POLIS Project and Water Sustainability Committee align efforts to advance the “soft path for water”


UVIC Showcasing - POLIS logo (360p)

Statement of Collaboration

The POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria and the Water Sustainability Committee have formalized their working relationship by signing a Statement of Collaboration. The shared goal is to influence practitioners (professionals and other) whose vocations deal with impact upon water issues. The intent is that this influence will shift practice in British Columbia to address water resource management as an integral part of land use and landscape (re)development. The POLIS-WSC partnership will link practice with theory and in turn inform theory with practice.


POLIS is an NGO (non-government organization) and an ecology-based public policy think tank situated at the University of Victoria.

  • It was established in the 2000 with a mission to cultivate ecological governance through innovative research and policy advocacy.
  • As an organization, it consolidates the diverse research projects being conducted under the auspices of the Eco-Research Chair of Environmental Law and Policy (ERC) since 1995.
  • In 2003 POLIS began an urban water demand management project. This project has produced a comprehensive national water sustainability platform based on conservation and demand management.
  • Beyond producing detailed reports the project team is involved in variety of outreach and targeted advocacy initiatives to re-orient the legal and policy environment towards one focused on water conservation and sustainability.

The mission of POLIS is to understand the structure and dynamics of water use (with an initial emphasis on the urban environment), and to provide mechanisms to help reorient Canadian water management from supply to demand-side approaches. In the context of ‘Governance for Innovation’, a term that promotes the adoption of innovative and alternative solutions, the UWDM project intends to develop a comprehensive legal and policy framework; as well as decision making tools that are of national and regional significance. This will be achieved through:

  • An examination of urban water issues in Canada, including a survey of ‘best practices’ in demand side management (DSM) both in both Canada and abroad.
  • The development of water policy decision making tools that promote model pricing, long term integrative planning, new allocation models and regulatory mechanisms to manage urban water demand; and
  • The creation of a national network of experts and others interested in DSM to contribute to, and utilize, these models as a practical tool for policy and institutional change.

The present focus of POLIS’s efforts is on innovative solutions and new models for water sustainability. This initiative fits under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan; and can therefore inform Provincial policy.


Water management can be viewed on a continuum (or spectrum) that includes three distinct approaches: supply-side, demand management, and the ‘soft path’. There is a growing awareness of the need to talk in these terms. Furthermore, this awareness is helping to focus attention on what practitioners can do to turn ideas Oliver Brandes_2006_120pinto action. According to Oliver Brandes of the POLIS Project, “Because a spectrum of water management approaches exists, it is important that we move along it – especially if we are going to take sustainability seriously.”

At one end of the spectrum, supply-side approaches seek to increase the capacity to withdraw water through large infrastructure such as dams, reservoirs, pumps and pipelines. At the other end of the spectrum, a ‘soft path’ for water takes the management approach beyond traditional concerns to consider how we might redesign the underlying human systems that determine demand and our approach to supply.

A ‘soft path’ for water moves away from ‘forecasting’ the future by simply extrapolating from the past.  Instead it relies on ‘backcasting’ – a planning approach based on a future scenario that integrates human needs within ecological limits.  After determining what water might be available (ecologically), planners then work backwards to find feasible paths to meet long-term social and economic needs.  To reach a sustainable future, the soft path relies on policies and programs that change behaviour and promote greater water productivity.