GOUVERNANCE TRANSFRONTALIČRE DE L’EAU : NOUVEAUX DÉFIS
vol. 35, numéro 4, 2005
In the past few years, transboundary issues have attracted increasing attention from politicians, public service officials, academics, interest groups and increasingly the public. Recent controversial headlines such as “Global Water Crisis Looms”1 “America is Thirsty”2 and reports such as “Water in the West Under Pressure”3 are bringing the governance challenges of transboundary water issues to the attention of policy makers. Although transboundary water issues have faced policy makers in Canada and the United States for decades and have ebbed and flowed from the agendas of federal and subnational governments, there is a pressing sense that emerging challenges will require new approaches in the North American and global context.
The United Nations General Assembly, in December 2003, proclaimed the years 2005 to 2015 as 'Water for Life', the International Decade for Action. Transboundary issues were identified as 1 of 11 key water issues. In that same year, UNESCO published The World Water Development Report which outlined the international context and mega trends which affect water internationally – geopolitical changes, population growth, agriculture, energy, economic growth, urbanization, climate change and technological change. These pressures are being felt in unique ways in transboundary water basins. Despite the profileration of international agencies with water related mandates (UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO, WHO, World Bank, Global Water Partnership, the World Water Council, Global Alliance for Water Security), the complexities of transboundary water issues strain the capabilities of global institutions, domestic governments and non-governmental organizations.
In addition to a profileration of organizations with mandates related to transboundary water governance, there is a growing literature outlining the scale of these challenges. The UN Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements contains a historical overview and listing of more than 300 international freshwater agreements. The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database project at Oregon State University defines transboundary waters as watersheds which cross the political boundaries of two or more countries.4 Using this definition, there are 263 transboundary basins globally. Some like the Danube are shared by 17 countries, others like the Congo, Niger, Nile and Rhine are shared by 9 or more countries.5 These basins face similar governance challenges related to scale, multiple jurisdiction, multiple uses, scientific complexity and uncertainty. Despite these challenges, the historical evidence indicates the governance story has been one of cooperation rather than conflict and that there is much to learn from these transboundary governance experiments.
There is a growing interdisciplinary community of interest related to transboundary water governance in Canada. A small subset of this larger community co-sponsored by the Royal Society of Canada and McMaster University gathered on November 4, 2005 to discuss transboundary water governance. This brief report is an attempt to synthesize a wide-ranging discussion of transboundary water governance issues by this interdisciplinary group of academics from several different Canadian and American universities involved in various aspects of research related to water governance and transboundary governance more broadly. It focuses primarily on the Canadian-American context and more specifically the Great Lakes context although several participants made contributions and drew on references from beyond this context and all agreed that transboundary issues are emerging beyond the Great Lakes context.
What emerged from this full day discussion were some interesting observations on three broad themes: institutions for governing transboundary water issues in the Canada-US context; the state of policy and scientific knowledge related to transboundary water governance; and the need for new approaches to face the numerous challenges transboundary water issues present in the Canada-US context.
Transboundary institutions for water governance in the Canada-US context
Related to institutional capacity, the discussion centered around three broad questions: What institutional arrangements exist to address transboundary water governance issues? What are the design principles or elements of “good” transboundary water governance? Are the existing institutional arrangements able to address future challenges?
Approximately 40 percent of the 8000 km boundary between Canada and the US is water.6 The Great Lakes contain approximately 20 percent of the fresh water on the earth’s surface. Despite these facts, there are water rich and water poor jurisdictions in the transboundary context, and coastal and continental jurisdictions face different transboundary issues. In many ways, the current transboundary governance framework is dominated by continental jurisdictions. Given the vast scale and complexity of the Great Lakes – St.Lawrence basin, it is not surprising that some of the most developed transboundary institutions have evolved to manage this basin.
