Water Governance: The Engagement of Civil Society

SSHRC 2010-2013

Margot Hurlbert, Assoc. Prof. Department of Justice Studies and Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina

This research focuses on the reduction of people’s vulnerability to climate variability specifically in relation to water and societal decisions respecting water. Globally and locally the water ‘crisis,’ although accentuated by climate change, is increasingly recognized as a crisis of water governance, or a crisis of the decision making process of people, government, and business in respect of water and activities affecting water. A solution to this crisis, locally and internationally, and the resulting reduction of vulnerability to climate variability, is bottom-up water governance and the involvement of local people in decisions affecting their water resource.

Water governance has traditionally occurred in a centralized manner through government departments or agencies managing the water resource. However, increasingly civil society is participating in water governance through “Watershed Advisory Committees” in Saskatchewan, “River Councils” in Alberta and “Conservation Districts” in Manitoba (generically referred to herein as “LWCs”) tasked with setting and implementing source water protection plans in many provinces in Canada. Literature respecting adaptation to climate change cites this as improving adaptation and reducing the vulnerability of communities to climate change. The benefits of civil society participation in water governance are cited as: commitment of the participants to implementing decisions; incorporation of local community practices, values and knowledge into decisions; internalizing of economic externalities (or having decisions represent the true value to the community of all impacts of a decision); interaction of economic interventions with non economic values such as health benefits from increased water quality; and adaptive, quick and flexible response to issues reducing local vulnerabilities to climate change.

This research focuses on the emerging area of civil society engagement or bottom-up governance in relation to water to: explore the role of LWCs and how three provincial water governance arrangements and compare and analyze the three provincial models and make recommendation to improve water governance.

Click here to access the Final Report by Margot Hurlbert, Evan Andrews, Yordanos Tesfamariam, and James Warren.

Click here to access the Baseline Prairie Provinces Water Institution Report by Evan Andrews.