History of River Governance in the United States

By Douglas S. Kenney, University of Colorado (USA)

I. Introduction
The most difficult and long-standing challenge in the field of natural resources is the management of transboundary resources. No resource raises as many difficult governance issues than the so-called "fugitive resource": water. Unlike most natural resources, water is innately mobile and elusive, traversing physical boundaries with a seemingly premeditated disregard for the consequences on human institutions. The most obvious type of boundary crossed is geographic; however, the lack of congruence between hydrologic and political regions is only one element hindering the establishment of regionally integrated arrangements for resource governance, as several additional forces unduly fragment water institutions. The perspectives of agencies, congressional committees, interest groups, professional disciplines, political processes, management programs, budgeting practices, judicial inquiries, the media, and so on, are often highly reductionist, providing a formidable and entrenched barrier to integrated regional water governance. When chronic issues of competing values and ideologies are also considered, it is quickly evident why two centuries of research and experimentation have failed to produce a universally accepted institutional model for the governance of the United State’s regional water resources. Designing and modifying governance arrangements to achieve the goals of regional resource management are the common objectives of both river basin and watershed management initiatives—the former term, in this context, referring to large, interstate resources, while the latter term describes smaller, sub-state basins. Throughout most of American history, river basins have been an active laboratory for intergovernmental experimentation; however, in recent years, experimentation at this scale has waned as the watershed, rather than the river basin, has become the hydrologic region receiving the greatest attention. A tremendous variety and number of small (sub-state) watershed partnerships have recently spread across the country, transforming regional water governance through their emphasis on land-water integration, consensus decisionmaking, and participatory government. Despite the similar conceptual nature of river basin administration and the modern "watershed movement," these efforts are often viewed (and implemented) as unrelated activities. In part, this is because water management efforts at these two regional scales have typically featured different objectives—something that is at least partially explained by the timing of the efforts. Efforts at the river basin scale have traditionally focused on the allocation and development of water for regional economic development purposes, while the more recent watershed initiatives typically deal with more "environmentally friendly" goals associated with ecosystem restoration and comprehensive resource management. These differences hide the fact that both types of regional water


management efforts share many common features and raise similar governance challenges. Both practical and philosophical considerations suggest that these two efforts should be more closely coordinated. The following report provides an overview of the barriers and governance challenges associated with regional water management in the United States (US). This historical review is provided to illustrate the progress made in this area, to identify the major components of the unfinished agenda, and to identify themes and lessons that might be applicable to other regions.

II. Governance of River Basins: The Institutional Challenge
River Governance in Theory and Practice
It is widely acknowledged that the effective management of transboundary resources requires a holistic viewpoint and coordinated action (Cairns and Crawford, 1991; Mitchell, 1990). The exact nature of this challenge varies from country to country and region to region, but conceptually, there is broad agreement about the normative ideas that should guide the design of governance arrangements. A somewhat maddening variety of related terms and concepts have emerged to describe a model of resource management that eschews disjointed, incremental and narrowlyfocused decision-making in favor of more integrated approaches (Margerum and Born, 1995). Organized under headings such as “integrated environmental management” (IEM) and “ecosystem management,” these approaches articulate a vision of improved resource governance culled together from ideas across a variety of disciplines: e.g., the biological sciences contributing a focus on systems (ecosystems) and human-environment interactions; economics offering insights into the control of transboundary impacts and externalities; public administration stressing the importance of program integration and coordination; planning and related management sciences emphasizing modes of interaction and intergovernmental decision-making and the importance of multidisciplinarity; and so on. Key recurring themes include the importance of governance arrangements supporting integration, coordination, a systems perspective, multiple objectives, multiple time frames, and the sustainability of environmental and human institutions. Much of this literature is conceptual and normative; what is often missing is an articulation of how this ideal is to be achieved—i.e., how to convert theory to practice. Margerum and Born (1995) suggest this requires a focus on process elements, and specifically, the crafting of arrangements that are inclusive, interconnective, strategic, and goal-focused. In the context of regional water management, these ideas have congealed under the heading of “unified river basin management” (URBM), and later, “integrated river basin management” (IRBM), which in turn is affiliated with the more generic (and recent) 2

terminology of “integrated water resources management” (IWRM) (or merely “integrated water management” (IWM)), a concept inexorably linked to the larger organizing principle of “sustainable development” (SD). The histories, interconnections and nuances of these terms are summarized by many authors (e.g., see Dworsky and Allee, 1981; White, 1998; Turton, 1999; Guruswamy and Tarlock, 2005; Jeffrey and Gearey, 2006). As noted above in the discussion of IEM, the elements of IWRM are diverse, calling for holistic governance across activity areas (particularly water development and management), resources (land and water), outcomes (ecosystem health versus human needs), and process elements (including equity and pragmatic decision-making). Also central is the notion that IWRM should be applied at “catchment” scales: watersheds, sub-basins, and basins. As discussed in the literature (e.g., Jeffrey and Gearey, 2006), and illustrated later in the review of US history, these lofty ideals have rarely been approached, in part due to governance arrangements that fail to embrace the substantive focus of IWRM, and perhaps more importantly, by arrangements that offer flawed or incomplete procedural elements—especially regarding coordination and conflict resolution. One of the latest incarnations of this search for improved arrangements is the European Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000. The Directive calls for an integrated strategy to water governance organized at the scale of transboundary river basins and emphasizing achievement of well-defined environmental protection objectives through processes featuring extensive intergovernmental coordination and public/stakeholder involvement. The new Directive replaces seven of the European Union’s “first wave” directives in an attempt to provide a more coherent and streamlined approach to river governance, and an approach that builds upon positive experiences in basins including the Maas, Schelde and especially the Rhine River. Conceptually, the Directive draws upon ideas well documented in the scholarly literature, and to a lesser extent, reiterates themes from the US experience—such as the recognition that greater roles for stakeholders and the public are desirable as part of water governance. In other respects, however, the Directive emphasizes themes often downplayed in the US river basin experience, including the focus on water quality and environmental health, the reliance on basin management plans, and the central role of economics and economic rationality in decision-making. As discussed later, these ideas have been more actively embraced in the US at the scale of small watersheds, and only recently.

