Cowichan Tribes

Negotiating a Reverse Service Agreement:

Cowichan Tribes and City of Duncan


Cowichan Tribes and the City of Duncan have worked together as neighbours for decades. In their area of the Cowichan Valley, boundaries are shared not only between Cowichan Tribes and the City of Duncan, but also with the municipalities of North Cowichan and Cowichan Bay. All of these communities recognized long ago that cross boundary issues were inevitable, and working together as equal partners would be better for the area as a whole.

Cowichan Tribes has long received services from the City of Duncan through service agreements, but they have also provided services to help their neighbours in a time of emergency. Approximately 20 years ago, a sewer main break within the City of Duncan resulted in sewage being spilled into the Cowichan River and impacted service to a neighbourhood in the City. The City requested a connection to the neighbouring sewer system on Cowichan Tribes reserve as an emergency measure, and Cowichan Tribes agreed to make the connection to help their neighbour. Even though the connection was meant to be a temporary fix, it remains in place today.

Cowichan Tribes is now planning an upgrade to the on-reserve sewer system, to replace old and undersized parts of the system. Through an engineering study of the flows in the system, it was estimated that approximately 30% of the total flows are from the City of Duncan connection. As Cowichan Tribes prepares to upgrade their system, they have also begun negotiating with the City of Duncan to sign a service agreement. The agreement ensures that the City will contribute their fair share of costs to the upgrade project, and will pay a share of the operations and maintenance on an ongoing basis. Due to the long-standing relationship between the two communities, the City of Duncan has been happy to negotiate an agreement and pay a fair contribution for the service that Cowichan Tribes is providing to them.

Key Lessons

  • There are opportunities for service provision from First Nations to local governments. Negotiated service agreements are equally important for these “reverse” arrangements, to ensure that a quality service is being provided for a fair rate.
  • Communities may be providing services to each other through informal, grandfathered arrangements. These will likely need to be formalized when upgrades are conducted on infrastructure systems.
  • Having a strong relationship in place makes negotiations easier for both parties