Grassroots Water Governance
Water quality has been getting a lot of attention in Ontario lately, and with good reason. But let’s not forget about water quantity. Variable weather patterns, agricultural water use, and water access rights will have a future impact on Ontario’s farmers.
Water quantity is a key policy issue for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. In late September, CFFO hosted a Water Stewardship Workshop, with Growing Forward 2 funding through the Agricultural Adaptation Council. Invited guests included conservationists, environmental researchers, and agricultural leaders.
Dr. Rob de Loë, from the University of Waterloo, opened the workshop with an address on Ontario’s water governance landscape and farmers’ responsibility to participate.
De Loë cited a 2015 study, in which he interviewed farmers who had participated in collaborative water governance projects, like source water protection. These farmers said they became engaged not only because they wanted to protect water quality and quantity, but also because they saw that they could offer unique local and technical knowledge that was important for good decision-making. They also appreciated opportunities to learn from fellow farmers and to educate others about farming. Finally, they saw collaboration as a good way of reducing top-down regulation.
As major landowners, farmers have more responsibility for water stewardship, which is why commitment to collaborative governance is so important. According to de Loë, it’s going to be more important than ever in the future.
Over the last decade, de Loë explained, water governance is becoming an issue for business. Beverage companies recognize that they need access to water to run their businesses. Analytics companies see economic opportunities in big data on water. Banks and investors consider access to water when reviewing business proposals, and insurance company executives are watching the weather for extreme weather events.
These groups come to the table with different interests—and the tables they come to these days are surprisingly small. Many organizations have begun to collaborate at the local level to ensure that their businesses’ needs are protected.
De Loë stressed to those working in the water sector, not to assume they’ll be the ones making future decisions about water governance. We will need to work hard to protect the water values our society upholds.
De Loë encouraged the CFFO and other stakeholder organizations to build capacity among farmers to engage in the collaborative process. Collaboration has been key for finding common ground. It’s going to be very important for producers to be part of future conversations.
This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.