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What role for regulation? : The case of groundwater governance on the Gulf and San Juan Islands Cohen, Alice

Abstract

This thesis addresses the following research question: What is the role of regulation in the on-the-ground management of groundwater resources? In answering this question, the thesis used the case study of the Gulf and San Juan islands in the Strait of Georgia. The archipelago is divided by an international boundary, with the Gulf Islands in British Columbia and the San Juan Islands in Washington. The two groups of islands are heavily groundwater dependent and are climatologically and hydrogeologically similar, yet islands in each jurisdiction address their water issues through two very different water management frameworks. Groundwater is a salient issue on either side of the border, and biophysical conditions and demographic pressures lead to regular summer water shortages and saltwater intrusion. This study used two primary methods to address the research question. The first was a comprehensive legislative review of applicable legislation and regulation in each jurisdiction; this review would suggest that the different management frameworks would lead to different management practices. However, the second method - interviews - shows that the islands share similar management challenges and that groundwater is managed similarly on both sides of the border despite these different regulatory frameworks. Examples of similar management practices include unregulated private wells, local governmental support for rainwater harvesting, bulk water hauling, and navigation of the persistent challenges associated with real estate development and groundwater use. The research generated the hypothesis that local factors (including biophysical characteristics, economic priorities, and community culture and values) are equal or greater drivers of local groundwater management than formal governance frameworks due to the frequent absence, inappropriateness, and lack of enforcement of a significant number of applicable regulations. The final chapter of the thesis discusses the possible implications of this hypothesis for water governance more generally and offers recommendations to policy-makers.

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