Stewarding Agricultural Watercourses (SAW)

Stream running through a field


The Stewarding Agricultural Watercourses (SAW) project aims to uncover key challenges and opportunities that will allow the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food (AF) to build on the programs currently in place and take the next steps towards water resource stewardship on agricultural lands. A series of key directions which AF can take to help support agricultural producers in watercourse stewardship were developed and are outlined in this document.  


Over a period of decades, AF has worked with producers, non-governmental organizations, industry associations, and agencies to enhance stewardship of riparian areas threaded throughout agriculturally productive lands. For example, the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and Beneficial Management Practices (BMP) programs support producers in maintaining and enhancing riparian areas through improved stream crossings, alternative watering sources, exclusion fencing, and re-vegetation. Building on the work undertaken by AF and the farming community there is a desire to identify challenges and barriers, in order to provide further opportunities to improve the rate and success of participation in riparian stewardship.

The SAW is separate from the ongoing development of a provincial Watershed Security Strategy, however results of the SAW will be shared with those leading the Watershed Security Strategy to help inform its development and implementation.

What we heard – initial engagement

The first phase of the SAW project was to better understand how farmers and ranchers are managing riparian areas and watercourses on agricultural land.

During the engagement process, participants shared concerns and ideas for change. 

A What We Heard document was developed to provide a summary of engagement results from an online survey and interviews conducted by phone and zoom.

There were five key objectives associated with the engagement activities:

  1. Learn about barriers and challenges experienced by agricultural landowners and leaseholders in stewarding watercourses and riparian areas on farmland.
  2. Identify opportunities to address some of the concerns raised by agricultural landowners and leaseholders.
  3. Address the barriers to watercourse stewardship on agricultural land, laying out steps to short, medium and long-term implementation.
  4. Enhance collaboration between Indigenous communities, agricultural groups, and various levels of government.
  5. Enhance understanding of current stewardship of watercourses on agricultural land and ensure farmers and ranchers have a better comprehension of expectations around watercourses.

A survey was launched online to gather insights and experiences from producers on watercourse management. The survey was advertised through existing networks, including industry associations, and was open from May 24 to July 4, 2022, online through Survey Monkey. A total of 235 responses were received.

In addition to the survey, approximately 30 one-on-one interviews were conducted with a variety of stakeholders to further understand the challenges and develop some potential solutions. Finally, three focus groups were facilitated to circulate an early draft of the Discussion Paper for feedback. The three focus groups were organized by audience type:

  • practitioners (8 participants)
  • local government staff (21 participants)
  • provincial government staff (11 participants)

The input received during these sessions was instrumental in fine-tuning the potential actions and determining the list of collaborators for each action.

Discussion paper

Following the finalization of the What We Heard Document, a Discussion Paper was drafted to provide some early recommended directions for AF to undertake in Phase 2 of the implementation of the Stewarding Agricultural Watercourses (SAW) project.  These directions were developed following the initial project engagement phase and are rooted in core concepts and themes which arose and are designed to be actionable and measurable.

The Province is gathering feedback through the Discussion Paper. The Discussion Paper and the feedback received will inform the development of the Stewarding Agricultural Watercourses Action Plan. The Action Plan will provide strategic direction for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (AF) to act on the recommendations proposed by agricultural stakeholders to improve farmers' and ranchers’ ability to steward watercourses on their properties. The Action Plan will be released in late spring of 2023.

Please read and provide input on the Discussion Paper that outlines some suggestions for actions AF can implement and why. The Discussion Paper provides some objectives and recommended actions to achieve better outcomes for watercourses throughout agricultural land in B.C. The survey will be open from April 12th until May 10th, 2023.


Opinions expressed in these documents are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Governments of Canada and British Columbia. The Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and their directors, agents, employees, or contractors will not be liable for any claims, damages, or losses of any kind whatsoever arising out of the use of, or reliance upon, this information.