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Adaptive groundwater governance and the challenges of policy implementation in Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain aquifer region

Margaret V. du Bray
Augustana College, Rock Island, IL, USA; megdubray@augustana.edu

Morey Burnham
Idaho State University, Stop, ID, USA; burnmore@isu.edu

Katrina Running
Idaho State University, Stop, ID, USA; runnkatr@isu.edu

Vicken Hillis
Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA; vickenhillis@boisestate.edu

ABSTRACT: Globally, groundwater overdraft poses significant challenges to agricultural production. As a result, it is likely that new water management policies and governance arrangements will be needed to stop groundwater depletion and maintain agricultural viability. Drawing on interviews with state and non-state water managers and other water actors, this paper provides a study of a recent resource management agreement between surface water and groundwater irrigators in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer region of Idaho. Using adaptive governance as our descriptive framework, we examine how groundwater governance arrangements emerge and are applied to mitigate the impacts of groundwater overdraft. Our findings suggest that adaptive governance, while not a stated goal of the agreement, may enable flexible and sustainable social and ecological outcomes. Our findings also indicate that this new governance arrangement creates a vacuum in enforcement authority that may prove challenging as the management agreement is implemented. These findings extend our understanding of the conditions necessary for effective adaptive governance of groundwater resources, and highlight the challenge of creating capacity for local resource managers as governance shifts from more bureaucratic to adaptive and decentralised arrangements.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater governance, adaptive governance, irrigated agriculture, US West, Idaho