The formation and viability of a non-basin water management: The US-Canada case

Itay Fischhendler*, Eran Feitelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Despite the much-vaunted advantages of basin-wide management many transboundary water regimes do not conform in practice to the basin-wide scale. This study examines whether a spatial alternative that includes only parts of the basin is indeed viable. To this end the US-Canada case is examined. Two questions are asked: why has a non-basin scale been adopted? And whether this option is indeed viable. The review of the negotiations leading up to the US-Canada 1909 Boundary Treaty, and to the establishment of the International Joint Commission (IJC) to control the boundary water (i.e., only the water that crosses the boundary at the point of crossing), shows that the choice of this scale was an outcome of a deadlock in negotiations at the basin scale. The boundary scale was chosen as it reduced the number of players involved in the decision-making process and, consequently, the political costs of a basin-wide agreement. Inevitably, in the subsequent decades the regime faced challenges due to the discrepancy between its jurisdiction and basins. Perhaps the most severe challenge was posed by the Chicago Diversion that was excluded from the regime jurisdiction. Therefore, the paper focuses on how the boundary scale addressed the Chicago diversion externalities. The discussion of this case suggests that the combination of the flexibility of the regime and its interpretations, the nature of the resource (inter-connected lakes) and the two-way upstream-downstream relations along the borders allowed this challenge to be contained. It seems, thus, that a regime can indeed be set at a different scale than the basin-wide one and still be viable.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)792-804
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2005


  • Basin-wide
  • International Joint Commission
  • Transboundary water


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