchase a condominium in BC and even more deficient in relation to the costs of an average detached bungalow.

It will be an ongoing challenge to address income and housing problems in a sustainable way. There is growing necessity to help people who are homeless and in crisis, and also a need for long-term strategies to assist people who, while working, find it difficult to pay the cost of housing and other living expenses.

"Collaboration for Sustainability"

Complex sustainability challenges in the Fraser Basin often involve more than one jurisdiction and various interests-governmental, non-profit and business-that can contribute expertise and resources.

During the research and development of Snapshot 3, the project team found numerous examples of collaborative approaches that were underway to advance sustainability in the Basin. Some of these are illustrated in the sustainability stories in Snapshot 3. While this is an observation, not an analysis or conclusion based on the indicators, it appears that these approaches are particularly advantageous in assisting communities in their efforts to pursue sustainability. A greater emphasis on collaboration is required to advance sustainability and address some of the challenges in the Basin and beyond.

About the Report

The 2006 Sustainability Snapshot profiles the social, economic and environmental health of the Fraser Basin, and is the third in a series of reports prepared by the Fraser Basin Council since January 2003. The purpose of Sustainability Snapshot 3 is to help:

Sustainability indicators are not decisive measurements or solutions in and of themselves. They can, however, reflect certain trends and help identify areas where progress is being made and where more change is required.

What's New in this Report?

Sustainability Snapshot 3 builds on the scope and approach of the Council's first two Snapshot reports and includes some refinements and new features. Refinements to the Scope of Topics The scope of sustainability topics has been refined in some cases, including:

Updates and Refinements to the Indicators

Click on image to enlargeIndicator trends have been updated where possible since release of the Snapshot 2 report. Sometimes more current data (such as 2006 Census data) were not yet available, so that alternative indicators or approaches were used to update the analysis. In some cases, a broader suite of indicators is presented to provide a more complete picture of the state of sustainability.

Sustainability Stories

For most topics, a case study has been profiled to complement the quantitative indicators and data. The stories highlight the projects of diverse organizations working to advance sustainability throughout the Fraser Basin.

Sustainability Highlights

For each of the topics, a few significant indicators have been selected to profile as highlights. The status of these indicators is presented "At-a-Glance" to provide a quick sense of what is getting better or worse in the Fraser Basin: see Sustainability Highlights.

Regional Summaries

Snapshot 3 profiles each of the five regions of the Fraser Basin: the Upper Fraser, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Thompson, Fraser Valley, and Greater Vancouver-Sea to Sky (GVSS) regions. A map of the Basin and the five regions is presented. Surrounding the map are regional profiles, including a description, key highlights of indicator trends and examples of sustainability initiatives: see Regional Summaries.

Online Access and More Details

The Snapshot 3 report will be available in a PDF version (November, 2006) and an HTML version (January, 2007) on the Council's website at This approach allows access to the report-and more detailed content-in a way that is user-friendly and easily shared with others.