Research Themes

Water Law & Policy

Our water law and policy work focuses on developing and improving the legal tools to protect water and watersheds and to promote stewardship. In all our work we are attentive to the importance and evolution of Indigenous law in reshaping watershed governance.

We have been actively engaged in the process of modernizing British Columbia’s water law since 2008, and the core of our water law and policy research is directed at informing the development and implementation of B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act, with a focus on:

  • Investigating and promoting legal and policy tools that provide robust ecological protections, preservation of environmental flows, incentives for water conservation, and innovative approaches to planning and governance.
  • Supporting governments and communities to ensure better understanding of the mix of legal tools that can be applied to protect water and improve decision-making in their particular context.
  • Understanding opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal traditions to ensure the protection of water and its cultural uses.


Watershed Security & Governance

Since the POLIS Water Sustainability Project began in 2003, our team has played a leadership role in advancing watershed governance in concept and in practice. Watershed governance involves reorganizing and focusing decision-making to better align with ecological boundaries, and addressing ecological health and function to enhance social, community, and ecosystem resilience.

Seminal research in At a Watershed: Ecological Governance and Sustainable Water Management in Canada (2005) and A Blueprint for Watershed Governance in British Columbia (2014) built a strong foundation for understanding and progressing institutional, legal, and governance reform.

This work still remains a high-priority, and in recent years our team has started to grow it further by “looking beyond” ideas of watershed governance toward the broader concept and emerging research theme of watershed security. Watershed security is about the fundamental need to responsibly and sustainably manage and govern water in its entirety—which means its sources and the surrounding landscape. We are alert to how watershed security links the top issues of our time—from climate change adaptation and reconciliation and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to wild salmon survival and our collective health, spiritual well-being, quality of life, and prosperity.


International & Transboundary Water Governance

International water law has the powerful potential to facilitate cooperation between bordering jurisdictions, resolve disputes, and improve sustainable management and governance of water. Cutting-edge transboundary agreements and institutions, such as the Mackenzie River Basin Agreements and International Joint Commission, offer direction and insight for the next generation of watershed-based agreements.

Our international and transboundary water governance research involves:

  • Tracking emerging trends and guiding principles in international water law, and testing their application to Canadian water management and governance;
  • Exploring the “global-local” interface of water by using comparative analysis of best practices to understand and promote how legal advances from other jurisdictions might apply in the Canadian context; and
  • Investigating key principles and application of law to promote transboundary watershed governance in innovative water agreements and treaty (re)negotiations.


Water Ethics

We are all the guests of the green plants around us. ~ Ismail Serageldin

Our water ethics initiative explores ethics and cross-cultural values in watershed co-governance. It draws upon the literature and direct experiences of those involved in watershed management and stewardship, and is also informed by other fields of study and practice that involve cross-cultural knowledge sharing and knowledge co-production. Our goal is to understand how to work better together with water, and with each other, by exploring the diversity of social and cultural values, beliefs, and ways of being that inform—or ought to inform—collaborative watershed governance.

Water ethics was first launched as an exploratory workshop at the Watersheds 2016 conference in Vancouver. A workshop summary is in the Watersheds 2016 Proceedings (p.3-8) and a comprehensive water ethics bibliography is under development.

Innovative work with partners in cross-cultural knowledge sharing and knowledge co-production also directly supports our water ethics initiative, such as Ethics in Community Based Monitoring and Knowledge Coproduction: A Report on the Proceedings from Ethical Space for Knowledge Coproduction: Workshop on Ethics and Community Based Monitoring.


Water-Energy Nexus

Water and energy are tightly interlinked. Almost all forms of energy production require large volumes of water, often with significant local watershed impacts. In turn, moving, treating, and managing water requires energy. Our water-energy nexus research is divided into two main areas:

  • Water conservation and efficiency as a critical path to realizing future energy savings (primarily at the local level); and
  • Daylighting how addressing underlying governance issues can promote sustainable energy development and water use within the B.C. and broader Canadian context.


Water Conservation & Water Soft Path

Our water conservation and soft path work focuses on actions and strategies needed to ensure that communities can manage their limited and often vulnerable freshwater resources. This research highlights the importance of expanding the definition of “infrastructure” to include long-term water management programs built around efficiency-based technologies, pricing that promotes conservation, interactive education built on a foundation of water ethics, and engaged citizens and community drive governance.