Regional Sustainability Assessment: Improving Collaboration And Coordination Across Watershed Plans In The Spokane River Basin
Whitman, Kara Michelle
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Local watershed and aquifer planning has come about as a result of the recognition that solutions to local problems needed to be discovered and implemented by those who are most affected. In large basins with multiple sub-watersheds, this approach can lead to upstream-downstream tension if the planning processes are not coordinated. Regional Sustainability Assessment (SA) builds upon shared regional goals and promotes sustainability through collaboration. By sharing a single "language of sustainability," sub-basins can begin to bridge cultural and values based differences and promote generative dialogue while still maintaining local identities. This research provides insights into the application of SA at the regional watershed scale through the development of a watershed plan sustainability analysis method. This method was used to assess four watershed and aquifer plans of the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie (SVRP.) The sustainability analysis revealed several significant findings. First, the planning groups of the SVRP all envision a sustainable future for the basin; however, the comprehension and integration of sustainability criteria is different for each plan. In addition, conservation and efficiency are a main focus basin-wide; implementation strategies will need to pair conservation and efficiency with adaptation and innovation to ensure a sustainable future. Finally, despite efforts to improve coordination and collaboration in the SVRP, little headway has been made in bridging the divide between the units, particularly across state lines. I offer three recommendations to the SVRP planning units as they move into plan implementation including 1) increased collaboration, 2) increased synthesis of system synergies within the SVRP and holistically incorporate human constructs and ecosystem services and their interactions to facilitate basin wide sustainability, and 3) incorporation of all aspects of socio-ecological sustainability by implementing a regional SA. Ultimately, early introduction of SA in projects, policies and planning will support mutually supportive gains in all areas of sustainability and avoid or eliminate negative impacts to the environment, the economy or to society. Planning units need to recognize that adaptation of SA over time is an iterative process; it takes time, resources, creativity and collective responsibility for society and the environment.