Collaborative Governance and Stakeholder Participation in the Colorado River Basin: An Examination of Patterns of Inclusion and Exclusion
The Colorado River Basin has a long history of conflict among water users that covet its limited supply. However, with an unprecedented drought and dwindling water supplies in key reservoirs, conflict has given way to collaboration as the strategy of choice in addressing water issues. In keeping with the decentralized management system in the Basin, numerous collaborative venues have been created to address emerging water issues; yet, there is limited information on the pattern of stakeholder participation in these venues. Understanding who is included and excluded from the decision-making process is vital for forging collaborative solutions that are fair, equitable, and balance competing water interests. In this article, we examine the institutional design of stakeholder participation in five formal collaborative venues: Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, and United States-Mexico Binational Forum for the Colorado River Delta. We compare institutional arrangements at two levels, constitutional and collective-choice, which inform the governance and organizational structure of the five venues. We find that while the evolution of institutional arrangements has resulted in the broadening of stakeholder composition over time, there continues to remain unevenness in participation within and across venues. We build on our assessment and conclude by posing process and outcome-oriented questions related to stakeholder participation that will merit further attention if we are to build inclusive, participatory collaborative venues in the Colorado River Basin.