Watershed governance: Transcending boundaries

Seanna L. Davidson
Water Policy and Governance Group, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; seanna.davidson@uwaterloo.ca

Rob C. de Loë
Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; rdeloe@uwaterloo.ca

ABSTRACT: Watershed boundaries are widely accepted by many water practitioners and researchers as the de facto ideal boundary for both water management and governance activities. In governance, watershed boundaries are typically considered an effective way to integrate the social, political, and environmental systems they encompass. However, the utility and authenticity of the watershed boundary for water governance should not be assumed. Instead, both scholars and practitioners ought to carefully consider the circumstances under which watershed boundaries provide an appropriate frame for governance. The purpose of this paper is to identify how water governance can transcend the watershed boundary. An empirical case study of governance for water in Ontario, Canada, reveals boundary-related challenges. In this case, issues relating to boundary selection, accountability, participation and empowerment, policysheds and problemsheds reveal the strengths and weaknesses of relying on watershed boundaries as a frame of reference for governance. The case also highlights promising alternatives that are being used to transcend the watershed boundary.

KEYWORDS: Water governance, watershed boundaries, Lake Simcoe, Ontario, Canada