Pushing the Boundaries: a study of conflicts and conflict resolution in interstate river basins


Tanya Heikkila - Columbia University  


Abstract: In transboundary river basins, the interaction of water users and jurisdictions across multiple scales of governance can lead to conflicts. While an extensive body of literature on common pool resources (e.g. river basins, forests, fisheries) has examined how institutional arrangements can effectively address resource management dilemmas, this literature often focuses on a single level of governance. This research seeks to classify the types of conflicts that arise in transboundary river basins and identify the mechanisms that support the resolution of conflicts in cross-scale institutional settings. The data for this research comes from a longitudinal study of 15 interstate river basins in the western U.S. governed by interstate compacts. The compacts themselves provide multiple mechanisms for resolving disputes, ranging from compact commissions, to meetings of states water directors, to mediation and arbitration. A variety of other institutional arrangements also exist in these river basins for addressing conflicts including legislative processes, state courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, and informal discussions. In exploring transboundary conflicts and their resolution, the study aims to further develop institutional theories of common pool resource governance, as well as provide policy insights on the institutional mechanisms that can resolve water resource disputes.