Water Resources Management

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 1127–1141 | Cite as

Water Management and the Procedural Turn: Norms and Transitions in Alberta

  • Jeremy J. Schmidt


Water management reforms promoting deliberative, decentralized decision making are often accompanied by procedures designed to accommodate a range of stakeholder perspectives. This paper considers the role of political and ethical norms affecting this ‘procedural turn’ in order to understand the management of transitions in complex socio-technical systems. It examines the discourse and practice of water reforms in Alberta, Canada in order to identify how new procedures were designed alongside changes to management institutions. It finds that the existing social and cultural context is an uneasy fit with procedural norms theorized in deliberative models of democracy. Using examples from the Alberta case, it draws out implications for understanding the procedural turn in water management and the role of norms affecting transitions toward sustainability.


Water Procedures Norms Transition management Ethics Alberta Politics Deliberative democracy 



This work was supported by the Trudeau Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


  1. Alberta Environment (2003a) Water for life: Alberta’s strategy for sustainability. Pub No. I/955, Alberta Environment, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  2. Alberta Environment (2003b) Water for life: draft for discussion: Alberta’s strategy for sustainability: highlights. Pub No. I/936, Alberta Environment, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  3. Alberta Environment (2005) South Saskatchewan River Basin water allocation (revised). Alberta Environment, Regional Services, Southern Region, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  4. Alberta Irrigation Projects Association [AIPA] (2002) South Saskatchewan river basin: Irrigation in the 21st century. Alberta Irrigation Projects Association, Lethbridge, Summary ReportGoogle Scholar
  5. Alberta Water Council (2007) Review of implementation progress of water for life, 2005–2006. Alberta Water Council, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  6. Alberta Water Council (2008a) Strengthening partnerships: A shared governance framework for water for life collaborative partnerships. Alberta Water Council, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  7. Alberta Water Council (2008b) Water for life: A renewal. Alberta Water Council, Edmonton, ISBN 978-0-7785-7670-9Google Scholar
  8. Armstrong C, Evenden M, Nelles H (2009) The river returns: An environmental history of the Bow. McGill-Queen’s University Press, MontrealGoogle Scholar
  9. Bakker K (2004) An uncooperative commodity: Privatizing water in England and Wales. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Bakker K (2010) Privatizing water: Governance failure and the world’s urban water crisis. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  11. Bartlett RH (1986) Aboriginal water rights in Canada: A study of aboriginal title to water and Indian water rights. The Canadian Institute of Resources Law, CalgaryGoogle Scholar
  12. Baxter J, Eyles J (1997) Evaluating qualitative research in social geography: establishing ‘rigour’ in interview analysis. Trans Inst Br Geogr 22:505–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boelens R, Getches D, Guerva-Gill A (eds) (2010) Out of the mainstream: Water rights, politics and identity. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Bromley D (2012) Environmental governance as stochastic belief updating: crafting rules to live by. Ecol Soc 17:14Google Scholar
  15. Brugnach M, Ingram H (2012) Ambiguity: the challenge of knowing and deciding together. Environ Sci Pol 15:60–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Brugnach M et al (2011) More is not always better: coping with ambiguity in natural resources management. J Environ Manag 92:78–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Butler L (2000) The pathology of property norms: living with nature’s boundaries. South Calif Law Rev 73:927–1016Google Scholar
  18. Cohen A (2012) Watersheds as boundary objects: scale at the intersection of competing ideologies. Environ Plan A 44:2207–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dryzek J (2000) Deliberative democracy and beyond: Liberals, critics. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  20. Durant RJ, Fiorino DJ, O’Leary R (eds) (2004) Environmental governance reconsidered: Challenges, choices and opportunities. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Espeland W (1998) The struggle for water: Politics, rationality, and identity in the American Southwest. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  22. Feldman D (1995) Water resources management: In search of an environmental ethic. John Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  23. Feldman D (2007) Water policy for sustainable development. John Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  24. Gabbay D, Woods J (2005) The reach of abduction: Insight and trial. Elsevier, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  25. Glenn J (1999) Once upon an Oldman: Special interest politics and the Oldman River Dam. UBC Press, VancouverGoogle Scholar
