Sister Watersheds Research Project

Capacity Building in Civil Society for Watershed Management


The Sister Watersheds project (2003-2008) was a research, educational development and exchange linkage between York University in Toronto, Canada, the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and the ECOAR Institute for Citizenship, a non-governmental organization in São Paulo. The project was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Its objectives were to strengthen democratic participation in watershed management by increasing public awareness regarding watershed governance, developing innovative ways of reaching out to local populations, and facilitating exchanges of information and the development of practical public participation strategies.

The project included opportunities for graduate students, faculty, and community members from watersheds which are home to the York University and University of Sao Paulo campuses to visit each other and exchange strategies for democratic watershed governance, within the context of the varying institutional structures in Brazil and Canada. Community members were invited to participate in a range of seminars and public events. Research generated by the project and other information is freely available on this project website.

Project Description

The Bacias Irmãs (literally "Sister Watersheds") Project - Capacity Building in Civil Society for Watershed Management - arose from a partnership between the ECOAR Institute For Citizenship (Instituto Ecoar para Cidadania) in São Paulo, Brazil, and the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), York University, Canada, together, with the University of São Paulo in mid 2003. The full name of the project was "Capacity Building in Civil Society for Watershed Management."

The project's objectives were to encourage the mobilization of ECOAR, USP, and FES to build partnerships with civil society groups and develop innovative methodologies to stimulate public participation in environmental policy decision processes, thus contributing to the improvement and democratization of watershed governance in Brazil and Canada. We focused on three small watersheds where university campuses are located close to low-income communities -- two in Brazil and one in Canada.

The project's objectives also included forging international partnerships in the development of inter-disciplinary environmental education, experience exchange among professors, researchers, and Brazilian and Canadian NGOs.

Student research through the project advanced understanding of each watershed's similarities and differences, water policies and legislation in the two countries, and alternative solutions to local water challenges developed by the universities, civil society organizations, governments, and local communities.

The Sister Watersheds project aimed to develop the confidence and ability of civil society to encourage participation in watershed committees, building on the methods used by ECOAR and by the two universities in participatory projects, where involvement and participation of local community members is fundamental for building sustainable solutions for social-environmental problems in each region. We undertook action research in two sub-watersheds of the Paraná River in the State of São Paulo, the Pirajussara River and the Piracicamirim River, which run through two USP campuses (in downtown S&atidle;o Paulo and in Piracicaba). We also supported student research and internships in the watershed of Black Creek -- a tributary of the Humber River -- which includes York University's Keele campus. International student exchanges allowed 8 Brazilian and 6 Canadian graduate students to conduct research, take courses, and learn about watershed comparisons in the other country.

Brazilian Watersheds

Brazil watershed outset map

Black Creek Watershed

Black Creek watershed outset map