In order for decision makers entrusted with the quality of Canada’s water resources to make sound decisions, they require access to accurate, timely, frequent relevant, comparable and clear data. Knowing whether water decision makers have access to the high-quality data they require is challenging however. First, it is tricky to define who is a water decision maker. Many individuals are involved in water decision making in one way or another, including politicians and other officials in governments and public agencies; business owners and their employees; and staff of non-governmental organizations. Do these individuals have to spend all their time working on water-related issues to qualify as water decision makers? Or is it enough to do so as part of some broader set of duties? What exactly is a water-related issue? Is the manager of snow clearing for provincial highways a water decision maker? All these questions, and more, complicate the matter of defining the “water decision maker”.
Once these questions are answered (if they even can be definitively), there remains the challenge of identifying actual decision makers so they can be asked about their views on water-related data. Doing this properly requires a list of the names and detailed job descriptions of every employee in every department, agency or business across the country. Such a list is simply not available.
To make the compilation of this impact measure feasible, then, it needed to be constrained. We first limited the scope of the measure to officials working in government departments/agencies at the first nations and provincial levels. These individuals make water management decisions that directly affect large numbers of people and businesses and, in the case of provincial decision makers, are entrusted with the constitutional responsibility for water-resource management. We then identified water decision makers working in these departments/agencies using the first-hand knowledge of experts within the OLW Network and through internet research. In total, we were able to identify 152 individuals we believed were water decision makers in first nations and provincial governments. We then asked these 152 to complete a short, on-line survey regarding their views with the water-related data available to them. In total, we received 18 responses to the survey, a response rate typical for this type of survey.
While our constrained approach has the advantage of being feasible, it does not result in information that is representative of the broader community of water decision makers. The 152 individuals that received the survey link certainly do not represent anything like the entire community of first nations/provincial government water decision makers. Nor do they represent a sub-sample of this community that could be used to draw statistically valid conclusions about water decision makers more broadly by extrapolating from the survey results. Thus, the 18 responses to the survey can be taken only to represent the unique opinions about water data of those who provided them. They do not represent the more generalized views of water decision makers across the country. Nonetheless, the results provide interesting insights into the views of at least some water decision makers.
Overall, the picture that emerges from our survey is one of moderate satisfaction with existing water-related data among the decision makers who responded. On average, the 18 respondents answered 6.1 on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 reflecting full disagreement and 10 reflecting full agreement) when asked if they agreed with the statement, “In general, when faced with a decision related to water-resource management (for example, funding for a stormwater management system or permitting for industrial groundwater extraction), I am able to obtain information of sufficient quality to make a sound decision.” Only 6 of the 18 respondents (33%) answered this question with a rating of 8 or more, which could be taken to reflect a high degree of satisfaction with available data.
The two most common concerns cited by respondents who were not satisfied with the water-related data available to them (those that replied 7 or less on the 10-point scale noted above) were that 1) the data they require are simply not found among those currently available and 2) available data are not easily compared, either with themselves over time or with other types of data. Both these concerns were reported by 42% of dissatisfied decision makers. The fact that data gaps were a top source of dissatisfaction for these users suggests that water data in Canada have quite a way to go before meeting the needs of all. This is consistent with the findings of OLW’s Accessible Data impact measure, which show that only 34% of Canada's 167 sub-watersheds have sufficient data to allow an assessment of their overall health.
Data accessibility, accuracy, relevance, frequency and time-series length were all also commonly cited concerns (mentioned by at least 25% of dissatisfied respondents).
Last updated December 2019