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Nested Watershed Governance

Percent of Canada's sub-watersheds with a watershed entity and a watershed plan


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Story Behind the Curve

What are the stories that help us understand why we see so few sub-watersheds across Canada with a watershed entity and a watershed plan? OLW Network members who work on this impact measure shared the causes they believe are at work, both negatively and positively, with respect to this question:

  • There are lessons to be learned from the Blueprint for Watershed Governance document released by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. While this is a BC focused document, it highlights nine winning conditions that will increase the liklihood of achieving better governance thorugh watershed entities (Enabling Powers in Legislation; Co-governance with First Nations; Support from and Partnership with Local Government; Sustainable Long-Term Funding; A Functioning Legal Framework for Sustainable Water and Watershed Management; Availability of Data, Information, and Monitoring; Independent Oversight and Public Reporting; Assessing Cumulative Impacts; and, Continuous Peer-to-Peer Learning and Capacity Building)
    • These many conditions demonstrate how much needs to come together to create impactful watershed entities and plans
  • There needs to be a focus on the communities that these watershed plans impact. Who are we making the plans for and who is involved? People need to be involved: citizens on the ground, getting people engaged, having our elders and youth represented in the watershed entities. We need to know the barriers; e.g. Elders are key decision makers but don't always have computers or the capacity to read technical plans.
  • On ensuring the data, information and monitoring is present:
    • Some good news storeis: e.g. GIS experts at the University of Manitoba working in Lake Winnipeg
    • Open access to data and reducing the time and expense of data collection is important. Community based water monitoring can help here - getting kits into the hands of people.
    • Helping citizens understand the water data can be a challenge. But there are opportunities to use technology and connect with people.
  • There are some great initiatives to use the traditional names for our local water bodies.
  • We often see local issues be a major motivation. Areas with issues to solve are motivated to form entities.
  • There are resources to support. For example, the Handbook for Water Champions: Strengthening Decision-Making and Collaboration for Healthy Watersheds (released by CIER and POLIS)

Who are the partners that can support us in doing better against this impact measure? The following are many of the partners who have a role to play (although the list is not exhaustive):

All governments (First Nations, Municipal, Provincial, Federal); Non-profit groups; the Industry Associations as well as key industries; the professional associations (such as Planners, Municipal Managers Assoc, Engineering Associations, etc); Indigenous Leadership Initiative (and their Indigenous Guardians Program); All organizations collecting freshwater data (including communities!); technical expertise providers and academia; Local communities; First Nation schools (e.g. in MB, Manitoba First Nations Education Centre, along with the science teachers, elders, harvesters, and land-based education facilitators).

Ranking the Actions

Based on the stories behind the curve and the partners who have a role in supporting us doing better, a number of potential actions were brainstormed that could turn the curve on this impact measure. Threse actions were ranked based on two criteria:

  1. Leverage (L): This is the most important criterion. How much difference will the action make on our impact measure? Will this actually help turn the curve? E.g. handing out pamphlets at a community event isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it's probably low leverage.
  2. Reach (R): That is, “is it within our reach”? Is it feasible and affordable? Can it actually be done and when? No-cost / low-cost actions rank highly here. Action that require new significant resources rank lower. Is there a clear lead person (higher), or does nobody want to take it on (lower)?

The top three actions brainstormed are as follows:

  • Develop a document that lays out the best practices for 'viable and effective' watershed entities and plans across the country, and makes the business case for why reaching best practices is important. The best practices should be framed as criteria upon which we can assess existing watershed entities and plans right across the nation, while also guiding us to determine how we can encourage more viable and effective watershed entities and plans across the country.

  • Make the case to the federal government that part of a Canada Water Agency should be supporting and funding partnerships between governments and local communities and promoting effective watershed entities

  • Develop a website/online platform to share stories of successful watershed entities/initiatives


To support turning the curve on this impact measure, a project has been funded by the OLW 2030 Fund for 2020 to support a scoping workshop to determine:

  • what is needed to assess the necessary and best practices that make a 'viable and effective' (robust) watershed entity and plan
  • what is needed to assess existing watershed entities and plans
  • how we can then use this work to support more watershed entities and plans across Canada to become ‘viable and effective’
  • the budget needed to implement our plan, broken down by the different phases.
Scorecard Result Container Indicator Measure Action Actual Value Target Value Tag S R I P PM A m/d/yy m/d/yyyy