Overcoming Institutional Fragmentation
Only rarely does an opportunity exist to establish new river governance arrangements upon a blank institutional canvas. Rather, the challenge is to transform what currently exists into somewhat that better resembles the normative ideal. Achieving the ideal of integrated governance arrangements for river basins—regardless of the term used to describe it—requires identifying and addressing those factors that promote and perpetuate institutional fragmentation, i.e., the imprecise delineation of authorities and responsibilities for various facets of resource management among different governmental jurisdictions, or among agencies from the same jurisdiction. The establishment of highly


centralized governments or basin organizations is often the advocated solution to this fragmentation, and while this can be part of the solution, this approach can suggest too simplistic and narrow a viewpoint. The reality is that consolidation of bureaucracies into “superagencies” is rarely a practical or sufficient solution to the problems of institutional fragmentation, as this can merely transpose areas of conflict from the intergovernmental/interagency scale to the intra-governmental/intra-agency scale; the underlying conflicts still exist. Additionally, reorganization does little to fill institutional gaps that might currently exist, and does not recognize that the existing fragmentation is at least partially intentional and, for some parties, desirable, as it expresses legitimate differences in values, goals and affiliations within society, and it reflects thousands of past decisions on issues where water was not the primary concern. The existing institutional framework, therefore, is not immutable, but it is almost certainly resistant to change, and often for good, deliberate reasons. Given these considerations, institutional fragmentation is best viewed as a phenomenon to be strategically managed rather than an error to be corrected.

Fragmentation in US Water Institutions: Major Considerations
Water institutions in the US are fragmented by a variety of geographic, intergovernmental, and interagency considerations. Each of these considerations is too complex to be fully detailed here. Nonetheless, an overview of these issues is central to understanding the challenge of overcoming institutional fragmentation in the US, and to distinguishing between those historical lessons that are widely transferable and those which are too US-specific to be of wider applicability.

Geographic Factors and Issues of Scale
The most obvious source of institutional fragmentation in regional water institutions has already been noted: the lack of congruence between governance arrangements (normally delineated by political boundaries) with those natural regions defined by relevant physical processes and landscape features. All rivers in the continental US are either international, interstate, sub-state, or a combination of these regions. In fact, the river channel itself forms part of the state-line boundaries for at least 39 of the 50 American States. Overcoming the resulting fragmentation problems requires reorganizing institutional arrangements at the proper geographic scale, but defining that scale is not a simple matter. In the context of water resources, hydrologic regions defined by topography have traditionally been advocated as providing the appropriate scale for governance and management activities. However, in the modern era, water projects and diversion facilities have breached and interconnected most major river basins in the US and elsewhere, suggesting that management units be defined in terms of hydraulics (e.g., service areas) rather than hydrology (Weatherford, 1990). A related idea is to establish institutional arrangements at a geographic region encompassing a particular problem or functional responsibility of chief concern. This philosophy was clearly articulated by the National Resources Committee (NRC) in its seminal report entitled


Regional Factors in National Planning and Development (1935:vii), which called for administrative regions encompassing the "general coincidence of major planning problems." This construct has since been termed the "problemshed" by Lord (1982) and others. But even this logic has limited utility in resource governance, as factors such as introduced (exotic) species and global climate change continuously modify relevant geographic scales. Ultimately, arrangements that allow for some flexibility in geographic scope are ideal.

