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Resilience and Water Governance: Adaptive Governance in the Columbia River Basin

Barbara A Cosens, University of Idaho College of Law; Waters of the West Program
Mark Kevin Williams, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Human Right to Water and Sanitation Program, Harvard Kennedy School of Government


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The 1964 Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada is currently under review. Under the treaty, the river is jointly operated by the two countries for hydropower and is the largest producer of hydropower in the western hemisphere. In considering the next phase of international river governance, the degree of uncertainty surrounding the drivers of change complicates efforts to predict and manage under traditional approaches that rely on historical ecosystem responses. At the same time, changes in social values have focused attention on ecosystem health, the decline of which has led to the listing of seven salmon and four steelhead populations under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Although adaptive management is considered one approach to resource management in the face of uncertainty, an early attempt at its implementation in the U.S. portion of the basin failed. We explore these issues in the context of resilience, taking the position that while adaptive management may foster ecological resilience, it is only one factor in the institutional changes needed to foster social-ecological resilience captured in the concept of adaptive governance.

Key words

adaptive governance; Columbia River basin; law, resilience

Copyright © 2012 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