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Performance-based approaches to agri-environmental water quality policy in Canada



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Performance-based approaches to managing water quality on agricultural landscapes offer the potential to improve the effectiveness of water quality outcomes compared to current practice-based approaches. Performance-based approaches, however, require varying degrees of precise measures or modeling of water quality and differentiated payment structures to achieve these effective outcomes. The potential to implement performance-based approaches for water quality management on agricultural landscapes was assessed through three broad objectives: 1) review and evaluate performance-based approaches used for a similar purpose in other jurisdictions; 2) assess the social context of the study region of southwest Alberta, with the intention that this region would serve as a test case for implementing performance-based approaches; and 3) determine the suitability of performance-based approaches for the study region based on social and institutional context. Several performance-based approaches were identified through the review and evaluation of approaches that have been implemented elsewhere, these were: water quality trading, differentiated payments for ecological goods and services, cross-compliance, and emissions charges. The drivers and enabling conditions were evaluated and social and institutional factors were often important for the social, environmental, and/or economic successes of the approaches. The social context, or social norms and values, related to agriculture and water quality within the study region was assessed using interviews with watershed landowners and surveys with rural and urban residents. Respondents were generally in favour of a combination of polluter pays and beneficiary pays principles. Implementation of an environmental standard of care was a common suggestion; agricultural landowners who achieved water quality beyond the standard could be eligible for incremental payments based on water quality improvement. Suitability of performance-based approaches to the social and institutional context of the study region revealed that a suite of measures may be required to align with social norms and values. Cross-compliance and differentiated payments for ecological goods and services were two approaches that provided a suitable mix of polluter pays and beneficiary pays principles; however, institutional barriers exist to implementing these approaches.



social values, policy transfer, institutional context



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


School of Environment and Sustainability


Environment and Sustainability


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