Political Fragmentation in Local Governance and Water Resource Management

Although many researchers have observed that institutional setting is critical in resource management, little is known about how the structure of local governance facilitates or inhibits land and water resource management and thereby affects ecological systems. Does disaggregated local governance that enhances local autonomy have a positive effect on resource management and planning? Or does political fragmentation tend to induce destructive interjurisdictional competition over resources? Under what institutional circumstances can favorable management outcomes be achieved? This exploratory research project will analyze land-use changes and shifts in water quantity and quality in the Interior Plains, the largest physiographic division in the U.S., where a large degree of heterogeneity in political fragmentation exists. Focusing on the Interior Plains of the United States, the investigators will empirically examine the influence of institutional settings on the effectiveness of water resource management, with special attention given to political fragmentation in local governance. The project will be conducted in three phases. In the first phase, the investigators will measure political fragmentation in local governance at both regional and 12-digit watershed scale levels using a variety of metrics. In the second phase, they will analyze land-use changes using an econometric approach, with explicit consideration given to political fragmentation. In the third phase, they will investigate how the relationship between land use and water quality and quantity varies with the degree of political fragmentation.

This project is expected to shed light on the critical connections between institutional arrangements and natural resource systems. A better understanding of these connections will facilitate more meaningful and constructive dialogue about the structure and nature of communities and their collective actions. The project will produce tangible outcomes, such as an integrated georeferenced database designed to enable empirical analysis of the institutional structure, land use, water resources, and their linkages. This database will be a useful resource for a wide range of future relevant studies across scales of decision making. Furthermore, the research findings will contribute to development of more effective and complete planning and resource management practices in the large study area and neighboring regions. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

Lead Investigator: