PECS # 44: Can Collaboration Save the Colorado River? with Elizabeth A. Koebele

Abstract:
Collaborative governance has become a ubiquitous approach to water management given its core goal of convening diverse policy actors to collectively manage common problems than span sectors and jurisdictions. However, as watersheds face dynamic socio-environmental stressors, collaborative processes cannot remain static — they must evolve over time in order to meet their goals under changing conditions. Understanding how collaborative processes and their policy outputs evolve is therefore critical for assessing the effectiveness of collaboration as a water governance strategy. In this seminar, I will utilize the Colorado River Basin, located in arid western North America, as a case study to examine the evolution of collaborative governance. Despite a history of deep conflict, the Colorado River Basin has been praised for growing increasingly collaborative over the last quarter century; however, multiple decades of drought and trends toward permanent aridification continuously threaten its water sustainability, forcing ongoing governance evolution. Moreover, the Basin is currently in a critical moment for redefining how actors can collaborate to better manage its water resources in the coming decades, making such an assessment of past governance particularly timely. Drawing on findings from several studies using multiple data collection and analysis methods, I suggest how collaboration has influenced the Basin’s ability to solve collective water sustainability problems, where it has fallen short, and how it can be better leveraged to address system-level challenges going forward. This analysis provides initial insight into how and why collaborative governance processes evolve and with what effects on socio-environmental outcomes at several scales. 

Bio:
Elizabeth A. Koebele, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Koebele holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as B.A.s in English and Education from Arizona State University. She researches and teaches about water policy and management in the western United States, with a particular focus on understanding the systemic impacts of collaborative decision-making processes on Colorado River Basin governance. Dr. Koebele’s work has been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others, and she has published her findings widely in both public policy and interdisciplinary environmental science journals. She also co-edits the scholarly journal Policy & Politics.