Fundamental Intergovernmental Qualities
The manner in which the US is structured creates several types of fragmentation problems associated with competing levels of government (Federal, State and local), branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial), and between the public and private sectors. In water issues, conflicts between Federal and State roles are among the most common. Over time, the US has evolved from a republic of 50 relatively autonomous and equal political States to a hierarchical federation with a strong Federal (national) government. In the realm of water resources, it is the relationship between the Federal government and the State governments that is most significant and contentious. Within their borders, States have important roles in many aspects of water management, such as intra-state allocation of water among users; however, at the interstate scale—the typical scale for large river basins—the Federal government has several key responsibilities associated with commerce, water allocation and development, land management, and environmental protection. The judicial resolution of regional water disputes have been central in the expansion of Federal power, including the interpretation of several key elements of the US Constitution—specifically the commerce and property clauses (Fox, 1964; President’s Water Resources Policy Commission, 1950). These interpretations provide for a strong Federal role in all rivers that are navigable or are tributary to navigable rivers, and those that drain the roughly one-third of the US that has been reserved as public land for purposes such as forest and rangeland management and the preservation of scenic and biologically significant areas. In addition to apportioning power among the Federal, State and local levels, the American political system also allocates decision-making authority within each of these levels among the three branches of government: the legislative, judicial, and executive. Each branch has the ability to influence regional water management decision-making, and in ways that is constantly evolving. At the Federal level, Congress (the legislative branch) historically played the central role, as the authorization of water projects and the subsequent appropriation of development funds were the primary water concerns. Over time, however, the role of the judiciary and the executive branch has grown significantly as economic, environmental, and process-related criteria were injected into water development decision processes that were previously made almost entirely on political grounds, and as management goals such as water quality management and biodiversity protection assumed a more prominent role (Gottlieb, 1988; McCool, 1987).


Within States, the most important intergovernmental consideration is often the effort to balance public and private roles in water resources management. This issue is most intense regarding water allocation (and reallocation) within the western States (Howe and Ingram, 2005). There, “private rights” proponents have historically been successful in arguing that the most efficient mechanism for allocating resources (or the right to use resources) is through a system of private rights subject to legal protection and market exchanges, rather than by subjecting shared resources to bureaucratic control and oversight. Market opponents, meanwhile, argue that natural resources have broad, nonmarket, intergenerational, and systemic values that cannot be adequately appreciated or preserved through a system of private rights. In practice, western water resources are currently controlled by a framework that nests private rights and market mechanisms within governmental frameworks within States, but across State lines (including the large river basin scale), private rights and market mechanisms are largely absent. More humid regions in the central and eastern US have been slow to embrace intra-state water rights and water markets, although private licenses to use water are commonly issued by relevant State agencies.

Interagency (and Intra-Agency) Delineations
In addition to the geographic and intergovernmental considerations fragmenting water institutions, the US water resources bureaucracy is further fragmented by the division of responsibilities and authorities along substantive lines or with respect to different administrative roles, and/or based on competing values and ideologies. Many of the most important natural resource agencies and authorizing statutes are defined in substantive or functional terms, rather than in terms of geography—although each agency has a geographic limit on its scope of authority. Over time, certain agencies have become associated with specific areas; specialization at the Federal level, for example, includes the water supply emphasis of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers, the water quality focus of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the water resource monitoring function of the US Geological Survey. Similar specialization is seen at State and local levels. This specialization is logical in many respects, as it reflects (and is partly derivative of) the narrow focus of many academic disciplines that contribute to resource management, and also derives from the fact that specialized agencies generally often enjoy greater political success than those with a broader focus (Clark and McCool, 1985). Yet, functional specialization discourages the efficient development of regionally integrated policies. In the field of water resources, this is best evidenced by the historically poor job of integrating land and water management programs, water quantity and water quality programs, and policies for the joint control of surface water and groundwater. Specialization (and thus institutional fragmentation) is also seen by arrangements that allocate administrative roles to different agencies. In this context, the term "administrative roles" is used to describe activities such as regulation, system operations, and planning and policymaking. Each of these roles not only requires unique personnel


skills, but places different agencies (and divisions within agencies) in significantly different political situations (Clarke and McCool, 1985). Agencies that provide services—such as providing water supplies—normally develop supportive relationships with the constituencies they serve, while agencies that regulate activities—such as water quality, endangered species, or environmental preservation agencies—often operate in a more adversarial environment with the regulated community. As a consequence, agencies that have both regulatory and service-providing roles for a given resource can have powerful internal incentives to subordinate their regulatory functions. This phenomenon can encourage the creation of independent regulatory agencies, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, to oversee and moderate the behavior of agencies preoccupied with service-providing functions. Again, while this approach is logical on many levels and can help to restore balance to the bureaucracy, it can further fragment decision-making authority and can impede efforts to bring an integrated focus to regional resource governance. Perhaps the least appreciated source of institutional fragmentation involves the presence of incompatible ideologies about what constitutes good public policy and proper resource use. When divergent ideologies form the basis of different agency mandates, programs, and interest group positions, it is extremely difficult to expect any water institution to produce management regimes which are internally consistent and integrated (Feldman, 1991). Given the wide variety of uses and values associated with water resources, it is likely that divergent ideologies will always be among the major sources of institutional fragmentation; nonetheless, processes which encourage the exchange of ideas and the consideration of multiple values offer the promise of increasing the level of holism in regional water management efforts. For this reason, many authors strongly suggest that new institutional arrangements for water management be designed from a "process orientation"—i.e., be designed to satisfy criteria such as public participation, valuepluralism, and democratic decision-making—rather than being constructed to pursue specific predetermined management outcomes (Fox, 1976; Harrison, 1986; Lord, 1984). As noted later, the establishment of processes which are collaborative and inclusive has been the most exciting initial achievement of the watershed movement (Yaffee et al., 1996; Born and Genskow, 2001).

