THE VALUE-ADDED OF ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING FOR CUMULATIVE EFFECTS MANAGEMENT AND DECISION-MAKING IN THE LOWER ATHABASCA PLANNING REGION OF ALBERTA, CANADA
There has emerged in recent years a general consensus that anthropogenic development, including energy resource extraction, agriculture, and urban expansion, pose significant threats to water security and the health of watersheds in Canada. A component of identifying and managing the cumulative effects (CE) of this development is data from short and long-term monitoring programs to support decisions about water use and development. However, attention to CE management is often short-lived, and is exacerbated by the fragmented nature of monitoring data and programs. It is therefore important to understand unsuccessful CE efforts of the past to help determine features of future CE monitoring. In addition, it is often argued that CE management is ineffective due to challenges associated with institutional and organizational arrangements for mobilizing CE monitoring with decision-making. This thesis explores whether and how current environmental monitoring programs and organizations support CE management for land-use decision-making. The research is conducted in the Lower Athabasca planning region of Alberta, Canada, where a variety of industrial activities, a CE approach to decision-making, and a variety of monitoring efforts are ongoing. First, this thesis presents a review of the past and present monitoring programs, identifying reoccurring themes in the failure of monitoring programs, and deriving lessons for other jurisdictions. It then explores the task of integrating environmental monitoring with CE management and decision-making based on semi-structured interviews with CE monitoring professionals, to understand perspectives on the current state-of-practice while considering other options. Results show that three approaches exist for this integration: a distributed monitoring system, a one-window system, and an independent exploratory system. Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the decision to implement any one system depends on the purpose of existing monitoring; the credibility and depth of understanding of region-specific scientific underpinnings; and the needs of CE decision-making. Instead of being susceptible to shorter-term institutional change, monitoring expectations should be guided by the immediate and longer-term needs of decision-making, and supported, implemented, and maintained by credible science. Monitoring to advance CE practice should therefore be the ongoing product of cohesive CE visioning, with oversight from independent scientific efforts.
Environmental Monitoring, Cumulative Effects, Decision-Making
Master of Science (M.Sc.)
Geography and Planning