Dunn, G., Harris, L. and K. Bakker (2015) Microbial Risk Governance: Challenges and Opportunities in Canada. Canadian Water Resources Journal 40(3): 273-249
Abstract: This paper analyzes the barriers and opportunities that decentralized water governance regimes pose to effective microbial risk assessment and management for drinking and recreational water quality. The paper presents a case study of Canada (a country whose approach to water governance is among the most decentralized in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]) evaluating microbial governance approaches in British Columbia and Ontario. The analysis is timely for two reasons: (1) relatively little research has been conducted on microbial risk assessment and management from a governance perspective; the literature focuses largely on technical and methodological approaches (such as Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment [QMRA] or Water Safety Plans); (2) 15 years post Walkerton,– little research has examined the implementation of source water protection as a strategy to reduce microbial risk in recreational and drinking water in the context of decentralized water governance. A range of issues are considered, including how decentralized governance might enable or constrain microbial risk assessment and management practices, and how the relationships between decentralized and multi-level governance actors might further deepen the complexity of watershed management, particularly source water protection. The analysis indicates that decentralized water governance in Ontario and BC may contribute to difficulties in effectuating source water protection and other features of a multi-barrier approach. The most significant challenges, as identified by practitioners, relate to the fragmentation of land and water jurisdiction, regulation, institutions and mandates, particularly a lack of coordination (both regulatory and institutional) and limited clarity on roles and responsibilities. Building on this analysis, the paper suggests more effort is required to support proactive institutional arrangements, including: inter- and intra-agency communication across levels of government; master planning and other initiatives to move towards integrated policy development; flexible, responsive policy environments; a governance culture that fosters leadership and collaboration; and holistic problem framing and mobilization of interdisciplinary knowledge.