In 1994, the Partners for the Saskatchewan River Basin (PFSB) initiated a study to discern the knowledge and opinions with regards to water and environmental issues concerning people living in the Saskatchewan River Basin in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Since then, the topic of water quality and environmental responsibility has been subject to greater public debate. In 2002/2003, PFSB contracted the Prairie Research Association, Inc., to conduct another study to examine whether residents’ opinions regarding water resource management and the environment had changed. The results of this second study are the subject of Maxwell Ofosuhene’s report, Saskatchewan River Basin-Wide Survey of Residents’ Attitudes Towards Water Resources and the Environment.
Using a slightly modified version of the original 1994 survey, a random sample of 267 Saskatchewan River Basin residents was contacted by telephone to comment on water resource and environmental issues. Among the most important were reducing river and lake pollution, reducing atmospheric pollution, wildlife and fish habitat protection, reforestation and old growth protection, and wetland preservation. Promoting water-related tourism was regarded as the least important issue. There was no significant change from the 1994 study with regards to the importance of pollution reduction.
While satisfaction with water quality increased since the 1994 study, 60% of respondents nevertheless believed that changes in local water management processes were necessary. In particular, improvement to sewage systems was cited as necessary to reduce water pollution. Approximately onethird of respondents did not know who was in charge of their community’s water management. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, only 17% reported belonging to an environmental organization. Additionally, almost nine out ten said that were not well informed about local water issues. Three out of four desired more information on these matters. Indeed, one of the dominant themes of this report was a feeling by respondents that they did not know enough about local water management and environmental issues, but wished that they did, suggesting the importance of greater public education in this area. Examination of the survey data also revealed that education level and gender were more significant than age and length of residence in the Basin for determining level of knowledge and interest in water management issues. Specifically, women tended to rate water and atmospheric pollution as a greater concern than men, while higher education levels was connected with greater knowledge of water management issues. Conversely, respondents’ age or length or residency did not seem to significantly influence views on or awareness of these issues.
Overall, comparisons with the 1994 study suggest more continuities than divergences. Concern with pollution remained high, as did a desire to improve water quality and increase local participation and knowledge in these issues. What seems most important is a greater effort at education and facilitating participation at the local level, to offer residents of the Saskatchewan River Basin an opportunity to take a more activist role in addressing their own concerns.