Bureau of Reclamation Banner

Western Water Institutional Solutions: Identification, Development, and Application of Institutional Solutions for Western Water Problems

Project ID: 147
Principal Investigator: Douglas Clark
Research Topic: Water Marketing
Funded Fiscal Years: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010
Keywords: None

Project Abstract

The Western Water Institutional Solutions project sought to understand the genesis of water conflict in the Western United States and then, based on lessons learned, prepare a training course for Reclamation employees to help them prevent and manage it. In the early stages, the project conducted focus groups in Reclamation area offices. Most of the cited causes of water conflict were related to change (in policy, in law, in budgeting, in administrative priorities, in climate, etc.), the differences among scientists, and to the mission, legal, and policy requirements and priorities that various institutions and stakeholders were bound to.
Subsequent case studies and analyses of cooperative and conflictive media events found that when social, economic, bio-physical, or political change outpaces the institutional capacity to manage it, conflict is likely to occur. In addition, over time, the frequency curve of events scaled from cooperative to conflictive showed a normal distribution.
In the final phase of this project, training modules were developed based upon what had been learned in the prior research efforts. These training courses, tailored for Reclamation employees, but especially for water managers, focused upon how to move the management of conflict from an entrenched discussion about rights to an earnest discussion about the allocation of needs and benefits throughout the entire water basin under discussion. The final goal was to develop new systems of governance amongst the constituencies capable of allocating these benefits in an equitable fashion. In the process a set of collaborative skills was taught that included active listening, joint fact-finding, management of public meetings, and the like.

Contributing Partners

Natural Resources, Oregon State University
Upper Colorado Regional Office, Upper Colorado Region

Research Products

Independent Peer Review

The following documents were reviewed by qualified Bureau of Reclamation employees. The findings were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Institutional Solutions for Water Resource Conflicts, a Forum for Reclamation Managers: Workshop Summaryu (final, PDF, 166KB)
By Douglas Clark
Report completed on February 27, 2008

Summary of the presentations and interactive activities that took place at the 2007 Reclamation workshop on preventing and managing water conflict. While biophysical factors such as drought, invasive species, and climate change can create an environment conducive to water conflict, especially in the arid West, institutional arrangements can be put in place among stakeholders to help manage or even prevent it.
Keywords: water conflict, cooperation, institutional capacity

The WWIS Network Collaboration: An Analysis of the Social, Economic, and Biophysical Environments Supportive of and the Historic Trends in Conflict and Cooperation in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region 1970-2005 (final, PDF, 2.2MB)
By Mr. Nathan Eidem
Report completed on August 12, 2008

This report examines the relationships between the hydropolitical events, scaled by intensity for collaboration or conflict, and bio-physical and demographic predictors of water conflict. The majority of events were collaborative. Statistical analysis uncovered no significant indicators of hydropolitical intensity. Timeline analysis showed no consistent relationship between drought intensity and conflict intensity. Relations between stakeholder involvement and government level were examined.
Keywords: water conflict, hydropolitical event, time line analysis,

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Water Conflicts in the Upper Colorado Region - Phase I (final, PDF, 45KB)
By Beth Murphy
Report completed on February 16, 2005

This report discusses in detail the water conflicts between Sanpete and Carbon counties in Central Utah, which started in the early 20th century. It also discusses the methodologies involved in creating an event database and analyzing circumstance underlying the conflict. The primary causes of the conflict are discussed as well as the role of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Keywords: price river, carbon county, san pete country, water conflict, scofield reservoir, gooseberry creek, narrows project

Focus Groups on Water Conflict and Collaboration, Upper Colorado Region, September 2006 (final, PDF, 147KB)
By Douglas Clark, Dennis Kubly and Amy Cutler
Report completed on May 16, 2008

This document is a synopsis of visits to Upper Colorado Area Offices to learn what factors typically cause water conflict. Causes of conflict included rapid physical, social, economic, or political change; differences over science; agency inflexibility; an institutional culture that rewards conflict; stakeholder inflexibility; and unenforced and unenforceable laws or policies. Good leadership, inclusiveness, and process credibility were essential for successful management of conflict.
Keywords: water conflict, change, institutional culture

Institutional Solutions for Water Resources Conflicts, A Forum for Reclamation Managers, Workshop Survey Summary (final, PDF, 130KB)
By Douglas Clark and Dennis Kubly
Report completed on May 20, 2011

An electronic survey of Reclamation managers was undertaken to determine the primary causes for water conflict in the US West. Among the top causes listed were changes in water use, intensity of use, and diversity of use. Legal/institutional causes for conflict were more prominent than biophysical causes. When the rapidity of change outstripped the capacity for an institution to adjust, conflict often resulted. Useful tools for managing conflict included public information efforts and GIS.
Keywords: institutional capacity, water conflict, causes of water conflict

This information was last updated on April 24, 2014
Contact the Research and Development Office with questions or comments about this page