III. The US Experience
The institutional fragmentation currently seen in US water institutions is the product of several decades of incremental, and often uncoordinated, rulemaking. Predictably, several efforts have been made over time to combat the forces that fragment regional water institutions, with mixed success. These efforts have occurred in a wide variety of river basins and watersheds across the country and have taken place in eras exhibiting salient differences in sociopolitical trends. In the following pages, the US experience with regional water management is reviewed over six time periods: (1) early history; (2) the Progressive Conservation era (circa 1890 to 1920s); (3) the Depression era (1929 to 1942); (4) the era of the basin interagency committee (1943 to the early 1960s); (5) the


emergence of cooperative Federalism (1960s through 1980s); and (6) the modern era. Although the exact chronological divisions between these six eras are imprecise, each of these eras features important intergovernmental and bureaucratic trends that distinguish them from other periods in US history.

Early History
Navigation was among the first regional issues to test the intergovernmental limits of the new Republic (Shallat, 1992). As early as 1784, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland had created a Bi-State Commission to investigate the navigation potential of the Potomac River and the possibility of opening a road connecting the navigational networks of the Potomac and Ohio River basins (Schad, 1964). This effort was soon followed by the country’s first major regional water resources report: the Gallatin Report of 1808. This report outlined an ambitious plan for the development of a national system of waterways, a vision that began to be fulfilled with a frenzy of canal building activity in the 1820s (Fox, 1964). Most of the early navigation projects were financed by either private parties or the States, often with disastrous results (MacGill, 1917). In many cases, the scope of these projects proved to be beyond the financial resources of these entities, prompting many parties to advocate a greater Federal role in navigation improvements. This soon happened in many ways. First, in the creation of the US Army Corps of Engineers as the country’s chief engineering body, and later in 1824, in a prominent court decision (Gibbons v. Ogden) and congressional act (General Survey Act) that affirmed a federal role in regulating and promoting navigation (Maass, 1951; Clark and McCool, 1985; Shallat, 1992). Although the 1824 legislation initially limited the Federal role to research and planning, supportive constituencies quickly managed to secure large Federal water development appropriations for navigation projects, mainly on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers (Maass, 1951; Shallat, 1992). By the 1860s, the Corps was active in repairing the damages originating with floods and Civil War battles on the Mississippi and Missouri River systems. Efforts to repair these two river systems and integrate them with the Great Lakes network included important (although fleeting) institutional innovations, including the creation of some of the US's first major regional water organizations in the Mississippi River (in 1879) and the Missouri River (in 1884), an ironic historical footnote considering the eventual failure to logically integrate the development and administration of these two basins (Thorson, 1994). The much dryer and sparsely populated American West was largely uninvolved in the era of canal building and navigation improvements, but nonetheless inherited the legal and political legacy of a strong Federal role in regional water issues. In the West, railroads emerged as the primary transportation system, which did not foster a sense of regional identity in western river basins and is at least partially responsible for the lack of emphasis given to regional governance as the West matured (Teclaff, 1967; Fox, 1964).


The river basin did not become a focus of study in the western US until the Progressive Conservation movement.

The Progressive Conservation Era (1890s to 1920s)
The study of western water resources and institutional arrangements is generally considered to originate with John Wesley Powell's Report on the Arid Region of the United States in 1878, in which he began to formulate ideas about appropriate institutional arrangements for the region. In crafting his "Grand Plan" for the West, Powell was highly influenced by the Hispanic "pueblo" communities and the Mormons, where social organization was largely fashioned around the needs of communities to jointly and cooperatively manage scarce water supplies. Sociopolitical organization on a scale defined by the needs of water management was an idea imported to the New World via Spain and had its origins in the ancient fluvial societies of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China (Wittfogel, 1955; Teclaff, 1967). Writing in The Century in 1890, Powell articulated his belief that the political institutions of the arid West should follow these examples and be organized along "hydrographic" districts. Powell's ideas for linking land and water institutions were considered revolutionary, and largely differed from existing Federal land disposal policies and from the emergence of private water allocation systems in the western States that separated ownership of land and water (Stegner, 1953; Pisani, 1992; Hays, 1959). Powell’s desire to minimize the Federal role in river development was also controversial, and conflicted with those who doubted that the States or private parties could independently raise the capital for river basin development—especially when Federal water development subsidies were soon made available, following up on the national precedent began with the canal building era. The Reclamation Act of 1902, adopted in the year of Powell's death, established the basic framework of the Federal reclamation (irrigation) program and created the Reclamation Service (which became the US Bureau of Reclamation in 1923) to implement the massive effort. The Federal reclamation program was initially designed to feature close executive branch oversight and rigorous financial scrutiny, but quickly evolved into a campaign featuring heavy subsidies and congressional abuses (Holmes, 1972; Wahl, 1989). The remainder of the Progressive Conservation movement was kinder to the ideas of Powell, as the river basin was frequently endorsed as the proper scale for the development and management of the country’s water resources (Hays, 1959; Schad, 1964). In his letter appointing the Inland Waterways Commission in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt asserted that "Every river system, from its headwaters in the forest to its mouth on the coast, is a single unit and should be treated as such" (Inland Waterways Commission, 1908). With this charge, it is not surprising that the reports of the commission (1907-1912) all strongly endorsed the river basin as the proper unit of governance. Water resources management at the smaller watershed scale was also endorsed in theory, but it was the river basin that was the subject of most intense research and experimentation.


