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Eutrophication and water quality policy discourse in the Lake Erie Basin

Bereket N. Isaac
School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS), University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; bnegasii@uwaterloo.ca

Rob de Loƫ
School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS), University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; rdeloe@uwaterloo.ca

ABSTRACT: Watershed-based approaches to addressing water quality issues often involve a diverse set of actors working collaboratively to develop policy. Such an approach is currently underway in the Western Lake Erie Basin, where the province of Ontario and the state of Ohio have embarked on a 40% phosphorus run-off reduction target to address eutrophication problems in the lake. In this study, we adopt the concept of discourse to inform our understanding of the collaborative process undertaken to develop domestic action plans (DAPs) to guide efforts by various stakeholders. We find that in both cases there were distinct groups of actors who shared and promoted a particular narrative or storyline. These storylines provided varying accounts of the science and policy aspects of the eutrophication problem in Lake Erie, and there was variation as well in the specific actors to whom they attributed responsibility. We illustrate how the storylines shaped the nature and form of the action plans. We provide a discussion of the policy implications of unequal capacities among different actor coalitions to influence trajectories and outcomes in the context of governance for water quality. It is shown that the potential of discourse coalitions to influence policy raises important questions as to whose voice is considered legitimate enough to be included in the policy process.

KEYWORDS: Lake Erie, eutrophication, water policy, discourse analysis, storylines, Canada, USA