|The issue of the scale at which water governance should be organized to best address water challenges is one of the main ongoing debates in the literature. Traditionally, governance of water problems has been approached and framed from a water-centric perspective. This means that water governance arrangements are commonly organized around boundaries corresponding to hydrological features such as the watershed or basin despite the causes of water problems spanning levels and jurisdictions across these boundaries. However, drivers, actors, and institutions at various scales outside the water sector (i.e., non-water factors) are increasingly driving water governance processes and outcomes in an interconnected world. Instances of non-water factors are demographic drivers, energy policies, and institutional investors in the financial sector. Non-water factors can have important implications for water sustainability, by enabling or hindering solutions to water challenges. How we frame and bound water governance situations determines what issues are prioritized, how they are addressed, the actors involved in decision-making, and the resulting governance arrangements. Thus, it is necessary to rethink how we frame and bound water governance responses to increasingly complex water problems. Crucial in this effort is improving our ability to make boundary judgments that allow those engaged in water governance to appropriately consider significant external factors. Thus, the purpose of this research is to advance our ability to assess the boundaries of water governance responses by recognizing the external dimensions of water governance situations and the types of non-water factors that shape them. By doing so, this research aims to help improving water governance responses to water challenges. Specific attention to non-water factors’ role in water governance can help better understand water governance processes and outcomes, and thus enable innovative governance arrangements to address water challenges.
The study explored non-water factors’ role in three case studies of water governance situations defined around water policy objectives in the context of the Canadian province of Ontario. This thesis follows on the steps of other scholars that have used public policy cases to study external factors to water governance. The three policy objectives are the reduction of industrial, commercial, and institutional water demand from the municipal supply (municipal policy); water conservation and efficiency (provincial policy); and the financial sustainability of municipal water systems across the province (provincial level, applicable to municipalities). I collected data through semi-structured interviews, document review, and attendance to relevant events. I used a qualitative content analysis method. The purpose was realised by achieving three interrelated objectives: (i) build a diagnostic framework that accounts for the role of non-water factors in water governance situations, and helps identifying opportunities these factors can provide for improving governance responses to water problems; (ii) diagnose the range of non-water factors at play in real-world water governance situations at different sub-national levels, by using the diagnostic framework developed here; (iii) examine a specific non-water sector’s relationship with water governance situations, and identify the sector’s factors relevant for this situation by applying the diagnostic framework.
The main finding is that the framework developed here is useful and relevant to understanding a variety of non-water factors influencing water governance situations at different scales. Furthermore, the framework was useful and relevant to identify the non-water factors that have the potential to open opportunities for improving water governance arrangements to address water challenges. An important finding is that non-water factors can explain water governance processes and outcomes, as non-water factors influenced the situations in which water governance activities, including policy making, occurred. Thus, understanding the external dimension of water governance situations is relevant for better steering water governance arrangements towards water sustainability. For instance, climate change and population growth drive the formulation of water use reduction policies in Ontario, while the economic development goal shapes their implementation to favour water efficiency, rather than water conservation measures. The findings also revealed cases in which a seemingly water policy actually served a non-water objective, raising the question of what a “water policy” actually entails.
Findings also revealed that water decision-makers in the governance case studies do consider the impact of non-water factors over their policy objectives to various extents and in various ways, and increasingly harness them to address their objectives. While water actors are aware of co-benefits, they do not seem to systematically approach or take advantage of them. A potential explanation is that their consideration of non-water factors is not due to an explicit decision to look into non-water factors as a source of opportunities, but rather a result of their work within multi-objective organizations, such as municipalities or provinces. In other words, water officials and institutions in municipal and provincial governments contribute to the broader objectives of their organizations and are accountable to them, rather than to the “water sector” as a whole. Sustainable finance is an instance of a field that water actors are increasingly paying attention to, although understanding of interconnections is at very early stages. Findings highlight areas where water policies and sustainable finance are increasingly converging, thus opening potential new avenues for contributing to addressing water challenges.
The insights from this thesis contribute to several strands of the water governance literature, and to the institutional analysis literature. This thesis mainly contributes to literatures calling for further understanding external factors in water governance; and for improving the ability to draw boundaries for more effective water governance solutions. Thus, this study’s significant original contribution to knowledge is advancing the understanding of the external dimension of water governance. I argue that a diagnostic framework built around the concept of such dimension is a useful way to account for the role of non-water factors and their potential in addressing problems targeted by specific water governance situations. Furthermore, I argue that the external dimension consists of two types of non-water factors. The first type are socio-economic objectives and organizational objectives, which water actors in a specific situation are able to influence to various extents. The second type are drivers of change (e.g., climate change), which water actors in a specific situation can only adapt or respond to. The main difference between these two types is the actors’ ability to influence: ability deriving from a mandate, or without a mandate (i.e., unintended consequences). This approach is novel because it brings together concepts and frameworks not used in conjunction before: it takes an overlooked aspect of a widely used water governance definition, and develops it with other scholar- and practitioner- generated water governance concepts, and institutional analysis frameworks. A related contribution is devising an analysis process tailored to assess the sustainable finance aspects relevant to water governance situations. Finally, this thesis also contributes to the institutional analysis literature, by paying more attention to external drivers, and systematically reflecting on the boundaries of environmental governance systems and situations. While findings relate to specific water governance situations around water use reduction and financial sustainability of water systems in Ontario, they are relevant to other water governance situations more broadly.