Also popular at this time was the notion of multiple-purpose river basin development, an idea that seemed to gain momentum when the Newlands Commission was created in 1917 to provide Congress with plans for the comprehensive development of river basins nationwide (Schad, 1964). However, the idea of an independent Federal commission directing multiple-purpose river development was strongly opposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, who desired a unifunctional focus (navigation) and wanted to retain its central role in water planning (Hays, 1959). Largely due to the Corps' opposition and to a national preoccupation with World War I, the Newlands Commission was quickly de-authorized in the Federal Water Power Act of 1920, which ironically created the Federal Power Commission and assured a strong Federal role in future hydropower development—a key component in multiple-purpose river development. Despite its initial opposition, the Corps’ soon joined with the Federal Power Commission in developing a series of comprehensive river basin development plans known simply as the “308 Reports” (Schad, 1964; Teclaff, 1967). Over two hundred 308 Reports have since been completed. Up to this time, there had been little experimentation with administrative arrangements for regional water development and management. At the sub-state (watershed) scale, the creation of the Miami (of Ohio) Conservancy District in 1914 to pursue a flood control mandate is a notable, but isolated, experiment. Similarly, the national impact of the Federal water organizations established in the Mississippi and Missouri basins (in the 1870s and 1880s) was marginal. The only significant institutional arrangement for river basin administration to have emerged by the 1920s was the interstate water compact— pioneered in the Colorado River Basin (Hundley, Jr., 1975). A water compact is a legally binding agreement among States that apportions the flow among each jurisdiction. Such compacts were often required as a precursor to federally funded river basin development, odd given that the very act of apportioning a river runs counter to the idea of viewing and governing the resource as an integrated unit. Nonetheless, the use of interstate compacts for apportioning rivers and promoting multiple-purpose river development were innovations that proved to be highly popular and were frequently copied nationwide. In the 50 years following the negotiation of the Colorado River Compact, 18 other western rivers were apportioned via the interstate compact process and at least 500 multiplepurpose projects were built (National Water Commission, 1973; Martin et al., 1960; McCormick, 1994). Many of these compacts establish river basin commissions, however, their roles are generally limited to monitoring compliance with the quantitative apportionments.

The Depression Era (1929 to 1942)
On October 29th, 1929, the economic and social fabric of the US was thrown into chaos as the stock market crash signaled the start of the Great Depression. Trends in favor of Federal primacy and regionally oriented river basin development became firmly entrenched during the Depression, as regional water development became an integral part of President Roosevelt's national employment and economic development strategy. With


congressional consent, several New Deal agencies provided the expertise and manpower for this period of intense national water development (Reisner, 1986; Reuss, 1993). By the mid-1930s, the four largest concrete multiple-purpose dams ever built in the US were all under construction: Hoover, Shasta, Bonneville, and Grand Coulee. This level of development did not ease until World War II. The impressive scale of Depression era water projects was matched by an equally fervent and ambitious movement to pioneer new institutional arrangements for regional economic development and water management. The most ambitious of the institutional reforms was creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933. The TVA is a highly autonomous and authoritative Federal regional water agency—the first organization of its type—governed by a three-person board of directors appointed by the President, and epitomizing two of the virtues most forcefully articulated in the preceding eras: regionalism and multiple-purpose water development (Selznick, 1966). The broad mandate of the TVA includes power development, navigation improvements, flood control, and agricultural and industrial development. Soon, efforts were underway to create new “valley authorities” in the upper Mississippi, Cumberland, Arkansas, Wabash, Columbia, Sacramento-San Joaquin, Missouri, Tombigbee, Connecticut, and Merrimack basins (National Resources Committee, 1935; Martin et al., 1960; Teclaff, 1967; Donahue, 1987). The Ohio, Arkansas, Red, and Rio Grande basins were also soon targeted, along with the Atlantic seaboard, northern California, and the Great Lakes. All of these proposals failed, however, as the emerging economic recovery and the preoccupation with the new world war lessened Congress' interest in imposing new forms of governance and redistributing decision-making authority away from existing agencies (Fox, 1964; Teclaff, 1967). Additional expansion efforts over the next 20 years were also unsuccessful; the TVA remains the sole example of this institutional arrangement in the US, although the TVA model has been more popular outside of the country. The creation of the TVA was not only the product of a crisis situation, but was the result of an active search for improved institutional arrangements for regional water governance. The TVA is an endorsement of the idea that river basins should be managed as a unit and that land and water institutions should be integrated (Fox, 1964). Although dwarfed by the attention given the TVA and the valley authority movement, regional land-water integration was being more effectively accomplished in this era by the proliferation of soil conservation districts established under State statutes (enacted between 1937 and 1946) in a national program administered by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service (Clarke and McCool, 1985). Intergovernmental and private-public partnerships at the watershed level for erosion control were highly popular Depressionera innovations that have made a lasting and national impact on small scale (generally sub-state) regional water development and management, and they continue to play an important role in promoting the modern watershed movement. Regionalism was a theme permeating many of the major studies of the day, prompting the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations ([ACIR] 1972:6) to term the


