The patchwork governance of ecologically available water: A case study in the Upper Missouri Headwaters, Montana, United States


Institutional authority and responsibility for allocating water to ecosystems (“ecologically available water” [EAW]) is spread across local, state, and federal agencies, which operate under a range of statutes, mandates, and planning processes. We use a case study of the Upper Missouri Headwaters Basin in southwestern Montana, United States, to illustrate this fragmented institutional landscape. Our goals are to (a) describe the patchwork of agencies and institutional actors whose intersecting authorities and actions influence the EAW in the study basin; (b) describe the range of governance mechanisms these agencies use, including laws, policies, administrative programs, and planning processes; and (c) assess the extent to which the collective governance regime creates gaps in responsibility. We find the water governance regime includes a range of nested mechanisms that in various ways facilitate or hinder the governance of EAW. We conclude the current multilevel governance regime leaves certain aspects of EAW unaddressed and does not adequately account for the interconnections between water in different parts of the ecosystem, creating integrative gaps. We suggest that more intentional and robust coordination could provide a means to address these gaps.



water policy, water law, governance gap, fragmented governance, drought


Cravens, Amanda E., Julia B. Goolsby, Theresa Jedd, Deborah J. Bathke, Shelley Crausbay, Ashley E. Cooper, Jason Dunham et al; 2023. “ The Patchwork Governance of Ecologically Available Water: A Case Study in the Upper Missouri Headwaters, Montana, United States.” JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association 00 (0): 1–21.
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