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Evaluating Institutional Arrangements to Support Watershed-scale Cumulative Effects Assessment in the Grand River Watershed, Canada



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The Grand River watershed (GRW) lies within a designated urban growth plan area known as the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) region in Southern Ontario, Canada. Development activities within this watershed cause environmental effects that accumulate over space and time resulting in degradation of water resources. Some of these cumulative environmental effects include poor water quality and quantity, increased sedimentation and surface run-off. In light of such cumulative effects issues, this research study attempts to advance watershed-scale cumulative effects assessment (W-CEA) by evaluating institutional arrangements (IAs) to support it in the GRW. The methods applied in evaluating these IAs include document review, a focus group and semi-structured interviews. The document review both positioned the research study within the current literature of watershed management and cumulative effects assessment and revealed important resource management information related to W-CEA in the GRW, while the focus group yielded an evaluative framework for existing institutional arrangements. A semi-structured interview schedule was then developed to investigate in-depth the status of institutional arrangements within the GRW. Twenty-nine interviews were conducted with academic experts; project proponents; government and watershed agencies; non-governmental organizations; First Nations; and others. Interviewees discussed eight themes related to institutional arrangements identified as prerequisites for supporting W-CEA: lead agency; multi-stakeholder collaboration; CEA baselines, indicators and thresholds; multi-scaled monitoring; data management and coordination; vertical and horizontal policy and planning linkages; enabling legislation and financial resources. Data analysis reveals varying opinions on the capacity of existing institutional arrangements to support W-CEA at present due to different understanding of the tasks and duties required for W-CEA, and a plethora of management mandates within the watershed. The interview data also show that scattered monitoring data and lack of a strong responsible authority for W-CEA in the GRW also hamper institutional capacity. Study participants raised questions about whether existing science in the watershed is ‘mature’ enough to conduct W-CEA at this time, and there is a documented need to identify a potential funding authority for watershed-scale initiatives. Lessons learnt help to advance W-CEA frameworks in Canada and abroad.



cumulative environmental effects, cumulative effects assessment, watershed, cumulative watershed effects, institutional arrangements, environmental assessment.



Master of Environment and Sustainability (M.E.S.)


School of Environment and Sustainability


Environment and Sustainability


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