On the development and implementation of ecosystem management plans for water resources in the Great Lakes: A case study of the RAP initiative.
Author(s)MacKenzie, Susan Hill
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AbstractThe "ecosystem approach" to water resource management is deceptively simple: one must recognize the interrelationships among water, land, air, and all living things and undertake resource planning in such a way that the integrity of the natural system is preserved. Significant features of the ecosystem approach include its watershed boundaries, its holistic orientation, and its assumption that humans should be viewed as part of, rather than apart from, the natural system. A theme of environmental ethics and education underlies the approach. Although it seems straightforward, the ecosystem approach has important implications for water management. In 1985, the International Joint Commission challenged government agencies to utilize the ecosystem approach to develop Remedial Action Plans to rehabilitate forty-two "hotspots" across the Great Lakes Basin. This initiative represented a first effort to implement the ecosystem approach in the Great Lakes. The research questions were: what does ecosystem management mean in the context of the RAP process, and how can one increase the likelihood of successful implementation of ecosystem management plans? The research proposition suggests that there are three preconditions to ecosystem management: participation; decision making; and legitimacy. Each precondition has subcomponent measures. The participation subcomponents were intergovernmental and interdisciplinary participation. The decision making subcomponents were use of consensual decision making, development of a common vision of the desired future state of the resource, and dispute resolution. The legitimacy subcomponents were political support, public participation, and funding. Comparative case studies of Green Bay, Wisconsin; Saginaw Bay, Michigan; and Hamilton Harbour, Ontario were undertaken. Thirty-five RAP participants were chosen for on-site indepth interviews. Data were arrayed by respondent, question, and case, and were analyzed for content. Each RAP achieved the preconditions to a varying degree. Overall, the Green Bay RAP is distinguished by its science and high quality participants. The Hamilton Harbour RAP stands out for its conceptualization of the ecosystem approach, and its commitment to consensual decision making. To date, Saginaw Bay RAP has not achieved the ideals of the ecosystem approach.