Historical context was highlighted as being centrally important to understanding the existing state of institutions for transboundary water governance. Based on a long-standing interest and willingness to work across borders to address transboundary issues, the shared waters, including the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence basin and other cross-border waters, have under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty been governed cooperatively by the International Joint Commission (IJC). However, this historical consensus and cooperation among the users of the resource does not necessarily mean transboundary waters have been managed in a sustainable way. Despite the long standing consensus that the Great Lakes could be used for unlimited industrial and municipal growth, transportation uses and economic development, this consensus ultimately resulted in the degradation of the resource and awareness in the 1970s that the governance regime had to be altered.
In 1972, the mandate of the IJC was broaden under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) which was subsequently amended in 1978 and again in 1987. Through the six member commission, binational study boards and control bodies on various basins, issues and agreements,7 officials from both countries manage a wide range of issues related to water and air. The GLWQA has primarily been implemented through the focus on 43 areas of concern (AOCs) in the Great Lakes and Remedial Action Plans (RAPs), Lakewide Management Plans, and other programs and research initiatives involving federal, provincial/state, local and aboriginal governments on both sides of the border. Although progress has been made through these institutional arrangements, there is currently a review underway about the ability of these initiatives to address emerging transboundary issues.
The GLWQA requires that the governments of Canada and United States review the agreement after every third biennial report from the IJC (every six years). The 2004 Biennial Report marked the beginning of another official review process by the governments. Given the agreement has not been amended since 1987 and that scientific knowledge, economic and ecological conditions have changed dramatically over the thirty year history of the GLWQA, the relevance of the agreement is now being assessed through broad-based public discussions. There are many enduring and new transboundary issues in the Great Lakes including, new evidence of pharmaceutical chemicals, invasive species, the growing dead zone in Lake Erie and the slow progress in many of the 43 AOCs (only 2 of which have been remediated and delisted).8 In addition, there have been recent conflicts that have arisen outside of the Great Lakes context related to uses and diversions in shared basins between Canadian provinces and Midwest states, hydro dams on the Columbia River, and water scarcity and security issues which are increasingly straining Canada-US transboundary water relations and institutions.9
In addition to the IJC and its various bodies, there are a number of other organizations and actors involved in transboundary water governance. The Council of Great Lakes Governors (CGLG), representing eight Great Lakes States, Ontario and Quebec, has had a transboundary mandate under the Great Lakes Charter since 1955. On December 13, 2005, the CGLG signed Annex 2001 on bulk water removals and diversions which bans new diversions of water from the basin except for limited exceptions such as for public water supply purposes in communities near the basin.10 Another regional body created in 2004 is the US Great Lakes Regional Collaboration which was created by a presidential executive order to connect the efforts of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, Great Lakes tribes and the Great Lakes Congressional Task Force to create a regional strategy on a number of issues. While the collaboration is a US effort, its members are committed to making sure the recently adopted strategic plan will synchronize efforts with Canadian partners.11 In addition, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation which was created under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation in 1994, is another organization with a mandate related transboundary water issues and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Within Canada, there are numerous government departments and agencies concerned with transboundary water governance issues. The National Roundtable on Environment and Economy, the federal departments of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries and Oceans and others, numerous provincial, local and aboriginal governments, and the Auditor General of Canada have become engaged in transboundary water governance issues. Numerous business, environmental, agricultural, recreational, cultural and local issue groups are actively involved in transboundary water governance. The media has also played a significant role in raising the awareness of these issues in Canada through coverage of transboundary issues.
Mapping the institutional landscape of transboundary water governance
Given this complex governance arena, it is not surprising that much of the free-flowing discussion focused on the need to map the complex institutional landscape of Canada-US transboundary arrangements. In addition to the IJC, the CGLG and the numerous national and subnational institutions involved in transboundary water governance attempted to sketch out various networks of stakeholders and self-organizing transboundary “clusters”. These clusters ranged from more formal and institutionalized bodies such as the RAPs, LaMPs, Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and the Great Lakes Commission to the more informal and low profile clusters which exist around a number of other transboundary issues such as contaminants, diversions, groundwater and climate change. There are still basic questions about these clusters that need further research in order to examine the state of transboundary water governance more completely. For example, are these clusters issue-based, ecosystem-based, conflict-based, nested, hierarchical? How do they function in the transboundary context? How autonomous are they? Who are they accountable to? How much capacity do they have (locally, binationally, globally)? Do cross-cluster linkages exist? What do these clusters mean for the state of transboundary water governance? How do they collectively contribute to transboundary governance?
