Analysis of the Water Diplomacy Framework
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Article last edited 18 May 2014 by Mdeas
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This article is linked to The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements
- 1 Does the GLWQA process involve a wide range of stakeholders?
- 2 Does the GLWQA allow for dispute resolution?
- 3 Does the GLWQA engage in joint-fact finding?
- 4 Does the GLWQA understand that water networks are complex and continuously changing?
- 5 Does the GLWQA use collaborative adaptive management (CAM)?
- 6 Does the GLWQA successfully implement appropriate management strategies?
Does the GLWQA process involve a wide range of stakeholders?
The answer to this questions hinges partially on how one defines the GLWQA process. If it is defined solely as the negotiation of the actual agreements, then stakeholder engagement is lacking. However, if one understands the GLWQA as a larger process involving the evaluation, implementation, and local policy-making to fulfill obligations, then there is considerable stakeholder engagement.
More recent recognition that the public must be actively involved in mitigation efforts and decision-making has addressed a clear weakness present in the early years of water management within the Great Lakes. The biennial, and now triennial, meetings provide a clear forum for a wide range of stakeholders to participate and provide feedback. Additionally, the expanded membership on the Water Quality Board actively brings more stakeholders together in binational discussions. A former commissioner explained that the IJC goes to great lengths to ensure that representatives from all levels of government, tribal groups, and non-governmental organizations are incorporated in decision-making (personal communication, 2014). This was apparent in the process leading up to the most recent GLWQA negotiation, in which over 350 people, “representative of the federal, state, provincial and local governments; individuals from Tribes and Aboriginal groups; non-government organizations; industry; academia; and the interested public," were not only able to comment but also participated in writing the final recommendations.
Additionally, designating AOCs where local actors are asked to create remedial action plans (RAP) has the potential to foster important collaboration. While funding for RAPs was largely absent in the 1990s and early 2000, the new agreement asserts renewed interests in the AOC and LAMPS. The IJC’s Great Lake office has recently dedicated a staff member to be in charge of reviewing RAPs and providing feedback to local stakeholders. In a review of the RAP process, Beierle and Konisky (2001) found that the RAPs did lead to a more democratic process, noting that stakeholders and governments built capacity as they worked together to “understand environmental problems, coordinate action to address them, and influence change” (526). However, they also found that these groups tended to be fairly socioeconomically homogenous and in some cases did not include all stakeholders. It will be interesting to see if the RAP process is improved under the most recent agreement. 
Despite this, stakeholder engagement is insufficient in the actual negotiation of the agreements. In 1987, the states and provinces were allowed to sit at the table for negotiations, but this more inclusive format was discontinued in the most recent round of negotiations. While both Canada and the United States recognized the need to hold public meetings and allow public comment, they severely limited any review of draft language, which calls into question the intentions to actually use the feedback.
Overall, it is hard to know how much the agreement would be different if more stakeholders had been allowed to participate in negotiations regarding the GLWQA. Involving more stakeholders might make it more difficult to reach decisions, but it also might allow more value to be created by the parties. For example, if all the public officials involved in implementation reached agreements together, perhaps they could also agree upon a method for allocating who should fund what share of the agreed upon objectives. This could help avoid later disputes regarding unfunded mandates. Parties could also specifically agree to certain mitigation actions and agree to penalties if implementation efforts were not met, adding teeth to the obligations.
Does the GLWQA allow for dispute resolution?
One U.S. IJC staff member described the agreements as “commitments,” rather than negotiations meant to resolve deep disputes. As such, he believes that the agreements reflect a more narrow purpose: it offers opportunities for Canada and the United States to decide together on how they will share the burden of mitigating pollution (personal communication, 2014). While this might be a fair distinction, the history of agreements clearly shows that Canada and the United States have not always seen eye-to-eye regarding mitigation methods.
Importantly, when the parties have actually entered into negotiations, the process has allowed agreements to be reached. However, parties have not always been wiling to negotiate. While the IJC and other stakeholders called for an update to the 1987 GLWQA starting in the 1990s, a new agreement did not come into fruition until 2012.
Additionally, the current GLWQA process currently skirts potentially controversial issues by restricting stakeholder involvement. If Canada and the United States allowed the IJC and a broader range of stakeholders to participate in negotiations, there would likely be more issues brought to the table. By limiting involvement, the nations can avoid discussions they do not want to participate in.
Does the GLWQA engage in joint-fact finding?
As a former U.S. Commissioner on the IJC informed me, one of the most impressive features of the management structure of the Great Lakes is a commitment to scientific analysis in decision-making. Another IJC staff member explained that the structure of the IJC office allows the IJC to function as a single cohesive organization, rather than as two nations that must always actively seek agreement.This means that both nations can seamlessly work together to collect information and use that information to inform decisions. This strength dates back to the original Boundary Waters Treaty that grants both nations the ability to assign experts to review issues and make scientifically grounded recommendations.
Even more, the IJC’s review process actively seeks public involvement during the research process, not just after reports are completed. For example, the recent 2014 report on Lake Erie involved a public comment period and multiple public engagement processes that allowed the public to offer feedback on the proposed recommendations made by the IJC.
The RAPs within the AOCs are also an opportunity for public involvement, as various stakeholders are asked to work together to find solutions. While these were poorly funded in the 1990s and 2000s, hopefully under the most recent agreement these will become more functional. If they are, the RAPs create a space for local actors to collaborate with federal partners on research to find the best options for mitigating contamination in their local AOC.
Does the GLWQA understand that water networks are complex and continuously changing?
The GLWQA is a living document that is updated every few years and is able to respond to changing needs and realizations with every update. Additionally, the commitment to continued monitoring, evaluation, and recognition of a continued need for scientific inquiry allows actors to revise and rethink plans periodically.
Despite this, the fact that water quantities and water quality are managed through entirely different processes (which is due to the language of the original 1909 treaty) creates a false dichotomy that oversimplifies a complex issue. As can be seen in Lake Erie, shallower lakes are more sensitive to pollutants because they have less assimilative capacity. All of the Great Lakes are suffering from decreased water quantities and if this trend continues they might also be more easily overwhelmed by contaminants. Streamlining the process to consider both water quality and quantity issues together could allow some interesting conversations and perhaps lead to different solutions.
Does the GLWQA use collaborative adaptive management (CAM)?
The IJC has a strong interest in formally adopting Collaborative Adaptive Management (CAM)—a planning approach that allows stakeholders to closely monitor their work and adjust and revise decisions based on lessons learned—as part of their management approach. Currently members of the IJC staff office are trying to compile a plan to make better use of adaptive management for water quality
Of note, the IJC has already made progress incorporating adaptive management in their work on water levels in the Great Lakes. In fact, the IJC convened an International Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Team, which released its recommendations in May 2013. The report specifically considers how CAM can be used to better understand the impacts of climate change on water levels. It remains to be seen how this process will be implemented.
While there is some exciting potential to be found in CAM, one former commissioner points out that the IJC is an old organization with ingrained processes. Therefore, it is hard to make large changes quickly. Additionally, she pointed out that commissioners are replaced by each new federal administration, which makes it difficult to create continuity and learn from past mistakes.
Does the GLWQA successfully implement appropriate management strategies?
Historically, the efforts of Canada and the United States to work together to manage Water Quality within the Great Lakes has led to some successes. The Great Lakes have seen a marked reduction of phosphorous and other pollutants over the years, even though problems persist. While the IJC is not in charge of negotiating the GLWQA, its function as a body that can offer advice and serve as a bully pulpit to encourage action provides a practical function in the successful management of the Great Lakes.
Despite this, expanding the role of the IJC, or simply allowing the direct participation of non-federal actors in negotiations and agreements might improve the ability to successfully implement water quality improvement efforts. The IJC is only effective when it can convince the federal governments to support its efforts. Likewise, it is difficult to encourage local actors to make progress on mitigation work decided on by federal actors if the federal government does not provide the necessary funding. This is a key weakness in the IJC’s bully pulpit capacity. In the 1990s and 2000s, politically conservative governments in Canada and the United States were less interested in environmental efforts. Therefore, they cut funding not only to states and local governments, but also to the IJC. This resulted in large-scale neglect of mitigation obligations, as capacity was severely undermined.
Pollution mitigation over the years could very well have been more successful if Canada or the United States faced penalties for failing to reach obligations set by the agreements, of if funding sources to meet the obligations were more secure. While the IJC can draw attention to these issues, without actual power to make decisions or enforce action, it can only do so much.
- ^ Krantzberg, G. (2012) Renegotiation of the 1987 GLWQA: From Confusion to Promise. Sustainability, 1239-1255.
- ^ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 IJC U.S. Staff member, personal communication with AquaPedia user Mdeas, 2014
- ^ Konisky, D., & Beierle, T. What are we gaining from stakeholder involvement? Observations from environmental planning in the Great Lakes. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 19, 515-527.
- ^ IJC; Former U.S. Commissioner, personal communication with AquaPedia user Mdeas, 2014
- ^ Botts, L., & Muldoon, P. R. (2005). Evolution of the GLWQA. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.