Can BC's 40-year-old water quality objectives policy solve today's challenges for managing cumulative effects?




Russo, Geneen

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Water quality is a critical component of aquatic ecosystems, and impairments caused by the cumulative effects of human activities can threaten water security, ecosystem health and biodiversity, and ecosystem services that support human livelihoods, health, and well-being. Protecting water quality and managing the human activities that can contribute to cumulative effects remains the most important, though poorly understood and under-researched problem facing sustainable water quality management in Canada (Johns & Sproule-Jones, Schindler & Donahue, 2006) and around the world (Patterson, Smith, & Bellamy, 2013; UN-Water, 2011). For decades, federal and provincial governments in Canada have introduced, and experimented with, policy tools that are intended to assess and manage cumulative effects, yet, point source management approaches remain by far, the preferred policy tool. The results of this study indicate that part of the reason why cumulative effects assessment and management approaches have not evolved is because policy tools intended to address questions about environmental governance are being implemented as environmental management tools. Questions of environmental governance should be inclusive and focused on how the environment is used now and in the future for societal benefits. Conversely, management questions are narrower in scope and serve to operationalize these goals. This research highlights the challenge with identifying and developing critical relationships between the array of agencies and institutions responsible for governing and managing water quality, as well as the need to devise strategies to ensure these relationships are maintained over time if progress towards managing cumulative effects to water quality can be achieved.



water quality, cumulative effects, strategic environmental assessment, water governance