Managing Water: Governance Innovations to Enhance Coordination

May 16, 2012 | RFF Staff

Water management and governance is one of the most challenging issues we face in the 21st century—both nationally and internationally. Political jurisdictions, state and local boundaries, and public agency mandates were not developed with watersheds in mind. One example is the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (or ACF) River Basin, which flows through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida before draining into Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These three states have been involved in a water dispute for more than two decades. Management purview lies with multiple federal, state, and local government agencies with differing degrees of concern about adequate drinking water supply, agriculture, recreation, habitat conservation, hydropower, navigation, and the sustainability of major shrimping and other seafood industries. Exceptional drought conditions in Georgia have added fuel to these tensions, underscoring the need for new management approaches.

In a new RFF issue brief, “Managing Water: Governance Innovations to Enhance Coordination,” Visiting Scholar Lynn Scarlett outlines how multiplying water challenges are reinforcing the need for coordinated action and prompting institutional innovations to enhance cross-jurisdictional, public–private water planning and decisionmaking. Scarlett points to three main challenges for 21st century water managers—enhancing linkages, adaptability, and collaboration. To address these challenges, Scarlett lays out the principles of a new water governance paradigm, and makes the case for enhanced “network governance,” exploring the application of network governance models in such diverse regions as the Detroit River, Las Cienegas Creek in Arizona, and the Greater Milwaukee watersheds.

Scarlett notes that governance innovations range along a continuum from formal to informal arrangements, but that successful strategies share a set of four key characteristics—accountability and flexibility, public inclusivity, ongoing learning, and mechanisms to facilitate coordination and collaboration. ​