  26. Gunderson L, Holling CS (eds) (2002) Panarchy: Understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  27. Habermas J (1984a) Lifeworld and system: A critique of functionalist reason. Beacon, BostonGoogle Scholar
  28. Habermas J (1984b) Reason and the rationalization of society. Beacon, BostonGoogle Scholar
  29. Habermas J (1996) Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. Hajer MA (1995) The politics of environmental discourse: Ecological modernization and the policy process. Clarendon, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Heinmiller BT (2013) Advocacy coalitions and the Alberta Water Act. Can J Polit Sci 46:525–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hendricks C (2009) Policy design without democracy? Making democratic sense of transition management. Policy Sci 42:341–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Holling CS, Meffe GK (1996) Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conserv Biol 10:328–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelly E et al (2009) Oil sands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries. PNAS 106:22346–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kelly E et al (2010) Oil sands development contributes elements toxic at low concentrations to the Athabasca River and its tributaries. PNAS 107:16178–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kemp R, Loorbach D, Rotmans J (2007) Transition management as a model for managing processes of co-evolution towards sustainable development. Int J Sustain Dev World Ecol 14:78–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Krippendorff K (2004) Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. Kurek J et al. (2013) Legacy of half century of Athabasca oil sands development recorded by lake ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(5):1761–1766Google Scholar
  39. Kvale S, Brinkmann S (2009) Interviews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing, 2nd edn. Sage, Los AngelasGoogle Scholar
  40. Kysar D (2010) Regulating from nowhere: Environmental law and the search for objectivity. Yale University Press, New HavenCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Laird K et al (2003) Lake sediments record large-scale shifts in moisture regimes across the northern prairies of North America during the past two millennia. PNAS 100:2483–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Law J (2004) After method: Mess in social science research. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Loorbach D (2010) Transition management for sustainable development: a prescriptive, complexity-based governance framework. Governance 23:161–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marchildon G (2009) The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration: climate crisis and federal-provincial relations during the great depression. Can Hist Rev 90:275–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Matsui K (2009) Native peoples and water rights: Irrigation, dams, and the law in Western Canada. McGill-Queens University Press, MontrealGoogle Scholar
  46. McMillan B (2001) Alberta’s water strategy: A summary of ideas. Equus Consulting Group, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  47. McMillan B (2002) Water for life: Summary of consultation results. Equus Consulting Group, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  48. Meadowcroft J (2007) Who is in charge here? Governance for sustainable development in a complex world. J Environ Policy Plan 9:299–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Meadowcroft J (2009) What about the politics? Sustainable development, transition management, and long term energy transitions. Policy Sci 42:323–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Meadowcroft J (2011) Engaging with the politics of sustainability transitions. Environ Innov Soc Transit 1:70–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mouffe C (2000) The democratic paradox. Verso, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  52. Mouffe C (2005) On the political. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  53. Norton BG (2005) Sustainability: A philosophy for adaptive ecosystem management. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Olsson P et al (2006) Shooting the rapids: navigating transitions to adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Ecol Soc 11:18Google Scholar
  55. Pahl-Wostl C (2002) Towards sustainability in the water sector—the importance of human actors and processes of social learning. Aquat Sci 64:394–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pahl-Wostl C et al (2010) Analyzing complex water governance regimes: the management and transition framework. Environ Sci Pol 13:571–581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pahl-Wostl C et al (2011) Maturing the new water management paradigm: progressing from aspiration to practice. Water Resour Manag 25:837–856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pearce W (1891) Letter to A.M. Burgess, January 7. William Pearce Papers, University of Alberta Archives 9/2/7/2/6: 1–14Google Scholar
