In the arid Canadian Prairies, and specifically Saskatchewan and Alberta, water is necessary for supporting not only agriculture, but also competing uses of industry, leisure and domestic use. This region of Canada has had significant droughts over the past hundred years and will continue to experience them as a result of climate change). As a result this area’s water law has historically been adapted first by the federal government and later successive provincial governments with citizen and stakeholder input. This article focuses on the adaptive capacity of the institution of water law and water governance in this region through the examination of several water conflict case studies in the last decade.
Vulnerability to climate change is determined by exposure of a system to climate change stress and the system’s adaptive capacity. A key determinant of adaptive capacity is institutional capacity. Water law is a formal institution and water governance, an often informal institution with significant linkages yet variations to water law. Although formal legal rules provide an important social structure of some permanency, in times of real water scarcity, the real actions of agents as they make decisions and negotiate the institution of water governance, is a rich study of institutional adaptive capacity.
These case studies illustrate the changing institution of water governance and provide insight into important modifications in the institution of water law which will increase adaptive capacity and are also consistent with the literature respecting adaptive policies. Important implications for future water law are evident and will be outlined.