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Adaptive water governance, regime shifts, and politics across working landscapes

Authors: Brian Chaffin*, University of Montana, Dirac Twidwell, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Craig Allen, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Alex Metcalf, University of Montana
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Water governance, regime shifts, critical water geographies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Building a more robust understanding of past social-hydrological transitions across human-dominated agricultural landscapes may provide insights into the future challenges of balancing agricultural commodity production with ecosystem function and human livelihoods. Toward this end, interdisciplinary efforts are needed to identify the societal elements and governance strategies that support water governance for productive agriculture and community sustainability. This paper presents a critical analysis of social-ecological regime shifts across the Middle Platte River watershed in central Nebraska, USA. One of these shifts includes a change in water governance from a state-based system of surface water rights allocation, to a hybrid, regional governance system that considers surface and groundwater allocation conjunctively. The creation of Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) as water governance organizations in Nebraska is often billed as an adaptive approach to shifting resource governance to a ‘fit-for-purpose’ bioregional scale; NRDs are often touted as a successful experiment in adjusting water policy to local conditions for improved governance. In reality, NRDs are rife with the politics and power struggles common to any scale of water governance, both within and among the organizations. From an analysis of qualitative interviews with water governance professionals and text-based, archival data (e.g. laws, regulations, and industry or community publications), NRDs are analyzed as units of distributed governmentality; outcomes are evaluated spatially and temporally in relation to this change in water governance as a potential regime shift driven by the need to better account for ‘local context’ including politics, markets, and ecosystem service valuation.

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