Newfoundland & Labrador and British Columbia Comparative Water Study

Water is critical for all communities and regions, particularly drinking water, which relates to quality of life (e.g., health), economic development, and environmental quality. Management of drinking water involves many aspects, including building and operating treatment and distribution infrastructure, management of aspects like source water protection, conservation, as well as planning and policy making. While drinking water management poses challenges across Canada, rural areas can experience particular challenges and issues, such as multi-use watersheds, high costs and a lack of economies of scale and beyond. These are not only challenges in the present, but can act as barriers to future community and regional resilience.

Several fields of study offer potential avenues for not only addressing challenges and issues, but for helping to build and strengthen resilience. This project focused on the potential of a new regionalist approach to drinking water management. Key characteristics of our proposed approach are:
1. A self-identified working region
2. Collaborative efforts
3. Flexibility in institutional and governance structure
4. Inclusive participation
5. Tailor made approaches
6. Integrated decision making
7. Innovation and creativity
8. Adaptation

In particular this project looks at the potential feasibility of a new regional approach for rural regions. Using a comparative case study approach, the research objectives were to:
1. Examine and compare the current approach to drinking water management in two case study regions.
2. Compare existing approaches against indicators of new regionalism.
3. Seek feedback from the case study regions on the feasibility of the proposed new regionalist approach and how such an approach might (or might not) address existing challenges.

Past research found similarities in drinking water challenges between the Kittiwake region of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Kootenay region of British Columbia. This research also demonstrated some initial successes in working as a region, including some examples of approaches that exemplify characteristics of a new regionalist approach. However, what we found was not a definitive response with respect to the feasibility and benefits of a new regional approach to drinking water management. First, there appears to be a disconnect between our literature based approach and existing rural capacity and practice. Second, challenges were encountered in terms of presentation of the proposed approach, as well as field data collection. As a result, questions remain as to the extent that a new regional approach may be able to assist in addressing drinking water management challenges and whether the proposed approach can contribute to rural regional resilience. What is clear is that a cookie cutter approach to drinking water management will not work in either of the case study regions. Also clear is that the creation of new policies, programs, or regulations without matching capacity undercuts seemingly well-intentioned and purposeful ideas.

In terms of future application to Newfoundland and Labrador, it was found that the province could benefit from water related programs driven by regional actors, such as the Water Smart Program led by the Columbia Basin Trust in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Regional scale agencies can play key roles in creating networks, integrating data, and developing capacity in relation to drinking water management. However, changes to the institutional structures surrounding management of drinking water systems are needed and, above all, regional capacity needs to be developed.

A better understanding of new regionalism, and the opportunities and challenges of the proposed approach, can contribute to future policy design for regional water and watershed management. There is a need for continued research into how regional approaches can aid in place specific drinking water management. While it seems as though provincial officials in Newfoundland and Labrador would like to see a push for regionalization, according to our new regionalist approach, regional development must involve not only a top down, but a bottom up perspective, where capacity building and local buy in are priorities. In terms of next steps and future research, the authors have identified source water protection and infrastructure as specific target areas – for further research related to regional approaches.

Please feel free to send comments or questions regarding this proposed framework to Sarah Minnes (



  • Regional Revision: A regional approach to managing drinking water, CRRF 2014, Prince George, BC, September 27, 2014 (Breen & Minnes)
  • Connecting the dots: local government infrastructure and water, Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation Annual Conference, Thunder Bay, ON, October 2013 (Breen)
  • Watershed Planning and Regional Development, Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, August 13, 2013  (Breen, Minnes)

This research was funded by the Harris Centre RBC Water Research and Outreach Fund.