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 change, is bottom-up water governance and the involvement of local people in decisions affecting their water resource, a form of integrative water governance. In the case of the Prairies expected climate change impacts include greater climate variability and the risk of a severe multi year drought and floods. Not anticipating the change in our future climate and planning for this change as it will affect Canadians' use of water, increases the vulnerability of Canadians to be harmed by future climate change.
Literature posits that vulnerability will not be experienced equally, but will be experienced disproportionately by the poor and marginalized. How Canadians make decisions about water, or water governance is an important component in planning for future climate change and reducing future harm. 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" and "Local Watershed Advisory Committees" in Alberta and "Conservation Districts" in Manitoba (generically referred to herein as "LWCs") tasked with setting and implementing source water protection plans.
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 in the literature 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 paper reports the findings of a research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) exploring the role of these LWCs, how these institutions were responding to climate change and integrating climate change into their plans and strategies and the place of these institutions within the water governance of the province. The findings of this research is reported.
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