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Protecting aquatic ecosystems in heavily allocated river systems: the case of the Oldman River Basin, Alberta

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Initiatives aimed at protecting aquatic ecosystems often prove difficult to implement—particularly in water-stressed, semi-arid regions where the demand for water for human consumption is high. This article reports on an investigation of the factors that shaped the development and implementation of policies for aquatic ecosystem protection in the Oldman River Basin (ORB), a crucial watershed in semi-arid southern Alberta. The analysis reveals critical cultural and historical considerations that confront those attempting to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems in the ORB and highlights specific factors that influence implementation of measures to protect it. In addition to the most basic consideration—demand for water exceeds supplies—eight specific factors that influenced aquatic ecosystem protection in this region are identified and evaluated. These include (1) clarity of actors’ roles/ jurisdictional responsibilities; (2) communication; (3) definition of key terms; (4) funding and organizational capacity; (5) leadership; (6) legal standing; (7) data and monitoring; and (8) public education. We argue that while these factors are important, critical cultural and historical considerations that influence water policy in the province also must be addressed in any efforts to protect aquatic ecosystems in southern Alberta.

Keywords: Alberta; aquatic ecosystems; cadre de mise en œuvre politique; cultural politics; environmental water allocation; gestion écologique du prélèvement d’eau; gouvernance de l’eau; policy implementation; political ecology; politiques culturelles; water governance; écologie politique; écosystèmes aquatiques

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1 ( ), Email: 2: Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1 ( ), Email:

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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