decade beginning with the TVA's creation as the "renaissance of regionalism." This theme was featured in the work of the President's Committee on Water Flow, the Mississippi Valley Committee of the Public Works Administration, the National Resources Board and its Water Planning Committee, the National Resources Committee with its Water Resources Committee, the National Resources Planning Board, and numerous other investigations into water resources development and management (Schad, 1964; Teclaff, 1967; Reuss, 1993). Collectively, these investigations identified several basins suitable for comprehensive development, while the National Resources Committee took the lead in promoting institutional reforms for river governance. Although the Committee endorsed the TVA model as well as calling for additional interstate compacts, the group's primary recommendation was to establish more informal and flexible arrangements, primarily interagency coordinating committees featuring both Federal and State representatives and a Federal chairman (National Resources Committee, 1935). Witnessing the strong bureaucratic opposition generated to defeat the valley authority movement, the Committee correctly anticipated that interagency coordinating committees were the more politically pragmatic institutional arrangement for the future—a future which began in earnest in 1943.

The Era of the Basin Interagency Committee (1943 to 1960)
The inability to create additional valley authorities and other centralized regional organizations across the country was largely due to the opposition of Federal agencies who feared losing bureaucratic turf, autonomy, and decision-making authority to new organizations (Teclaff, 1967; Fox, 1964). Even the small soil conservation districts which began to spring up in the late 1930s were shaped by intense turf battles among Federal agencies working to ensure that the districts maintained a narrow focus and low profile. This bureaucratic opposition also was instrumental in the termination of the numerous Depression era study commissions and committees during the early years of World War II. A more politically palatable approach was the use of basin interagency committees. The era of the basin interagency committee began in 1943 with the establishment of the Federal Interagency River Basins Committee (FIARBC), a group drawing members from the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Army; the Federal Power Commission; and later, the Department of Commerce and the Public Health Service (National Water Commission [NWC], 1973). Five so-called "firebrick" committees were formed by 1950, for the Missouri, Columbia, Pacific Southwest, Arkansas-White-Red, and New YorkNew England basins. The FIARBC vehicle was primarily intended to coordinate the activities of the Federal agencies within river basins and to provide a modest degree of State participation in Federal planning efforts by including State governors (or their representatives) on the committees. Largely similar to the firebrick committees were a wide variety of temporary interagency "coordinating committees" also active in this era, established to conduct river basin studies in specific regions (Hart, 1971). These study commissions were primarily limited to the central and eastern United States; in the West, the focus was primarily on the negotiation of several interstate water allocation compacts.


The literature on the firebrick committees is almost uniformly critical of this institutional arrangement, as the committees had difficulty in truly coordinating and integrating activities, and their relations "with State and local governments were informal and tenuous" (National Water Commission [NWC], 1973:416). The weakness of this approach is that it provided no real incentive for interagency coordination. It was Congress, and not the firebrick committees, who approved or rejected proposed development schemes; consequently, when disagreements arose among the committee's participating agencies, each would simply take their own plans to Congress—a forum where enforceable decisions could be made and implemented. This was most clearly seen in the activities of the Missouri Basin Interagency Committee (MBIAC) (Martin et al., 1960; Maass, 1951; Baumhoff, 1951). There, the Corps of Engineers advocated a river basin plan emphasizing flood control and navigation improvements, while the Bureau of Reclamation proposed a scheme emphasizing irrigation and power production. When the agencies were unable (or unwilling) to integrate the largely incompatible visions, Congress essentially authorized both. The MBIAC proved useful in coordinating the implementation of the so-called “Pick-Sloan Plan,” but the opportunity for meaningful integration had already been lost (Thorson, 1994; Martin et al., 1960). Unfortunately, the experience in the Missouri Basin was not isolated; a similar experience plagued the Columbia Basin Interagency Committee when floods in the late 1940s created momentum for comprehensive development, with the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation pursuing different solutions (Maass, 1951). Ultimately, the FIARBC structure was phased-out, only to be replaced in 1954 by a fairly similar structure overseen by the Interagency Committee on Water Resources. While the true spirit of unified basin planning was not embraced by the Federal construction agencies in this era, they did quickly learn to utilize the rhetoric of basin planning to generate support for additional construction projects (Dworsky and Allee, 1981; Reisner, 1986; Martin et al., 1960). The Bureau of Reclamation proved to be especially skilled in using this political strategy for meeting the increasingly stringent economic feasibility requirements for new irrigation projects. By jointly considering noneconomically justifiable projects along with so-called "cash register" hydroelectric power projects within a single basin plan, Reclamation achieved authorization and appropriations for a long list of projects of dubious economic and environmental merit. This technique was first used in 1942 in the development of the Big Horn River in Wyoming and then applied on a larger scale in Reclamation’s portion of the Pick-Sloan Plan in the Missouri basin. Water development also emerged as the driving force behind Federal programs aimed at the watershed level. Beginning in 1954, the "small watersheds program" of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service encouraged local organizations and State agencies to enter into voluntary arrangements offered by Federal extension agents to receive technical information and Federal financial assistance for projects serving a variety of purposes, including flood control, agricultural water development and management, fish and wildlife enhancement, and municipal and industrial water supply (Holmes, 1979). The nature of the cost-sharing arrangements ensured that the majority of the projects were primarily for flood control, and then only in small upland watersheds—a specialization


needed to avoid destructive turf battles with the more powerful Corps of Engineers (Clarke and McCool, 1985). The failure of Federal agencies to meaningfully coordinate activities and their continued reluctance to encourage coequal State participation in river basin planning, development and management were addressed by numerous postwar study commissions during this era, including the First Hoover Commission (1949), the President's Water Resources Policy Commission (1950), the Second Hoover Commission (1955), and the President's Advisory Committee on Water Resources Policy (1956). Collectively, these committees recommended reforms that would consolidate the numerous Federal water agencies into a single agency or department, establish permanent basin-level advisory committees to focus decision-making at this regional level and to encourage Federal-State partnerships, and create “review boards” to oversee congressional water project authorizations. Very few of the recommendations from any of these reports were immediately or fully acted upon, although they did influence the sweeping reforms that awaited in the 1960s (ACIR, 1972).

The Era of Cooperative Federalism (1960 to circa 1980)
The 1960s were a highly turbulent era in the US history of river basin administration, as many of the dominant trends and assumptions developed in earlier eras were significantly modified in an effort to respond to new water resource concerns—especially the environmental movement—as well as to broader sociopolitical developments emphasizing intergovernmental partnerships and greater public input into decisionmaking. The "era of Cooperative Federalism" begins with the dismantling of the basin interagency committees and with efforts to develop arrangements featuring greater Federal-State cooperation, a reduced policymaking role for Federal water agencies, a greater respect for environmental values, and an attempt to limit the influence of the water development advocates that had become so dominant in previous decades. As discussed earlier and documented in the many commission and committee reports of the 1950s, this movement was fueled by the consistent failure of Federal agencies to effectively integrate their activities. The National Water Commission ([NWC], 1973) attributed the lack of decision-making productivity of the basin interagency committees on their need to achieve unanimity among the participating agencies, since implementation of committee agreements was voluntary. The committees had no independent authority, funding, or staffing, and were simply children of the participating agencies. Due to this need to achieve unanimity among the participating agencies, the committees were ineffective in reconciling separate agency plans and policies, choosing instead to allow Congress to simply layer divergent plans together as was done in the Pick-Sloan Plan. A second criticism working against the basin interagency committees was their subordination of the States in regional water development planning and decision-making processes (NWC, 1973). The congressional recognition of States' rights in regional water resources planning and development had been well articulated by the 1940s, but in


practice the Federal water development bureaucracy offered few opportunities for meaningful State participation in river governance (ACIR, 1972). The inclusion of State representatives in the firebrick committees was a partial solution to this deficiency and an important precedent for Federal-State cooperation in river basin planning; more substantial innovations, however, were considered necessary. Two new and highly distinct forms of river basin organizations appeared in the 1960s as the basin interagency committees finally began to give way to more formal and regionally accountable organizations. The first of the new arrangements was confined to the New England region, where the Delaware River Basin Commission was established in 1961 through the first use of a Federal-interstate compact—an arrangement later duplicated in the neighboring Susquehanna Basin (Voight, 1972). The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and the highly similar Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) are innovative in many ways. One key innovation is their high level of independent authorities, a quality that is derivative of having the participation of the Federal government as both a compact signatory and a full voting member of the commission. Additionally, these organizations are distinguished from most other river basin organizations by their comprehensive scopes, with both organizations having important roles in the areas of water supply management, pollution abatement, flood control, river regulation, recreation, environmental protection, and a variety of other water concerns. It is these features of the Federal-interstate compact commissions that draw the bulk of the scholarly praise; however, the regional water organizations featured in the Delaware and Susquehanna Basin have several other notable qualities lacking in earlier arrangements, including their possession of independent and technically competent staffs, their problemshed orientations, and their reliance on State political leaders (i.e., governors) rather than water bureaucrats for guiding policy decisions (ACIR, 1972; NWC, 1973; Derthick, 1974; GAO, 1981). However, despite widespread praise of the institutional form, the DRBC and SRBC remain the only two examples of regional water management via the Federal-interstate compact vehicle. The second and more nationally significant innovation evolved more directly from the previous era of interagency committees and the associated critiques—particularly those of the President's Advisory Committee on Water Resources Policy (1956) and the Senate Select Committee on National Water Resources (1961). The Water Resources Planning Act of 1965 reformed river planning and governance in several ways, including the establishment of a Water Resources Council (in Title I) to coordinate regional planning, and the establishment of interagency-interstate commissions (in Title II) to coordinate agencies active in particular basins (ACIR, 1972; Hart, 1971; NWC, 1973; Holmes, 1979). So-called “Title II Commissions” were established in the Pacific-Northwest, Great Lakes, Ohio, New England, Missouri, and Upper Mississippi Basins (ACIR, 1972). The commissions featured a mixture of Federal and State members, and were headed by chairmen appointed by the President and not affiliated with any of the participating agencies. The structure and performance of the Title II Commissions and the Federal-interstate compact commissions were analyzed by many organizations, including in reports of the


