The following is an excerpt from the Canada West Foundation’s policy paper, “Wave of the future: Water policy in Western Canada,” by foundation president Roger Gibbins and policy analyst Larissa Sommerfeld.
Western Canada, all of which are relevant to the economy, local cultures, ecosystem and human health.
In British Columbia, the potential for floods and droughts is a concern. In southern Alberta, water scarcity and a possible water exchange are catching people’s interest. Water quality issues are prevalent wherever there is natural resource development and agricultural activity.
Challenges with water quality are perhaps most magnified in Manitoba, where the continued eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg affects not only ecosystem health but also human health and the local economy. Water quality on reserves and in rural areas is worrisome across the West.
Water challenges are real, and are here to stay. Policy makers must continue their work addressing these matters, for current and future generations, before they come to a head. And so, the Richardson round tables were deployed to identify the top priorities into which policymakers should invest their time and resources.
The depth of the topics demonstrate just how complicated water policy is, and how much work still needs to be done. And although the consultations were held only in western Canadian cities, the findings and recommendations derived from them are applicable on a nation–wide scale and are likely to be of interest to individuals living outside the West.
It is hoped that the rich source of ideas presented here will help advance the water policy discussion in Canada.
It was clear upon completion of the four round tables that there were more similarities than differences among the views of water policy experts across the West. This indicates that there is a western Canadian outlook when it comes to water policy, and also a similar sense of priorities.
The key highlights that were similar across all four provinces were:
• Planning for the unknown is necessary.
• Data shortages, the polarized state of the water conversation, unclear terminology and a weak interface between research and policy create muddy waters that hamstring progress.
• Governance must be improved by reducing jurisdictional fragmentation making transboundary management more effective.
• There is a need to place value on aquatic natural capital.
• Improvements are needed in management that addresses the trade-offs between environmental and economic decisions, quantity and quality challenges and local watershed management.
• Changing societal attitudes and increasing public awareness are vital.
Although some themes were more prominent in some provinces, by and large the differences between the provinces lay not in overarching issues such as governance and concern for the future but in local challenges based on climatic and geographical variations.