The POLIS Water Sustainability Project began in 2003 as part of the University of Victoria's POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. Originally established as the Urban Water Demand Management Project, its focus quickly broadened to include fundamental governance issues, such as long-term, comprehensive, watershed-based planning and innovative institutional and ecosystem-based legal reforms. To reflect this change, it was renamed the Water Sustainability Project in 2005.

The project is unique because it straddles two worlds: one of academic policy, law, and governance research, and the other of grassroots, bottom-up action. In this way, the WSP acts as a bridge to connect theory with practice, turning research into action. The WSP believes that sustainable water management must focus on ensuring all “new” water comes from better use of existing supplies, and from changes in attitudes and water use habits. By demonstrating the powerful potential of new approaches, new perspectives, and innovation, the organization works to develop a clear model for ecosystem-based water management in Canada—a model based on conservation, stewardship, and sustainability.

The WSP recognizes that water scarcity is largely a social dilemma that cannot be solved by technical innovations alone. Instead, it must be addressed through new, integrated approaches to water management and decision-making. The WSP develops innovative legal, institutional, and practical approaches that embody the principles of ecological governance and provide the foundation for a comprehensive legal and policy framework for sustainable water management.

The WSP is led by Oliver M. Brandes and hosts a number of researchers and advisors who focus on the organization’s four core research themes:

Project Objectives

  • » Examine emerging national water issues, including a survey of best practices in soft path and demand-side management in Canada and abroad;
  • » Develop innovative governance options that embed sustainable water management in all levels of government, including "watershed governance" as an alternative to current centralized, hierarchical and sectoral governance approaches;
  • » Advance water law reforms and policy decision-making tools that promote sustainable water management, long-term integrative planning, and institutional change that enables ecologically based water allocations;
  • » Create a national network of experts and others interested in the new paradigm of sustainable water management to contribute to and use these models as practical tools for policy and institutional change;
  • » Increase public awareness around the importance, and limits, of water in Canada, thereby ensuring that WSP objectives are met as part of a larger cultural change.


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