Watershed monitoring is an essential component of watershed management; however, widespread federal and provincial decentralization efforts have resulted in reduced government funding for such monitoring. In response, communities are mobilizing to address this deficit in Canada by undertaking a practice called community-based watershed monitoring (CBWM).
Although CBWM is being employed to address this gap, monitoring data collected by CBWM organizations remains underutilized by decision-makers in watershed governance. Moreover, CBWM organizations face significant challenges with knowledge exchange due to a lack of rigorous scientific protocols and high organizational turnover. At the same time, decision-makers are experiencing minimal capacity to utilize CBWM data due to restricted mandates and resources. Nonetheless, research suggests that communities significantly benefit from CBWM, but less evidence exists to confirm effects of CBWM activities on ecosystem health and there is scant literature about successful CBWM data integration. Anecdotal evidence regarding ecosystem benefits provided by CBWM exists in grey literature and on websites; however, more peer-reviewed literature must be established to support these claims. Uncertainty still remains regarding how to track the success of CBWM and watershed restoration efforts.
The purpose of the research project was two-fold: 1) to analyze the socio-political and economic factors that influence uptake of CBWM in watershed management, and; 2) the evaluation of ecosystem health benefits from CBWM. These two tasks have been divided into Political, Social, and Environmental components.
The first objective employed a qualitative case study analysis that focused on watershed organizations engaged in CBWM that contributed to positive influences in Canadian water management decision-making. The Political Component involved four case studies and 29 interviews with government officials and CBWM organization coordinators. Findings revealed that the ability of watershed groups to influence decision-making through sharing CBWM information with government relies on several intersecting factors, including collaboration through multi-stakeholder partnerships, building capacity through diversification of funding and projects, and meeting the needs of government through data quality and standardization. Strong leadership and trust building activities were found to be key enablers for collaborative processes. Participants also highlighted the important roles of both science-focused monitoring and education-focused monitoring, with the latter having potential to help influence local government decisions. Three main CBWM program designs were identified that build on strengths of these different approaches to monitoring.
The Social Component involved surveys that explored the social connections between watershed stewardship groups in Nova Scotia and the interviews elaborated on themes elicited from the survey data. The findings illustrate that constraints exist for stewardship groups to share information and resources, and to conduct activities, such as: (1) the natural 'lifespans' of volunteer groups which compromise the ability to coordinate long term environmental programs; (2) jurisdictional fragmentation that creates political, and; (3) legal, and spatial barriers.
The second objective analyzed activities conducted by CBWM organizations that had the ability to produce positive environmental change within aquatic ecosystems, namely restoration projects. Photographs were used in the interview process to provide a visual representation of the project and act as a guide to explore the planning, implementation, and end result of each project. This is one of the first documented instances where a qualitative photo-methodology was utilized to explore the components of restoration projects with practitioners. The methodology proved to be adept at exploring restoration projects by providing a medium to visually contrast project locations before and after project implementation, and understand the process, challenges, and limitations faced by CBWM organizations in implementing them. The study also identified cases where CBWM organizations were successful in producing positive environmental change that was directly related to their restoration efforts.
This research has resulted in the following anticipated scholarly journal publications and end-user reports:
The research team hosted a series of webinars and presentations to mobilize research efforts and work to stakeholders, community stewardship groups and government participants.
This research has been disseminated through several conference presentations:
Poster presentations include:
HQP’s have prepared and anticipate the release of the following scholarly journal publications: