Studies of governance have focused on the interactions among diverse actors while implicitly recognizing the role of power within those relationships. Explicit power analyses of water governance coordination are needed to better understand the conditions for and barriers to sustainability. I therefore utilized a novel conceptual framework to analyze vertical and horizontal governance, along with power, to address how governance interactions affect water sustainability in terms of (1) interactions among governance actors across local to state levels; (2) coordination among actors at the local level; and (3) the exercise of power among assorted actors. I adopted a qualitative case study methodology that involved triangulating interview transcripts, policy documents, and other data in the case study area of Prescott, Arizona.
Across governance scales, my analysis found that informational and contentious interactions occur around water management plans, groundwater withdrawal fees, and growth debates due to the stipulations of Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act. Locally, municipalities in different groundwater basins coordinate by pooling resources for water development due to shared growth visions. However, municipalities within the same groundwater basin are divided in their pursuit of the state-mandated goal of safe yield due to discontent arising from differing growth visions, libertarian values of water control, and unequal responsibilities among actors in conserving water or monitoring use. Finally, local and state actors exercise power through litigation, legislation, and political processes to pursue their interests, thereby limiting coordination for water sustainability.
My explicit analysis of power reveals that coordination occurs not just because of water policies but due to interest-based water narratives (growth and libertarian). The emphasis of growth proponents on supply augmentation and libertarian opposition to regulations pose significant barriers to water sustainability. Successful policy-based pursuits of water sustainability will, thus, require an acknowledgment of these management asymmetries and commitments to addressing them.