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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Environmental concepts and the management of the Fraser River : an examination of the preferences of individuals involved with the appeals over municipal sewage treatment standards at the Annacis Island plant White, Sharlene Wendy


The Fraser river is an essential, multi-purpose resource involving the interests of every community in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Inevitably there is a continuing public dialogue about the use of the river and consequently about the water quality standards, management strategies and the technologies which will sustain the desired uses. This public discussion was recently focused upon the regional sewage treatment facilities under construction at Annacis Island in the lower main arm of the river. Planners need to refine their understanding of such public dialogue to help them in analysing environmental management policies, communicating with clients and educating communities about the best way to achieve their environmental goals. The study was exploratory and experimental. The primary aim was to identify and advance our understanding of the concepts and conceptualising processes which caused individuals, concerned about water quality standards in the lower Fraser river, to prefer different management strategies for the Annacis Island plant. The central hypothesis was that an individual's environmental management preferences could be more usefully explained and more accurately predicted in relation to his conceptualising preferences than in relation to aspects of his background experience such as occupation and education. The study was completed in four stages: 1. The repertory grid technique, developed by the psychologist George Kelly, as a means of investigating the ways in which an individual rationalises about his environment, was adapted to the Fraser river situation. Later it was applied as a major investigative technique within the questionnaire framework. 2. The literature about the Annacis Island case was reviewed and summarised to provide the empirical framework for the study. 3. A questionnaire was designed and administered, in person, to thirty individuals. Ten individuals were chosen to represent each of three public interest groups who had been vocal in the discussion about the Annacis Island plant. The groups involved were the fishing industry, environmental organisations and water quality managers. Information was solicited on three topics: a. The respondent's background experience, especially his use for the river, occupation and education. b. His management preferences for the regional sewage system, especially for the Annacis Island plant. c. His conceptualising preferences, especially the way in which he distinguished between attributes of the water environment. 4. The information created by the questionnaire was categorised and subjected to statistical analysis. The repertory grid technique was successful in eliciting information about the way in which people construe the river environment. Respondents demonstrated a universal preference for thinking about things found in the Fraser river in terms of four general distinctions: whether they were living or inert, man made or natural, did or did not harm the life in the river and either affected or were affected by the other things they contacted in the river. The respondents were most clearly differentiated by more specialised ways of thinking about the river environment. For example, they were distinguished by their preference for thinking in terms of ecological systems, management systems and abstract technicalities. Although these factors were not satisfactorily linked with management preferences they should be reconsidered in future studies. Conceptual complexity was the only factor decisively linked with management preferences. Those respondents who preferred to use a variety of concepts and information simultaneously were shown to have a greater preference for using both conservationist and innovative strategies in the management of the regional sewage facilities.

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