There is evidence that some of the more established transboundary clusters enhance Can-US interactions and cooperation but this dimension is under-researched, particularly outside in transboundary areas outside the RAPs on the Great Lakes. Research by one of the workshop participations indicates that there is more transboundary interaction in the New England and West Coast areas rather than the Great Lakes,12 despite the fact that the federal governments of both Canada and the US have a stronger presence in the Great Lakes basin. It was observed that in these other regional areas, the Canadian federal government seems to play more of a facilitator role particularly in terms of technical and scientific support. Related to this, there was some broader debate about the role of federal governments in transboundary water governance.
Comparisons of Environment Canada and the US EPA led to calls by some participants for more active involvement and leadership by the Canadian federal government. This debate reflected a broader debate about whether transboundary water governance needed to be more centralized or decentralized. Have governance arrangements become more decentralized in the past decade? Is it more polycentric? How does the amount of vertical (intergovernmental) and horizontal (interdepartmental) integration on water governance in each country affect transboundary water governance?
The role of existing government departments and agencies at federal and subnational levels was also the focus of discussion and debate. Recognizing that bureaucracies and unelected officials have legal and accountability constraints, there was some consensus that bureaucratic departments and agencies were key institutional components of clusters and networks on various transboundary issues and had an important role to play in defining, addressing and resolving transboundary water issues. However, the capacity of these agencies and their ability to work across borders was debated in terms of their contribution to good transboundary water governance. Some argued that bureaucratic organizations and their personnel were key to improving transboundary water governance and that they were adapting and changing in response to changing public expectations, science etc. Others argued that pressures to create and reform new bureaucratic and governance arrangements and experiment are in tension with inherent design characteristics of government departments, bureaucratic inertia, turf issues and reform fatigue as bureaucracies with water resource-related mandates have been the target of cuts and restructuring at the federal and provincial levels. There was however some consensus that transboundary water governance presented some distinct accountability challenges.
Given the challenges transboundary governance presents in terms of traditional accountability frameworks, there was some agreement that there is a need to shift to forms of “soft” accountability whereby jurisdictional leaders shame and pressure other jurisdictions using external standards and pressures from constituents. The European Union was cited as an example where the leadership of the Dutch on the Rhine forced action by Germany and Switzerland. There was debate however whether this type of external accountability contributes to positive competitive pressures and a “race to the top”. Performance-based accountability such as those present in RAPs or more broadly those collected domestically under the US Clean Water Act and the Canadian National Roundtable on Environment and Economy were viewed as having a positive impact in terms of transboundary governance. Others cautioned about the use of performance indicators as distorting bureaucratic behaviour and being inherently political.
There was a clear consensus that transboundary water governance represents a complex governance challenge for policy makers. The challenges are multi-scale, multi-stakeholder, multi-dimensional, multi-jurisdictional and based on numerous multiple uses in various transboundary watersheds. It was agreed that the GLWQA review presented an opportunity to examine the institutional landscape more broadly – federal and subnational interactions, engagement of cities and aboriginal communities and the myriad of clusters that include transboundary and multi-level governance features. There was also consensus that the goal was long term, cooperative management of transboundary water resources as common property resources.
State of knowledge
Despite this consensus, there was considerable debate about the state of knowledge needed to accomplish this goal. Current governance regimes are based on the knowledge underpinning transboundary water issues. For example the complexities and uncertainties related to ecosystems have resulted in separate regimes to manage surface and groundwater, lakes and rivers, and water, land and air, despite the recognition of the interactions and cross-medium issues they present. Groundwater-surface water interactions where characterized as the “Wild West” of transboundary governance. There is also still much uncertainty about water quality and quantity. In the context of fact that only 1 percent of the water in the Great Lakes is renewed each year from snowmelt and rain, there is legitimate concern about water diversions, flows and the impact of changing water levels. Governance of abundancy is fundamentally different than governance of scarcity. As observed by one participant, scarcity institutionalizes interdependence of water users; abundance keeps users apart. The issue of scarcity embodies the larger debate about the state of knowledge related to the role of science and perceptions of the public and policy makers in transboundary water governance.
