Articles | Volume 18, issue 4
Review article
11 Apr 2014
Review article |  | 11 Apr 2014

Socio-hydrology and the science–policy interface: a case study of the Saskatchewan River basin

P. Gober and H. S. Wheater

Abstract. While there is a popular perception that Canada is a water-rich country, the Saskatchewan River basin (SRB) in Western Canada exemplifies the multiple threats to water security seen worldwide. It is Canada's major food-producing region and home to globally significant natural resource development. The SRB faces current water challenges stemming from (1) a series of extreme events, including major flood and drought events since the turn of the 21st century, (2) full allocation of existing water resources in parts of the basin, (3) rapid population growth and economic development, (4) increasing pollution, and (5) fragmented and overlapping governance that includes the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, various Federal and First Nations responsibilities, and international boundaries. The interplay of these factors has increased competition for water across economic sectors and among provinces, between upstream and downstream users, between environmental flows and human needs, and among people who hold different values about the meaning, ownership, and use of water. These current challenges are set in a context of significant environmental and societal change, including widespread land modification, rapid urbanization, resource exploitation, climate warming, and deep uncertainties about future water supplies. We use Sivapalan et al.'s (2012) framework of socio-hydrology to argue that the SRB's water security challenges are symptoms of dynamic and complex water systems approaching critical thresholds and tipping points. To Sivapalan et al.'s (2012) emphasis on water cycle dynamics, we add the need for governance mechanisms to manage emergent systems and translational science to link science and policy to the socio-hydrology agenda.