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Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance: Promising Research in the Time for Action

El agua es la vida! Water is life! This is the declaration of a water association in New Mexico, and as national and international reports project higher frequencies and more intense occurrences of drought and flooding, the statement rings ever more true. Researchers around the world are working to protect this precious resource, and regional, national, and international research on water governance associated with climate change impacts is a fast-growing focus for concerned experts and practitioners.

ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance report, released October 2011, is one of the many strong examples of current work guiding Canadians towards more resilient ways of managing water. The report recommends several polices geared towards reform of Canada’s badly fragmented water governance system; management approaches focused on adapting to, as opposed to coping with, climate change impacts; and a new water ethic for our nation to establish guiding principles for our future water governance.

As noted by the report’s author, Bob Sandford, co-chair of the Forum for Leadership on Water and Chair of the Canadian Partnership with the UN’s Water for Life Decade, the Northwest Territories has developed a strong, innovative strategy for watershed stewardship that could serve as a model for water policy improvements globally. The NWT Water Stewardship Strategy focuses on the keystone objective of maintaining “clean, abundant, and productive [waters in the territory] for all time.”

Crucial to reaching this objective are collaboration and integration of diverse expertise in decision-making. Further, the strategy incorporates flexible management and the precautionary principle to deal with an uncertain future.

These are just a few of the local projects that focus on adapting to the impacts climate change will have on our water resources. There are many other national and international projects to boot. However, strong policy doesn’t necessarily translate to good management, and poor implementation is a common critique of adaptation policies. Extreme weather events and climate change projections proved-true are increasingly common and are pushing us towards action. Though research should be a continuous effort and purposefully incorporated into decision-making, the time for deliberate action and implementation is approaching – a sentiment that Canadians across the country echo in the recently released Cross-Canada Checkup, which tracks Sandford’s journey across Canada talking to Canadians in 16 cities, following release of the ACT Water report.

With great policy research and other adaptation resources at our disposal, we in Canada, and BC specifically, find ourselves in a strategic position to be a leading force in the implementation of pioneering water governance. Recent and upcoming water issues will provide us a chance to improve the system:

  • British Columbia’s Water Act Modernization has been an extensive and collaborative process and is steps away from legislation, giving the Province a chance to stamp out obsolete, counterproductive water policy and incorporate a new standard for regional resource management;
  • The 60-year Columbia River Treaty of 1964 will be up for the first review with option to terminate in 2014, providing British Columbia an opportunity to assess the impacts the treaty has had on the watershed and the communities within it, and to improve transboundary governance;
  • According to the Cross-Canada Checkup , “the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy galvanized public opinion around recognition of the need for a national water strategy….” Provinces across Canada have the chance to work together to improve regional governance that speaks to a national goal.

These opportunities, along with progressive research, a collaborative attitude, and the urgency of a changing climate, provide us the chance to make positive changes. By strategically turning research into action we can forever improve the way we think about and manage this resource, which we so greatly depend on.

Lauren Klose
Masters Candidate, SCARP UBC
SFU ACT Research Assistant, Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance

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