  59. Peppard CZ (2014) Just water: Theology, ethics and the global water crisis. Orbis Books, MaryknollGoogle Scholar
  60. Percy D (1977) Water rights in Alberta. Alberta Law Rev 15:142–65Google Scholar
  61. Percy D (1986) Water rights law and water shortages in Western Canada. Can Water Res J 11:14–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Percy D (1996) Seventy-five years of Alberta water law: maturity, demise & rebirth. Alberta Law Rev 35:221–41Google Scholar
  63. Phare M (2009) Denying the source: The crisis of first nations water rights. Rocky Mountain Books, SurreyGoogle Scholar
  64. Postel S, Richter B (2003) Rivers for life: Managing water for people and nature. Island Press, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  65. Priscoli JD (2000) Water and civilization: using history to reframe water policy debates and to build a new ecological realism. Water Policy 1:623–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Priscoli JD (2004) What is public participation in water resources management and why is it important? Water Int 29:221–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rooney R, Bayley S, Schindler D (2012) Oil sands mining and reclamation cause massive loss of peatland and stored carbon. PNAS 109(13):4933–4937Google Scholar
  68. Rose G (1997) Situating knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics. Prog Hum Geogr 21:305–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rotmans J, Loorbach D (2009) Complexity and transition management. J Ind Ecol 13:184–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rydin Y (2003) Conflict, consensus, and rationality in environmental planning: an institutional discourse approach. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  71. Sabatier PA et al (eds) (2005) Swimming upstream: Collaborative approaches to watershed management. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  72. Sandel MJ (1996) Democracy’s discontent: America in search of a public philosophy. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  73. Sauchyn D, Stroich J, Beriault A (2003) A paleoclimatic context for the drought of 1999–2001 in the northern Great Plains of North America. Geogr J 169:158–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schindler D, Donahue W (2006) An impending water crisis in Canada’s western prairie provinces. PNAS 103:7210–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schmidt JJ (2010) Water ethics and water management. In: Brown PG, Schmidt JJ (eds) Water ethics: Foundational readings for students and professionals. Island Press, Washington DC, pp 3–15Google Scholar
  76. Schmidt JJ (2012) Ethical enigmas in modern water policy: the Albertan example. Ph.D. thesis, Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository, Paper 606Google Scholar
  77. Schorr D (2005) Appropriation as agrarianism: distributive justice in the creation of property rights. Ecol Law Q 32:3–71Google Scholar
  78. Senecal C, Madramootoo C (2005) Watershed management: review of Canadian diversity. Water Policy 7:509–22Google Scholar
  79. Shepherd A, Gill K, Rood S (2010) Climate change and future flows of Rocky Mountain rivers: converging forecasts from empirical trend projection and down-scaled global circulation modeling. Hydrol Sci 24:3864–77Google Scholar
  80. Smith A, Stirling A (2010) The politics of social-ecological resilience and sustainable socio-technical transitions. Ecol Soc 15:11Google Scholar
  81. Strang V (2014) The Taniwha and the Crown: defending water rights in Aotearoa/New Zealand. WIREs Water 1:121–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Syme G, Nancarrow B (1996) Planning attitudes, lay philosophies and water allocation: a preliminary analysis and research agenda. Water Resour Res 32:1843–1850CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Syme G, Nancarrow B, McCreddin J (1999) Defining the components of fairness in the allocation of water to environmental and human uses. J Environ Manag 57:51–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tisdell JG (2003) Equity and social justice in water doctrines. Soc Justice Res 16:401–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tully J (1995) Strange multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an age of diversity. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. van der Brugge R, van Raak R (2007) Facing the adaptive management challenge: insights from transition management. Ecol Soc 12:33Google Scholar
  87. Voß J, Bornemann B (2011) The politics of reflexive governance: challenges for designing adaptive management and transition management. Ecol Soc 16:9Google Scholar
  88. Wescoat JL, White GF (2003) Water for life: Water management and environmental policy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. West C (2007) For body, soul, or wealth: the distinction, evolution, and policy implications of a water ethic. Stanf Environ Law J 26:201–32Google Scholar
  90. Whiteley JM, Ingram H, Perry RW (Eds) (2008) Water, place & equity. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  91. Wood S, Tanner G, Richardson B (2010) Whatever happened to Canadian environmental law? Ecol Law Q 37:981–1040Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations