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Multilevel Governance and Minimum Flow: The Varying Conservation Outcomes of Water Conflict Resolution

Environment, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-78714-776-8, eISBN: 978-1-78714-775-1

Publication date: 2 May 2018


This paper uses three case studies of urban water conflict in the United States in order to identify and compare solutions. Coupling qualitative data with a unique index of municipal water conservation policy, I examine the different approaches that these three cities adopted in the face of water stress and conflict, as well as the relative strength each approach brought to water conservation. Based on 31 qualitative interviews with water stakeholders in three selected cities (Phoenix, San Antonio, Tampa) and qualitative comparative case histories drawn from newspaper accounts and secondary sources, I find that entrenched conflict over local water resources usually requires action from a higher governing authority, in accordance with theories of multilevel governance. However, multilevel governance is not sufficient to produce strong urban water conservation policies. It is also critical that policy be targeted to meet specific minimum environmental indicators to prevent continued resource depletion. Moreover, a breach of that environmental indicator must trigger some penalty for noncompliance to sustain the resource into the future.




This project was partially supported by the US National Science Foundation for the grant “Water Conservation and Hydrological Transitions in American Cities,” Hydrologic Sciences, EAR-1416964; Division of Earth Sciences. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Brown, K.P. (2018), "Multilevel Governance and Minimum Flow: The Varying Conservation Outcomes of Water Conflict Resolution", Environment, Politics, and Society (Research in Political Sociology, Vol. 25), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 25-44.



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