Values, perceptions and trust in transboundary water governance
It was clear from the discussion that public perception and values must be part of the discussion of “good” transboundary water governance. There is a long history of values and perceptions related to water, human settlements and transboundary issues. Economic, social and cultural attachments to water are part of national identity and sovereignty. Ideas many be rationale but values and perceptions are real. Public opinion on water exports was cited as an example. There is a public hostility to water diversions and exports in Canada based on perceived ecological and political risks. This is influenced by fluctuating water levels and droughts in local areas, causing perceptions about flow which in turn underpin perceptions about stock. This is juxtaposed against Canadian’s perceptions of water abundance, cost and use and the fact that Canadians are among the world’s largest consumers and users of water. Issues of perception were also discussed in terms of trust. Trust in governments, other interests and in terms of the role of science in transboundary water governance.
Science and transboundary water governance
Science plays an important role in transboundary water governance. Science helps define the governance and policy challenges, and scientists inside and outside of governments play a critical role in the policy process. While there was much debate about whether science does and should have a privileged position in this process, there was more consensus that science and policy paradigms are different and that scientists and policy makers cannot work in isolation. There is a need for better communication, more interdisciplinary approaches and room for both “tame” and “wild scientists” to do both applied research and science that challenges the state of knowledge that underpins current policy.
Some of the discussion related to science and policy of transboundary water issues related directly to institutions and where scientists are located in the policy process. Are they integrated in networks? Are they separated institutionally like the IJC Water Quality Board and the Science Advisory Board? How much capacity do they have and need? What is the state of the transboundary water science? Should there be more transboundary scientific capacity? Should there be transboundary roles for separate national institutions such as National Water Research Institute or should there be a more general and intergovernmental investment in scientific capacity like the US EPA? Should there be more direct links between university scientists and government departments? Many of these were posed as important research questions. Although there was more debate than consensus about the role of science in transboundary water governance, there was some consensus that science does and will play an important role in an environment where science is increasingly contested and policy is increasingly “evidence”-based. However, evidence-based transboundary water governance and policy need to be based on the recognition that “whose” evidence is legitimate is central; there can be a predisposition of policy makers to be receptive only to science that supports the policies they believe in and that there will always be limits to science and scientific capacity in the policy making process.
There was also consensus that more science does not equate to better governance and that there are many examples such as fisheries management where the limits of science are evident. In some instances it is not a question of lack of science but a question of inaction despite mounting evidence. The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) was cited as an example. Other examples are efforts to bring knowledge together through efforts like Binational.net and the Great Lakes Information Network. Ultimately, the panel concluded that the role of science in transboundary water governance is intimately connected to the context, interests and institutional arrangements which define its legitimacy and use in the policy process.
Toward new approaches
Although a focus on the Great Lakes basin allows for the examination of institutional experiments such as RAPs, there is also a need to move beyond this as other transboundary watersheds are facing significant challenges. The IJC’s International Watersheds Initiative13 and the proposal that the capacities of control boards (particularly outside the Great Lakes basin) be increased to prevent and resolve transboundary disputes based on the premise that local actors are best positioned to address transboundary issues are interesting proposals that need to be assessed in light of the myriad of institutional experiments already in existence in Canada and other transboundary contexts.
