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Degrees of change toward polycentric transboundary water governance: exploring the Columbia River and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project

William Jesse Baltutis, Water Innovation and Global Governance (WIGG) Lab, University of Victoria
Michele-Lee Moore, Water Innovation and Global Governance (WIGG) Lab, University of Victoria; Stockholm Resilience Centre


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Complex challenges emerging in transboundary river basins reveal a need to include a range of interests and actors in governance processes. Polycentric governance is one framework that can address this need and inform adaptive and resilient governance processes in transboundary basins as linked social and ecological systems. Here, we explore whether and how nonstate actors might be contributing to a shift in governance toward polycentric systems for the Columbia River (Canada/USA) and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (Lesotho/South Africa). Using data gathered from 60 in-depth interviews, our empirical results illustrate four governance themes relevant to the emergence of polycentricity in the case study basins: authority, flexibility, coordination activities, and information sharing. Although the emergence of polycentricity is limited by existing state-centric governance regimes, these regimes show evidence that polycentric traits are supplementing existing governance systems, influencing policy processes, and introducing a range of management values.

Key words

authority; Columbia River; coordination; flexibility; information sharing; Lesotho Highlands Water Project; polycentricity; transboundary water governance

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087