Cumulative effects (CE) monitoring is foundational to emerging regional and watershed CE management frameworks, yet monitoring is often poorly integrated with CE management and decision-making processes. The challenges are largely institutional and organizational, more so than scientific or technical. Calls for improved integration of monitoring with CE management and decision making are not new, but there has been limited research on how best to integrate environmental monitoring programs to ensure credible CE science and to deliver results that respond to the more immediate questions and needs of regulatory decision makers. This paper examines options for the integration of environmental monitoring with CE frameworks. Based on semistructured interviews with practitioners, regulators, and other experts in the Lower Athabasca, Alberta, Canada, 3 approaches to monitoring system design are presented. First, a distributed monitoring system, reflecting the current approach in the Lower Athabasca, where monitoring is delegated to different external programs and organizations; second, a 1-window system in which monitoring is undertaken by a single, in-house agency for the purpose of informing management and regulatory decision making; third, an independent system driven primarily by CE science and understanding causal relationships, with knowledge adopted for decision support where relevant to specific management questions. The strengths and limitations of each approach are presented. A hybrid approach may be optimal-an independent, nongovernment, 1-window model for CE science, monitoring, and information delivery-capitalizing on the strengths of distributed, 1-window, and independent monitoring systems while mitigating their weaknesses. If governments are committed to solving CE problems, they must invest in the long-term science needed to do so; at the same time, if science-based monitoring programs are to be sustainable over the long term, they must be responsive to the more immediate, often shorter term needs and CE information requirements of decision makers. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2018;14:407-417. © 2018 SETAC.
Keywords: Athabasca; Cumulative effects; Decision making; Environmental assessment; Environmental monitoring; Watersheds.
© 2018 SETAC.