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Two inaugural fellows to shape freshwater policy in Canada

Katherine Minich and Edgar Tovilla stand together with Donor Erika v. C. Bruce in the Student Learning Centre

Katherine Minich, Policy Studies PhD student and Edgar Tovilla, Environmental Applied Science and Management PhD student, meet Donor Erika v. C. Bruce (centre), who established the Geoffrey F. Bruce Fellowship in Canadian Freshwater Policy in honour of her late husband, a distinguished public servant and diplomat who devoted his career to advancing collaboration for environmental protection and sustainable development practices. (Photo by: Jae Yang)

Determining the future of water governance, the inaugural recipients of the Geoffrey F. Bruce Fellowship in Canadian Freshwater Policy are taking on ambitious projects to protect this most precious resource.

Katherine Minich and Edgar Tovilla have unique approaches to research on water, and each is rooted in their own personal experiences.

Ms. Minich, an Inuk woman from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, saw firsthand how powerful and devastating the impact of rising waters due to northern thaws could be. In 2008, her town was severed in two when a bridge was taken out by unusual amounts of rain that raised a river that hadn’t moved in the previous 1,000 years, disconnecting the downtown from wastewater and water delivery services.

“We are looking at how we respond to crisis,” said Ms. Minich who is working with geography professor David Atkinson. Ms. Minich said that professor Atkinson’s scientific approach complements her own social sciences and humanities background. Her project will look at two towns in Nunavut — Baker Lake and Pond Inlet — combining a community-based approach with a mentorship model.

“This exchange of knowledge uses a very egalitarian approach,” said Ms. Minich. “The community will mentor us on governance, while we engage in discussions about policies that are reflective of community needs and traditional knowledge.”

Mr. Tovilla has worked in municipal water and wastewater management for several years. His experience in this environment has led him to pursue policies that regulate wastewater in the same way that drinking water has become more highly regulated since the Walkerton tragedy where tainted water caused seven deaths. In his research, Mr. Tovilla argues that non-state regulation is being adopted, not only by private companies operating water systems, but also by municipalities, which are bridging a regulatory gap in terms of how they manage these systems.

Working under the supervision of law and business management professor Kernaghan Webb, Mr. Tovilla said, “There seems to be appetite to develop and implement a municipal wastewater and stormwater environmental management standard, which may lead to new regulatory requirements applicable in Ontario and other jurisdictions." His PhD work in public and private regulations for the protection of freshwater resources emphasizes an increasingly intertwined relationship between private standards, such as those developed under international and national organizations, with state-based regulation.

Mr. Tovilla noted that his preliminary findings appear to be leading consensus building on this front among regulators and practitioners. He believes that environmental protection policies that have been implemented for drinking water are already creating a framework for which stormwater and wastewater can also be managed to help improve the quality of water that is returning into our watersheds.

Mr. Tovilla recently held a focus group session with provincial, municipal, and private experts in the field to discuss his findings and was pleased to find a lot of consensus among participants. “The consensus building that has happened so far is encouraging and suggests that there is a complementary role of private regulation that could be applied for municipal wastewater and stormwater systems across Canada,” he said.

Geoffrey F. Bruce was a distinguished public servant and diplomat who devoted his career to advancing collaboration for environmental protection and sustainable development practices. The $25,000 fellowship (renewable for one year) will allow the students to conduct their fieldwork, present at conferences and focus on their dissertations.