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Sharing water across boundaries in the Colorado River Basin: mapping agricultural policies, data, and perspectives




Sternlieb, Faith, author
Laituri, Melinda, advisor
Waskom, Reagan, committee member
Mumme, Stephen, committee member
Heikkila, Tanya, committee member

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Emerging institutional arrangements that incorporate water sharing indicate changes in both the political and environmental climate in the Colorado River Basin (CRB). These arrangements are geographically taking shape at the intersections of hydrologic, political, and sectoral boundaries. Water sharing arrangements (WSAs) foster an array of relationships between institutions and between actors and organizations responsible for designing and administering rules and policies, where the agricultural (Ag) sector is at the center of these arrangements. Water sharing provides a means to better understand different types of overlapping boundaries, contributing to new theories and methodologies about changes in governance. Therefore, the culmination of this research seeks to answer the question: what is the role of boundaries in water sharing arrangements and their potential contribution to agricultural water governance in the Colorado River Basin? This dissertation presents three boundary studies of WSAs in the CRB, illuminating changes in governance related to increasing the legal and political capacity to share water under stressed conditions. A political boundary analysis shows emergent patterns in Ag water governance, patterns which resulted from a boundary typology incorporating physical, political, and sectoral boundaries. The boundary typology was applied to the other two studies: a geospatial analysis of water sharing arrangements and a case study in the CRB through interviews with farmers and Ag water managers of Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) projects. A geospatial analysis provides the necessary arena to geovisualize Ag water governance through the introduction of governance layers. Governance layers are defined by two key components: (a) mandated or naturally occurring geographic boundaries and (b) decisions made based on those boundaries. The third study tests the application of the boundary typology and its innate connection to scale to better understand the geographic perspectives of farmers regarding changes in Ag water governance, especially as they relate to WSAs in the Basin. The focus of the interviews is on the USBR, specifically to better understand whether the USBR inhibits or encourages water sharing across hydrologic, political, and sectoral boundaries. Together these three studies demonstrate the importance of hydrologic, political, sectoral, and other boundaries in collective and individual decision-making by agricultural water users, irrigation districts, the state, and the federal government about water management for agriculture across the basin. In addition, boundaries, whether bonafied or fiat, can be spatialized, or localized in space. Finally, just as space is integral in understanding agricultural water governance, so is place, such as the places that support agriculture. Places throughout the CRB are changing. The boundaries that define place are shifting, making way for new opportunities like the water sharing arrangements that have revolutionized an aging system.


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geographic information systems
geopolitical patterns
agricultural water governance
boundary typology
U.S. West


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