Facilitators and barriers to sustainable water governance in three Colorado River Basin cities

Authors: Abigail Sullivan*, Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State University , Dave White, Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Urban Geography, Sustainability Science
Keywords: water; cities; Colorado River; institutional analysis; governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Bourbon Room, Astor, Mezzanine
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Agriculture, industry, and millions of households in the western United States depend on Colorado River water. However, the Colorado River Basin is facing increased water shortages due to droughts intensified by climate change and water allocation issues magnified by increasing demand. Past research has discovered collective action and cooperative governance of the Colorado River will be key to solving allocation issues and achieving sustainable water use. There have been numerous calls to implement these cooperative approaches and integrate governance efforts within the basin, but further research is needed to better understand how patterns of actor relationships influence the success or failure of implementing these solutions. This research employs an institutional analysis, using the general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems, of policy documents and public records of drought contingency planning in Denver, Las Vegas, and Phoenix to explore patterns of interaction in water governance in the lower Colorado River basin. The analysis addresses how different practices and city characteristics may facilitate or constrain collective action in the context of existing guidelines for sustainable natural resource governance and highlights differences across the cities. Preliminary results suggest that existing rules may constrain collaborative efforts within the Colorado River basin, but that redefining norms related to inter-actor relationships and making actors’ values transparent could facilitate increased cooperation between cities and states.

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