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Spatialising agricultural water governance data in polycentric regimes

Faith Sternlieb
Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA; faith.sternlieb@gmail.com

Melinda Laituri
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA; melinda.laituri@colostate.edu

ABSTRACT: Water governance in the Colorado River Basin (CRB) is based on a historical and complex set of policies, legal decisions, and operational guidelines called the Law of the River. Behind the complex institutional structure lies an intricate web of data on water, most of which are hydrogeological in nature. However, we posit that in order to realise sustainable water governance, management efforts must also address data on water governance. Therefore, our central research question is: what is the role of water governance data in water governance, as it pertains to agriculture? First, we lay out the digital landscape and theoretical framework that justify the development of the Colorado River Basin Water Governance Relational Database. Then, we conduct an analysis of water-sharing policies within Law of the River to identify and categorise boundaries. By operationalising a boundary typology in a geographic information system, we found that data on agricultural water governance have little to no current role in water governance due to scale discrepancies, insufficient availability and collection of data, and lack of standardisation. In addition, agricultural water governance in the CRB was found to exhibit polycentric patterns. However, unlike the flexible and adaptive nature of some polycentric systems, polycentric data sets may pose challenges to water governance due to limited information regarding organisational changes, policy developments, and special interests. This study advances the science-policy dialogue in four ways: 1) by emphasising the salience of the data on water governance, 2) by incorporating water governance data in water governance and policy decisions, 3) by demonstrating the value of integrating data types, and 4) by engaging users through geo-visualisation.

KEYWORDS: Colorado River Basin, boundary, Geographic Information Science, relational database, science-policy discourse