From the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance I got this newly-released 30-page report: Resilience in a Watershed Governance Context: A Primer, by Katrina Krievins, Julia Baird, Ryan Plummer, Oliver M. Brandes, Allen Curry, Jack Imhof, Simon Mitchell, Michele-Lee Moore, and Åsa Gerger Swartling.
From the website:
This primer is a first step in establishing resources that practitioners can turn to when applying resilience thinking to watershed governance. It introduces key ideas associated with resilience and how they may be applied by those engaging in various facets of governance in Canada. Released by Brock University's Water Economics, Policy and Governance Network (WEPGN), the primer is the product of collaboration involving Canadian and international researchers as well as Canadian watershed practitioners.
Here are the first few paragraphs from the Introduction:
Watersheds are complex systems involving social, economic, and ecological dimensions that are constantly interacting and influencing each other. Often the interactions among the different dimensions in a watershed are unpredictable and uncertainty is inevitable.
Think for a moment about the countless factors that influence water quality in a watershed. The effect of making decisions on any one factor is like a chain reaction. For example, consider how agricultural commodity prices factor into decisions that influence the types of crops grown, animal stocking rates, and general land management practices undertaken by farmers. Those decisions, in turn, will have an impact on the quality of the environment both locally and throughout the watershed. For individuals living downstream, that impact can affect their ability to enjoy the natural environment and to live a healthy life. For fish, poor water quality can be fatal or impair their ability to migrate upstream to spawning habitats. This causes impacts throughout the whole watershed
Watershed governance involves a large and diverse cast of actors — representatives of government, public organizations, researchers, conservationists, communities, etc. Their varied interests and conflicting objectives serve to add to the complexity and difficulty in deciding what is best for the watershed and people.
For some time now, those involved in watershed governance have been aware that watersheds offer a logical and effective framework for tackling land and water management problems. Moreover, many of the concerns and issues being addressed by water resource managers and stewards today are similar to those from the past.
However, growing awareness of the uncertainty confronting watersheds and the dynamic interconnections between watershed dimensions is driving demand for new approaches to watershed governance.
In this time of complexity and change, infusing conventional watershed governance with resilience thinking can help by offering a way to understand and navigate these emerging challenges.
What is Resilience Thinking?
As a concept, resilience thinking is described as the ability of a social-ecological system, such as a watershed and all the components within it, to persist, learn, change, and/or transform in response to a wide range of disturbances without compromising future adaptability. Disturbances can come from outside the system, a heavy rainstorm for instance. Or disturbances can come from within, such as excessive fishing pressure. As well, disturbances may be anticipated, or they may come as a surprise.
Why Resilience, Why Now?
Understanding how to improve the ability of the system – including its ecological, economic, political, and social aspects – to adapt to any disturbance is increasingly acknowledged as important, especially when considering the great deal of uncertainty introduced by a changing climate and shifting social priorities and preferences.
As an emerging approach, resilience thinking can be used to help better understand watersheds as complex, dynamic systems of people and nature, and to assist in navigating different values and interests. Unlike approaches to watershed governance that seek to minimize or control change, a key difference of an approach based on resilience thinking is that it appreciates the value of thinking about complex systems, not in terms of managing against change, but rather, managing for change.
The last section:
Final Thoughts - What to Take Away from the Primer
Without a doubt, watersheds are complex social-ecological systems owing to their dynamic nature, the strong interconnections between the social and ecological dimensions, and the large number of diverse actors with a stake in the watershed. The reality of an uncertain and unpredictable future adds to this complexity and renders conventional approaches to watershed governance alone inadequate.
In this primer we have highlighted how infusing resilience thinking into watershed governance holds great promise. Throughout the document, six main attributes of resilience were introduced and discussed as a means of initiating a conversation about applying resilience thinking in a watershed governance context. The idea behind this primer was not to create a how-to guide for creating a resilient watershed. Rather, the primer is a critical first step to get individuals engaged in various aspects of watershed governance thinking about how these concepts might apply in their own watersheds.
We hope that this primer starts a conversation at a range of levels, from local to international; that it inspires watershed stewards, managers, and policy makers to ask questions about how watersheds are currently governed and how the attributes identified here could contribute to a more desirable, resilient system. We invite readers to use the techniques and resources identified in the primer to explore the attributes more fully within their own context.
It will take time to gain more experience with the attributes highlighted in this primer and with applying resilience thinking more broadly. Important further insights will also emerge. We encourage readers to share lessons learned and develop additional resources to provide further guidance to those actively engaged in enhancing the resilience of their watersheds.
"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie