- Levelling the Lake: Transboundary Resource Management in the Lake of the Woods Watershed by Jamie Benidickson
Jamie Benidickson's Levelling the Lake: Transboundary Resource Management in the Lake of the Woods Watershed is a deep dive into a complex area defined by borders (both hydrological and political). Surveying the last half of the nineteenth century to the present, Benidickson unravels this complicated story of resource management in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods area, which spreads across northwestern Ontario, southeastern Manitoba, and northern Minnesota (including the border jog referred to as the Northwest Angle).
One of Canada's leading environmental law scholars, Benidickson has made a career of writing about Ontario's water. Part of ubc Press's Nature/History/ Society series, this book can be characterized as environmental, legal, policy, and institutional history. The central focus of Levelling the Lake is the history of environmental governance, chiefly on the Canadian, and Ontario, side of this watershed. The narrative moves back and forth between different places and scales: Kenora and Fort Frances, Queen's Park and federal Cabinet meetings, corporate boardrooms, and International Joint Commission (ijc) deliberations. This inquiry required research in multiple archives as well as the use of printed primary sources such as court cases and ijc reports. Benidickson manages to delineate the overlapping jurisdictions and policies while simultaneously weaving together various sectors that are often ignored or compartmentalized by authors attempting research projects at similar scales: hydropower, water levels, pollution, fisheries, mining, recreation, forestry, pulp and paper, and so on.
After the introduction, the first chapter covers the initial confusion surrounding political boundaries, Treaty 3, and natural resources. Subsequent chapters focus on fisheries, mining and forestry, and water rights. Winnipeg tapped Shoal Lake in the early twentieth century for its public water supply. The Norman Dam, built in 1924–5 near Kenora, and the 1925 Lake of the Woods Convention, gave rise to questions about riverbed and lakebed ownership, the concept of "dependable flow," and debates about "natural" versus "normal" lake levels. The establishment of other transboundary governance mechanisms are also considered, including the Rainy Lake Convention of 1938 and the International Rainy River Water Pollution Board of 1965.
The Quetico-Superior forests, which have played a prominent role in past wilderness debates in both Canada and the United States, are addressed at various points, especially chapter 9. Benidickson brings his expertise to bear on water quality issues, including water security (chapter 10). Iron mines at Steep Rock and the Atikokan coal plant receive their due, as does the establishment of the Experimental Lakes Area. Another chapter delves into the infamous mercury contamination, and its ongoing legacy, at the White Dog and Grassy Narrows reserves. A later chapter turns to more contemporary fishing issues, continuing the earlier discussion of the tensions between sport, commercial, and subsistence fisheries and how pollution, dams, and borders affected all of these issues. [End Page 667]
Because of cross-border entanglements, the ijc was frequently invoked. The Lake of the Woods was one of the areas where the ijc recently pioneered its use of watershed boards, and the last few decades have seen ecological improvements in various sections; nonetheless, the author concludes that resource governance in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods area remains fragmented overall. Straddling a number of geographic and thematic borders, the resource issues in Levelling the Lake also frequently involve First Nations. Benidickson looks at government-First Nations legal and political relations from the perspective of the state (chiefly, the federal and Ontario governments). In addition to Winnipeg's aqueduct to Shoal Lake and mercury contamination in the watershed, this includes fishing and harvesting rights. Many chapters probe difficult questions about how governments sought to reconcile sustainability goals, economic development, and treaty rights.
Levelling the Lake painstakingly peels back the various layers and imprints that make up the palimpsest of overlapping and contested boundaries in this region. Benidickson is an ideal interlocutor, teasing out the strings of intertwined claims and histories in ways that shed light...