Although the emphasis of this roundtable was on the institutions involved in managing transboundary water resources, there was consensus that it is not enough to map, examine and search for institutional design principles. Good transboundary governance needs to look to other transboundary jurisdictions. There is a need for more international governance research and comparison with other transboundary water governance areas like the Baltics. There is also a need to look beyond water and examine what transboundary arrangements exist for air, energy and other transboundary governance issues. At the same time, policy makers need to treat policies as experiments, as a learning process and stop searching for the holy-grail and optimal solutions that will fit all ecosystems. Although a central theme of the discussion, there was consensus that structures, and reforming and redesigning institutions is not enough.
Institutional arrangements are important but so are other factors such as trust and relationships. When trust breaks down, it is difficult to rebuild (as indicated in some of the RAP experiments on the Great Lakes). There is a need to look at substance and content and what kinds of factors make a difference such as public participation. Public participation is very important in terms of the legitimacy of governance structures and processes. Governance structures need to recognize public perceptions. Policy makers need to pose different questions such as what characteristics of a governance system foster trust?
As the voluminous literature on “good governance” suggests, good governance is multifaceted and strongly linked to principles of democratic governance. Although clusters of state and societal actors are able to work despite the thorny issues, conflicts and politics that play out on the surface, political leadership is still very important and inclusive democratic processes are key, particularly if conflict becomes more prevelant than in the past. With increasing pressures on transboundary waters, there is a pressing need for policy makers to take stock of the current governance regime and assess its capacity to meet future challenges. In doing so, Henry Reiger’s suggested that we need more capacity to link social and ecological systems14 and explore creative approaches to address these emerging “dramas of the commons,”15 so we ultimately design institutions and transboundary water governance regimes to achieve more happy-ending comedies rather than tragedies.
Barry Boyer, State University of New York
Barbara Carroll, McMaster University
Susan Elliott, McMaster University
John Eyles, McMaster University
Velma Grover, United Nations University
Tim Heinmiller, Brock University
Carolyn Johns, Ryerson University
Gail Krantzberg, McMaster University
Brian McCarry, McMaster University
Viv Nelles, McMaster University
Gilles Paquet, Royal Society of Canada
Henry Regier, University of Toronto
Margaret Shannon, State University of New York
Mark Sproule-Jones, McMaster University
Ingrid Stefanovic, University of Toronto
Debora VanNijnatten, Wilfrid Laurier University
Rt.Hon Herb Gray, International Joint Commission (keynote dinner speaker)
Rt.Hon Herb Gray, International Joint Commission (keynote dinner speaker)
1 “Global Water Crisis Looms”, Edmonton Journal, November 17, 2005
2 “America is Thirsty”, MacLeans, December 5, 2005: 26-30.
3 “Water in the West Under Pressure”, Fourth Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, November 2005.
4 Aaron T. Wolf “Transboundary Waters: Sharing Benefits, Lessons Learned” paper presented at the International Conference on Freshwater, Bonn 2001. See also Aaron T. Wolf “The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database Project”, Water International, 24(2), 1999: 160-163; http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/
6 “Transboundary Issues in Water Governance” Address by the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray, Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission, Hamilton, Ontario, November 4, 2005.
7 See http://www.ijc.org/en/boards for full listing.
8 “Transboundary Issues in Water Governance” Address by the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray, Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission, Hamilton, Ontario, November 4, 2005.
9 Schindler, D.W. and Adele M. Hurley “Rising Tensions: Canada/US Cross-Border Water Issues in the 21st Century”, presentation to the Centre for Global Studies Conference on Canada-US Relations, University of Victoria, November 2004.
10 Council of Great Lakes Governors “Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements Approved and Signed”, December 13, 2005 http://www.cglg.org/projects/water/annex2001Implementing.asp
11 Great Lakes Regional Collaboration http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/collaboration
12 Vannijnatten, Debora. “Mercury Reduction in the United States and Canada: Policy Diffusion Across Internal and International Borders”, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC., September 3, 2005.
13 International Joint Commission “IJC Discussion Paper on the International Watersheds Initiative”, http://www.ijc.org/php/publications/odf/ID1582.pdf
14 Berkes, F. and C. Folke ed. (1998) Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience (Cambridge University Press, New York).
15 US National Research Council (2002), Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, The Drama of the Commons.
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