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Thursday, 30 March 2017 08:00

WPACs happy for sustained three-year funding

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Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips was supported by officials from Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils when she made the announcement of sustained funding for the councils for the next three years. Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips was supported by officials from Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils when she made the announcement of sustained funding for the councils for the next three years. Photo contributed

Sustained predictable funding for Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPAC) has been a long, hard-fought lobby, but success was finally achieved in Alberta last week.


The provincial government announced $3.2 million per year for three years for WPACs on World Water Day, March 22.
That’s about $290,000 for each of the 11 local watershed councils in Alberta including the three southern ones — South East Alberta Watershed Alliance (SEAWA), Oldman Watershed Council (OWC), and the Milk River Watershed Council of Canada (MCWCC).
Similar to the amount of funding the groups have received in the past, what is new about this announcement is the money has been committed for each of the next three years.
“This has been a long-time request from WPACs for so many years,” says Marilou Montemayor, executive director of SEAWA, about the three-year funding commitment.
“By January, we’re starting to run out of funds and worrying about how much money we’re going to get,” she adds.
Funding would also arrive later in the year since provincial fiscal year-end is March 31 and sometimes not until July or August. From April to June staff would cut down their hours or have to fundraise so there was emergency funding in place to help float the organization until the provincial grant money was received.
“I would applaud this government, particularly the Minister of Environment Shannon Phillips,” adds Montemayor. “She’s been so supportive of this WPAC program. She arranged the government commitment of three years of funding.”
A three-year funding commitment also means more long-term planning can take place knowing there will be money to pay for projects.
Montemayor is quick to point out with the assured funding, comes an expectation that WPACs will demonstrate performance and how the funding is being used.
“There is more stringent program accountability. Government is keen to see WPACs perform.”
WPACs are also expected to raise funds from other sources as well to help supplement the work that is happening.
Officials with the Oldman Watershed Council are also pleased to see the stability that the funding announcement brings.
“The most critical thing is the stability is a huge boost,” says Shannon Frank, OWC’s executive director. “We will be able to plan out multi-year projects.”
It will also make it easier for WPACs to leverage their funding against seeking out additional money. Frank says for OWC, government funding is just under half of the council’s total budget.
“This allows for more multi-year fundraising and leveraging,” she adds.
Another benefit of a three-year funding commitment, is the stability a non-profit such as a WPAC can offer to the staff.
“Turnover at non-profits is a huge problem. Seeing certainty sets us up for success ... and we’re able to be more effective in what we’re doing,” explains Frank.
The funding commitment will take WPACs to the spring of 2020. For OWC officials, it is perfect timing as they will be working on their next three-year strategic plan this summer.
“It will make a big difference,” says Frank. “We will be able to plot out the next three years with more assurity and confidence. We can start a few projects.”
She points out that long-term projects can be more stressful without stable funding.
“This will help us with the ability to have the confidence we will be able to do these long-term projects.”
A lot of the time, multi-year projects revolve around educating people and changing people’s behaviours, which can take a long time. Frank says the priorities WPACs face have changed a lot with greater focus on climate change and now the work that will need to be done in southwest Alberta around the new Castle Parks.
Overall, Frank is pleased with the government’s decision to fund watershed councils on more than just a year-to-year basis.
“These types of longer-term commitments are really essential for non-profits. We’re matching and leveraging those amounts and we’re able to multiply that into much greater resources and impacts.”
Tim Romanow, executive director for MCWCC, was also pleased with the funding.
“This gives us a little bit of security for the longer term and it should allow us to do some really great work,” he says, pointing out the watershed councils still need to apply for funding on a yearly basis.
Romanow says the MCWCC has done work to diversify and ensure the projects undertaken reflect the priorities of the greater community. WPACs contribute in more areas than just water and its health.
WPACs deal with issues that have larger ramifications such as biodiversity and issues in watersheds.
Some projects that may have been delayed due to funding uncertainty will likely now be pushed forward, but work done with partners often does move at the pace of those partners, he points out.
“We’ll be working on a new strategic plan this fall to make sure we’re still on track,” he adds. “(The funding commitment) will give us some opportunities to make sure our projects align with what the community wants to see us doing.”
As part of the announcement, $750,000 each year for the next three years was also committed to the Alberta Water Council.
That organization has 24 members from governments, industry and non-government organizations.
It monitors and stewards implementation of Alberta’s Water for Life strategy and members works with water users to improve efficiency, productivity and water literacy.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor