Lee-Anne Walker and Chris Strashok
Published January 27, 2010
Water quality and quantity is critical to every aspect of life. Monitoring our water supply and its health is of concern to many Canadian communities. Citizen groups in the Columbia Basin, in southeast British Columbia, Canada, are actively gathering water data and monitoring the health of local rivers and streams. These watershed groups are forging a new governance model for citizens to better understand their watersheds and use this knowledge to take a more active role in the decision-making process to ensure water sustainability in their communities. Community-based water monitoring (CBWM) is one activity that can be used to bridge citizens’ involvement with decision-makers in a partnership of shared responsibility for planning and managing a sustainable water system.
What is unclear is how do decision-makers perceive the efforts of these community-based water groups; are they valued, appreciated or respected? Is there interest in sharing information between communities and decision-makers and a willingness to collaborate on decision-making? If so, where are the entry points in the water governance process for citizens to participate effectively?
Sustainable Development Characteristics
For the purpose of this research, it is assumed that water sustainability is achieved when there is a renewable and economical water supply, and human activities are environmentally benign to the water resource. To accomplish this, a series of value-based choices about water happens. Historically, all three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, are involved; hence, water governance is as complex and diverse as the geopolitical boundaries and governmental jurisdictions it crosses. With this government structure, fragmentation of water legislation, policies and practices occurs, creating challenges to meeting water sustainability goals. If goals are not met, the results can range from degraded water quality, exposure to waterborne diseases, as well as inadequate financial resources to resolve issues, and weak standards.
It is clear that water governance in the Columbia Basin, and elsewhere in Canada, can not be shaped by government agencies alone, but needs to include the cultural norms and values of the people who live and work in the region. Governments and community members are increasingly recognizing that non-government actors like citizens, non-government organizations, and business are essential to effective water management. Thus, the need for connection and collaboration between community-based organizations, like the ones found in the Columbia Basin, which are monitoring water quality, involved with water education and outreach, and restoration efforts, along with the decision-makers making and enforcing policy around water, is fundamental to sustainable community development.
Critical Success Factors
For a system to make the kind of transformation required to implement sustainable development, power and authority must be linked and distributed among the various stakeholders. By bridging the existing bonding social capital, a community can facilitate effective information generation-sharing, decision-making and accountability, and the distribution of resources and wealth (Doppelt, 2003). In the Columbia Basin, there is some evidence that this is being achieved and that effective bridging social capital between community water monitoring groups and decision-makers is being generated. Both the Lake Windermere Project and the Christina Lake Stewardship Society initiatives are examples of when groups are connected and the inclusion of multiple values, knowledge and interests of different stakeholders come together to create a co-management framework. With this framework, there is a space created that allows for sharing of knowledge, agreement on parameters for monitoring, and the publication and dissemination of knowledge to the wider community.
Community Contact Information
Lee-Anne Walker, M.A., B.A.
Fernie, British Columbia, Canada
The Lake Windermere Project (LWP) emulated a positive working relationship with the District of Invermere. Working together, LWP data was incorporated into the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan and guidance document for shoreline development. This group was also able to update the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) water quality objectives with the district's support in the form of a boat, fuel, delivery and pick up service, access to water intakes, and in-kind office space.
Similarly, the Christina Lake Stewardship Society was able to build relationships and networks by coordinating an annual tour of the lake on a barge called the “Tintanic”. These tours brought together regional district directors, planning committee members, MoE representatives, and Selkirk College staff to discuss lake ecology, issues and joint concerns. These meetings enabled all of the individuals involved in water stewardship to understand that they all share the common goal of protecting water resources while building a foundation of trust and respect for each other.
What Didn’t Work?
This case study revealed four key areas where community-based action groups need to be more strategic. Managing and analysing the collected water data is difficult for both community groups and decision-makers. With each group working independently to collect their own data sets, there are few resources available to compile and analyse the data, keep the data current and disseminate the information to other decision-makers and communities. This reinforces the argument that community groups and decision-makers need to work in a partnership with shared responsibility for planning and managing a sustainable water system.
Local water management knowledge is also in jeopardy since few of the groups have viable succession plans to replace the current leadership. They are challenged to find volunteers, especially since the population is seasonal, and in some cases, many of the full-time residents have had to relocate due to increasing property values and taxation rates. Decision-makers have similar problems due to the nature of government, with a subsequent loss of continuity between citizen-based groups and the decision-makers. With some rapid changes in civil servants, citizen-based groups have had to continuously re-establish their credibility and legitimacy to new staff.
There are various levels of trust and respect between community-based water groups and decision-makers. A lack of trust in the region can be traced back to past perceptions of one another, poor communication, and weak networks between the two groups. By allowing these perceptions to persist, relationships between these two working groups will languish limiting the available social capital needed to protect the region’s water systems. There are also various monitoring and reporting protocols used by both community groups and decisionmakers involved. This complicates the communication issues and networking capabilities between the different water monitoring groups, further eroding the much needed social capital to facilitate a new governance model.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
From 2005 to 2009, the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) provided $36,594.66 in funds to support the Columbia Basin Watershed Network and the water-monitoring pilot carried out by some of the community-based water groups. These funds were used to facilitate various symposiums that helped to connect organizations and build strong networks between citizen groups involved in water stewardship, restoration and planning activities (CBT website, 2009).
Government agencies have also provided year-end funding contributions, grants and assistance for accessing outside funding sources. They have also loaned equipment, provided less expensive access to lab services, printed brochures, provided office space, paid facilitators for joint meetings, provided in-kind expertise, as well as agency staff support. In-kind support, particularly expertise, including scientific, is often as valuable to community-based groups as financial support.
This case study was drawn from interviews with eight community-based water groups and sixteen decision-makers to examine how citizen-generated data might be integrated into planning and decision-making for water sustainability in the Columbia Basin. Two distinct interview sets were conducted. They were structured by a set of predetermined open-ended conversations regarding water management, social capital and governance models. The key difference between the two groups is that one has legitimate power and authority directly over water, while the other has the capacity to make personal decisions, but also wishes to influence long-term, community-based water planning and management leading toward sustainability. The intent was to learn about how community-based water monitoring can be used to bridge citizens’ involvement with decision-makers in a partnership of shared responsibility for planning and managing a sustainable water system.
Detailed Background Case Description
Water is intrinsic to sustainable community development, the human imperative of the 21st century (Dale, 2001). Sustainable development involves choices by people of what to sustain (nature, resources, cultures) and what is to be developed (people, economy, society) (Kates et al, 2001). It is a series of value-based choices, in this case placed on water. Community-based water groups are investing countless hours and personal resources to make the following activities happen in this region through the following activities that include:
· bringing in grant dollars into the community to do restoration activities that employ local individuals and students;
· catalysts for community involvement and engagement which have changed community behaviour e.g. through Stewardship Centres;
· participating in fish surveys;
· offering living laboratories outside for water education/community awareness and conservation programs;
· participating in processes resulting in improved industrial models and standards;
· sponsoring community stream and lake clean ups and celebrating water stewardship events;
· members of local Advisory Planning Council for Official Community Plans and affect operations e.g. cosmetic bylaws, setbacks for snow removal, divert compostable waste from landfill;
· participating in watershed planning and implementation strategy;
· acting as watchdogs advocating for compliance of legislation, socially unacceptable harm to water, receive anonymous tips from residents, advocate for government to clean up abandoned mine sites and monitor mine decommissioning;
· managing long term water monitoring projects that produce enough data to show trends to base decision making judgements;
· riparian restoration and tree planting;
· producing annual reports on water results;
· reviewing permit applications for development, variance applications, foreshore alterations and monitor tenures e.g. marina, forest practices;
· producing community brochures and signs; and,
· operating a Stewardship Centre providing a central location for dissemination of information and a staffed phone.
This monitoring also increases citizen appreciation, understanding of the issues and value for the resource, and community literacy around a critical resource. Understanding of water science, governance frameworks, and the required sustainability solutions has resulted in a community of people formulating a vision for the future and a desire to take action towards more proactive planning and managing for a sustainable water future. In addition, decision-makers in the ColumbiaBasin see value in getting citizens involved, creating a virtuous feedback cycle.
Good water governance in the Columbia Basin will be shaped by the cultural norms and values of the people who live and work there. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP, 1997) lists five characteristics of good governance that can be applied to water governance:
UNDP Five Good Governance Principles
The five good governance principles
The UNDP Principles on which they are based:
1. Legitimacy and Voice
Participation providing all people with a voice in decision-making
Consensus orientation mediating differing interests on what is in the best interest of the whole, suggesting appropriate policies and procedures.
Strategic vision – leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, and what is needed for such development, including an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded.
Responsiveness of institutions and processes to stakeholders.
Effectiveness and Efficiency where processes and institutions produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources
Accountability of decision makers to public and stakeholders
Transparency built on the free flow of information
Equity for all men and women to have opportunities to become involved in a process oriented toward consensus where differing interests are mediated to reach a broad consensus on what is in the general interest
These five principles recognize that instead of the old-style patriarchal, hierarchical approaches, sustainable governance sees all members, both internal to the organization and external stakeholders, as important parts of an interdependent, interactive system. To bridge the gap between interested citizens who want to be stewards of water with decision-makers challenged to manage the resource in a fragmented, cumbersome system, good governance will require active public involvement and transparency (Brandes and Nowlan, 2008). Water sustainability requires a completely new perspective inspired by the hydrological cycle itself. We need to change our current straight-line ‘take-make-waste’ production to a circular ‘borrow-use-return’ system (Doppelt, 2003).
Where Community-based Science fits in Sustainable Water Governance
Water governance is as complex and diverse as the geopolitical boundaries and governmental jurisdictions it crosses. Decision-making about water happens on many levels, from the terms and conditions of international water treaties to daily personal use, some being wasteful, others more sustainable. One of the greatest challenges in water governance is that the governments making decisions about the use and management of water simply cannot do everything, especially in times of shrinking financial resources. At best, citizen groups have the capacity to deal with their specific watersheds breaking off manageable pieces of work for themselves. In contrast, decision-makers have dozens of sub-watersheds under their area of responsibility. Presently, there is no definition or defining boundary about the scope of the watershed for the optimal scale in which water planning and management should occur.
Consequently, governments are increasingly recognizing that non-government actors like citizens, non-government organizations, and business are essential to effective water management, and value their services. Government, however, needs to go beyond the obvious tools of regulation, land purchase into protected areas and command and control strategies, to develop effective ways of listening, understanding, and interacting with interested communities of stakeholders leading to an integrated decision-making framework for sustainable water management. New frameworks will need to work across spatial and social scales, link broad global concerns with local needs and development priorities, evolve and adapt based on social learning in order to cope with ecological and social complexities, be flexible and facilitating, and demonstrate concern for both social and environmental justice (Brown, 2003). Ultimately success in the human dimensions of watershed management relies on the dynamic interface between substantive water information, a clear, open, transparent and inclusive decision-making process, and strong networked relationships between formal and informal organizations founded on trust and credibility.
The relationship between decision-makers and community groups needs to be enhanced to formulate an effective water management plan in this area and elsewhere in Canada. Both community groups and decision-makers in the Columbia Basin observed conditions, which enabled this network of social capital to grow, and obstacles to strengthening relationships and integrating the work of community-based monitoring groups and decisions on the management of the resource.
Enabling conditions consisted of:
· working together to share information/resources, training and other collaborative efforts;
· actively inviting community groups to provide input into the planning process;
· referring other agencies to community-generated data;
· integrated approach to watershed monitoring and data management;
· community understanding of the problem and targeted efforts in the right location; and,
· channelling and acknowledging the dedication of citizen volunteers.
Some of the obstacles were:
· citizen access to government data denied;
· lack of openness and willingness to deal with the citizen group;
· identifying the ‘right’ people at the table for dialogue to be productive;
· historical pattern of not involving community in the decision making process;
· community groups are seen as partisan and obstruct development and are reactive; and,
· conflicting or hidden agendas between the decision-makers and citizen-based groups.
The data revealed that there are often conflicting priorities between citizen-based monitoring groups and traditional decision-makers. Citizens are concerned with water quality, quantity and the relationship between healthy water and healthy communities. Decision-makers are concerned with the lack of integrated management, lack of historical data to guide future decisions and the decline in available government human and financial resources. These differing priorities have ultimately led to differing visions and indicators. Community groups want to use a holistic approach to protect water quality and quantity since healthy aquatic ecosystems are a large of part of water sustainability. Decision-makers, on the other hand, are mandated to see water users comply with laws, regulations, permits and licenses, and balance competing interests with societal objectives while making sure drinking water is safe, clean and reliable. Clearly, integration of these perspectives would lead to a more sustainable water management system in the long-term.
In spite of these differences, both groups see the current government model as an issue and community-based science is part of a growing trend reversing the age old reductionist view to a systems view of the world reintegrating science with society and the human experience (Bradshaw & Bekoff, 2001). This new governance model integrates social and biophysical sciences of the interactions between humans and their environment with the complexity of societal processes and relationships (Bradshaw & Bekoff, 2001). Community-based water groups are involved in what is referred to as civil, participatory, citizen, stakeholder, or democratic science (Backstrand, 2003), which denotes a wider vision of science that is developed and enacted by the citizens, as well as by conventional scientific collection, data gathering and monitoring. Shrinking financial resources have seriously eroded the ability of governments to act alone, thus, arguing for this new model of governance based on citizen-based science working in intimate partnership with government scientists.
To balance the three imperatives for water sustainability (human health, environmental integrity and economic prosperity valued by the interviewees) requires both political and personal will and vision from both decision-makers and citizens. Legislation and traditional water planning and management strategies appear to be ill-equipped to deal with the water challenges ahead. The citizens in this case study were willing and able to participate actively to shape a water sustainable future with a high degree of volunteer capacity; in fact, they are vital to achieving this desired future state.
- What are the entry points in formal government decision-making for citizens to participate effectively in other communities?
- What are some the governance challenges associated with this resource?
- Besides integration and coordination with formal government decision-making, what else is needed for a community-based monitoring program to be effective?
- What are the benefits to government of this new governance model. What are the costs?
- What are some of the ways that social capital can be integrated with traditional scientific approaches to expand the traditional science-based model?
- How can governments honour volunteer capital and ideally, contribute to enhanced local social capital?
Resources and References
Backstrand, K. (2003). Civic science for sustainability: reframing the role of experts, policy-makers and citizens in environmental governance. Global Environmental Politics, 3(4), 24-41.
Bradshaw, G. & M. Bekoff. (2001). Ecology and social responsibility: the re-embodiment of science. TRENDS in Ecology & Evolution 16(8), 460-465
Brandes, O. & L. Nowlan. (2008). Water and the new business-as-usual in B.C. Victoria Times Colonist. Retrieved April 27, 2009 from http://www.waterbucket.ca/wcp/?sid=44&id=527&type=single
Brown, K. (2003). Three challenges for a real people-centered conservation. Global Ecology & Biogeography 12, 89-92.
Columbia Basin Trust Watershed Network website. Retrieved April 29, 2009 from https://ourtrust.org
Dale, A. (2001). At the Edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Doppelt, B. (2003). Overcoming the seven sustainability blunders. The Systems Thinker14(5), 1-7.
Kates, R et al. (2001). Sustainability science. Science, 292, 641-642.
United Nations Development Program. (1997). Governance for sustainable human development: a UNDP policy document. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/258/hdr_1997_en_complete_nostats.pdf