The Role of States in Enabling Adaptive Capacity for Water Governance


Start Date

Primary Investigators
Lisa Dilling
C. Kirchhoff (U. of Conn.)
State governments
Water management agencies

Worldwide water governance failures undermine effective water management under uncertainty and change. Overcoming these failures requires employing more adaptive, resilient water management approaches; yet, while scholars have advance theory of what adaptive, resilient approaches should be, there is little empirical evidence to support those normative propositions. To fill this gap, we reviewed the literature to derive theorized characteristics of adaptive, resilient water governance including knowledge generation and use, participation, clear rules for water use, and incorporating nonstationarity. Then, using interviews and documentary analysis focused on five U.S. states’ allocation and planning approaches, we examined empirically if embodying these characteristics made states more (or less) adaptive and resilient in practice. We found that adaptive, resilient water governance requires not just possessing these characteristics but combining and building on them. That is, adaptive, resilient water governance requires well-funded, transparent knowledge systems combined with broad, multilevel participatory processes that support learning, strong institutional arrangements that establish authorities and rules and that allow flexibility as conditions change, and resources for integrated planning and allocation. We also found that difficulty incorporating climate change or altering existing water governance paradigms and inadequate funding of water programs undermine adaptive, resilient governance.

Kirchhoff, C. J., & Dilling, L. (2016). The role of US states in facilitating effective water governance under stress and change. Water Resources Research, n/a–n/a.

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