Adapting international freshwater agreements for fish conservation

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Species conservation
Transboundary water agreements
Economic valuation of ecosystem services
Trade-off optimization
Species conservation norms in freshwater treaties
International incidents

International freshwater treaties govern the cooperative use of waters in the world’s major shared river basins but have a poor track record when it comes to species protection. Covering over forty percent of the earth’s land surface, shared basins are highly relevant to biodiversity conservation efforts with most water treaties directly affecting species and their habitats in some way. Using the Columbia River Treaty and the river basin it governs as a case study, I focus on understanding barriers to the inclusion of species conservation in the formulation and implementation of these agreements. An opening chapter illustrates the absence of, or ambiguity regarding, species conservation in the formal texts of the global collection of agreements and describes four contributing barriers: a) complexity avoidance, b) undervalued species, c) poorly understood trade-offs, and d) institutional norms. In the second chapter, I focus on b) using a welfare economics approach to assess the capacity of the Columbia River to provide four ecosystem services derived from salmon. The approach illustrates how non-zero estimates of economic value for a species can be developed in a transboundary river basin. In Chapter 3, I focus on c) by applying multi-attribute utility optimization across salmon conservation, hydropower production, and agricultural irrigation to forecast optimal flows in the Hanford Reach segment of the Columbia River. This chapter shows how, in a simulated environment, optimization can be used to explore alternative transboundary water sharing strategies that balance trade-offs across multiple values. In Chapter 4, I focus on d) using a method called incident analysis to examine a prior conflict between Canada and the US over US efforts to conserve an endangered species of sturgeon. This study provides insights regarding the Columbia River Treaty’s adaptive capacity to respond to evolving species conservation needs.

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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Murray Rutherford
Environment: School of Resource and Environmental Management
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.