Exploring the role of social-ecological network structures in explaining Lake Erie water quality governance

Authors: Meghan Klasic*, Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior, University of California - Davis, Rachel Lamb*, Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, Vanessa Vargas-Nguyen, Marine, Estuarine, Environmental Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Kelsey Leonard, Department of Political Science, McMaster University, Canada
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Water Resources and Hydrology, Applied Geography
Keywords: Lake Erie, social ecological network analysis, water governance, resilience, collaboration, transboundary, United States, Canada
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Wilson A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since the signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Lake Erie decision-making remains fractured across multiple levels of governance. Effective management strategies, that build towards long-term resilience, need to better account for social-ecological system interactions at the watershed level. Using social-ecological network (SEN) analysis to conceptualize the cross-scale relationships between water governance and ecological actors, we explore the underlying SEN structures that exist for decision-making in the Lake Erie western and central basins. Some of our key findings include: [Social] 1. Water managers tend to participate and collaborate primarily within their own level of governance and within their own watershed boundaries 2. Local-level organizations tend to participate in policy discussions when central (higher-level) actors are also present 3. Tribal/First Nation/Métis/Indigenous communities are present but lack a central location in the network suggesting that they are largely left out of the cross scale discussions (lack meaningful collaboration) [Ecological] 1. Ecological actors (in this case, waterbodies) are often discussed at two ‘extremes’: either narrowly (i.e., a 1-mile portion of a tributary) or broadly (e.g., Lake Erie) 2. The level of ecological actor detail relates directly to the level of the social actor; the more local the social actor, the more specific the ecological actor being discussed Our applied approach to Lake Erie governance informs SEN and water resource management literature by unravelling the complex relationships between and among social and ecological actors. Lastly, our analysis of Lake Erie water management can inform efforts to enhance collaboration across multiple levels of governance.

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