When it comes to managing water resources, there is no shortage of problems. The consequences impact security, ecological health, environmental justice, and economic development. I recently had the opportunity to attend the Connecting Water Resources conference hosted by the Canadian Water Network. The 2015 theme, ‘from Knowledge to Action’ stressed the need to address a gap between what we know about sustainable and equitable water systems and our capacity to implement solutions.
When it came to implementation, the speakers uniformly put people, communities, cooperation, and governance front and center of the discussion. Former Premiere Bob Rae urged Canadians to critically examine assumptions of water security. More than 100 communities endure boil-water advisories in Canada. These advisories disproportionately impact remote areas, creating a gap between the water security experiences of different communities. Rae tasked Canadians to abandon ‘us and them’ mentalities and to address water security as a national problem. Patricia Mulroy gave a nod to water competition anxieties, opening her talk with “don’t worry, I didn’t come with any straws”. As the former director of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy was responsible for securing water to support growing communities in a desert regime relying on a contested and stressed water source. Mulroy emphasized that all communities are linked to a common water destiny – or else, she says, “We will all fail together”. Margaret Catley-Carlson illustrated the centrality of water by playing off of the question “Is it a water issue?” Answering “yes of course it is” and -No “when water goes by your house and you can’t drink it, that’s not a water issue, that’s an exclusion issue”. Afternoon activities consisted of smaller group sessions. I attended Blue Cities: moving to the systems we need. A variety of topics relevant to municipal water managers were presented. Some important themes that surfaced were regulatory reform in the water sector, a willingness to look outward for solutions, and the importance of citizen engagement. These perspectives indicate a strong and growing role for the social sciences in water resources management.
Finally, there were the conversations that occurred in between events. I had the opportunity to hear about initiatives that aim to couple research and action in innovative ways. Of particular interest are the Ryerson Urban Water1 multidisciplinary collective in Toronto, Canada, and the Environmental CrossRoads Initiative2, in the City University of New York (CUNY), U.S. I have provided links below if you wish to learn more about these groups. At CWR-2015 lively discussions occurred across disciplinary and professional boundaries, without any sign of struggle. It can be done. I look forward to picking up on many of the conversations that started at the conference, and I look forward to the next Canadian Water Network event.
*The speakers are too numerous to discuss in this post, and although I identified a few themes and speakers, I have left out many excellent participants. For more information on the speakers and the conference, see the Canadian Water Network website3, listed below.