Eve Vogel

University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, MA 


Eve Vogel is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her research focuses on the human- environmental dynamics and histories of rivers. In particular, she is interested in river governance institutions and policy, and their interaction with wide ecological and social processes and needs. Much of her work has focused on the Columbia River system and on the management history of that regional river basin. Her new project focuses on the Connecticut River.


The Long-Term Consequences of Trans-Jurisdictional River Basin Governance: Anti-Democratic Unity, Fragmentation and Failure, or Parceling out the Watershed

Many hope that hydrological governance territories (watersheds and river basins) can overcome problems of inter-jurisdictional fragmentation and conflict, with positive impacts on democratic participation, social benefits, and environmental sustainability. This paper builds from initial literature reviews and research on the Columbia and Connecticut River basins to evaluate that claim historically. It uncovers three ways in which hydrologically-defined institutions have interacted with existing jurisdictions over the last 50-75 years.

First, river basin institutions have sometimes overcome jurisdictional fragmentation and political demands. However, they have then often escaped democratic accountability, occasionally with disastrous social and environmental results. Second, conventional jurisdictions have continued to be the most important venues for political challenge and sources of legal authority. In these cases, river basin institutions have been weak, short-lived, or both. Third, some river basin institutions have survived over many decades, gaining their own political-geographical organization and constituencies while retaining support from traditional jurisdictions. These have had to meet claims from jurisdictional spaces by managing their river to maximize distributable benefits and by parceling out these benefits to their jurisdictional constituents and territories. The paper concludes with an examination of the benefits and costs of each approach.

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