Water Resources Council (1967), National Water Commission (1973), Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations ([ACIR] 1972), General Accounting Office (1981), and in the academic community (e.g., Derthick, 1974; Ingram, 1973). With few exceptions, Title II Commissions were described as improvements over the basin interagency committees of earlier decades, primarily due to their improved treatment of the States; however, the commissions were not highly praised. A sentiment more commonly expressed was that the Federal-interstate compact commission format, pioneered in the Delaware River basin and copied in the Susquehanna River basin, was the more promising institutional arrangement for the emerging era of water management and State primacy. During the 1970s, while these new organizational forms were evolving and adjusting to their institutional settings, the environmental movement born in the 1960s began to yield the fruit of Federal legislation in a variety of subject areas, including land management, pollution abatement, species protection, and resource preservation (Revesz, 1996). Not only has this body of legislation greatly increased protections for environmental resources and other public interests, but has mandated a greater role for citizens, social scientists, and the courts in all facets of regional water governance. It has also, in some cases, reinvigorated efforts to organize management efforts at relevant regional scales. One example is sections 208, 209 and 319 of the Clean Water Act (as amended), which collectively endorse addressing water quality issues from a regional perspective considering land-water interactions. The modern era of river governance in the US is focused on effects to accommodate these new substantive and procedural priorities.

Modern Era: Evolving Trends in Federalism
Recent decades in the US has seen a variety of trends, not all consistent, that have further modified the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government. To a large extent, this evolution is tied to the ongoing transition of regional water institutions from focusing on water development to resource management. At the highest levels of government, the trend away from Federal primacy continues as Federal-State partnerships (Cooperative Federalism) mature and increasingly give way to arrangements featuring State primacy (New Federalism). In some cases, this situation is not so much a case of transfer of authority or responsibility from the Federal to State level, but the abandonment of Federal leadership and activity, with the presumption that some roles were becoming obsolete (e.g., those related to regional water development) and that the States would step forward where necessary to fill the other voids created. Often, it is local governments and the non-governmental sector that are coming forward, especially at the scale of small watersheds. At the river basin scale, the void that has emerged remains largely vacant. Recent decades have featured a virtual hiatus in the use of Federal study commissions and financing to address regional water issues. One illustration of this was the decision by President Reagan in 1981 and 1982 to terminate the Title II Commissions, the Water Resources Council, and the associated regional planning framework established under the


Water Resources Planning Act (WRPA). The demise of the Title II Commissions can largely be traced to a familiar cause—i.e., their inability to make enforceable decisions, as the power to make substantive decisions was largely retained by member agencies (and by Congress), forcing the organizations to operate using a unanimity rule that was poorly suited to the conflict resolution and regulatory challenges associated with the modern era of environmental management (ACIR, 1972; Gregg, 1989). In some regions, the dismantling of the WRPA framework stimulated new State-oriented innovation, with the most acclaimed example being establishment of the Northwest Power Planning Council, later renamed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) (Volkman and Lee, 1988; Wandschneider, 1984). The NPCC is an interstate compact body comprised of governor appointees from the States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, funded by hydropower revenues, and mandated to manage the inherent conflicts between hydropower production and salmon fishery management in the Columbia River system. Substantively, the Council was charged with preparing a fish and wildlife plan and a regional energy plan in order to guide management of existing facilities and to direct the scope and nature of any future development. From a procedural standpoint, the NPCC was charged with organizing the many competing constituencies, including the basin's fish and wildlife agencies, Indian tribes, power and business interests, and the general public. In the spirit of New Federalism, implementation of the plans emerging from the State-dominated NPCC are primarily implemented by Federal agencies. This governance structure has been widely praised in the literature; Volkman and Lee (1988:577), for example, cite the innovation as descending from “Powell's idea of river basin government, adapted to the realities of State boundaries, and to the possibilities inherent in the new era of water management." Aside from the innovation in the Pacific Northwest, however, the 1980s and 1990s have been relatively devoid of major organizational and policy initiatives in the realm of river basin administration. For perhaps the first time in American history, it is the sub-state (i.e., watershed) level—rather than the scale of interstate river basins—where the most notable institutional experiments and innovations are occurring in regional water management. Efforts to integrate so-called "ecosystem management" concepts into Federal programs, including modern versions of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, have sparked an explosion of scholarly research and on-the-ground experimentation in sub-state regional water institutions (Yaffee et al., 1996). Most significant is the rapid proliferation in the 1990s of various “watershed partnerships” (Kenney et al., 2000; Born and Genskow, 2001; Sabatier et al., 2005). These organizations take many forms, but generally are groups comprised of government agencies (Federal, State and local), landowners, concerned citizens, and interest groups organized at the scale of watersheds, working cooperatively to develop and implement plans to address environmental problems associated with water and other natural resources. In the past 15 years, thousands of watershed partnerships have sprung up across the United States, especially where problems of intergovernmental fragmentation are most evident, where the drawbacks to poorly integrated natural resources management have led to serious environmental problems, and where efforts to solve


environmental problems through regulatory approaches have been ineffective and contrary to social and economic goals. By including a variety of stakeholders and by featuring collaborative decision-making processes, these watershed partnerships are as much a political and social experiment as an administrative strategy. In the new millennium, the flurry of activity at the small watershed level stands in stark contrast to the void of activity at the river basin scale. To an extent never achieved at the river basin scale, the watershed has emerged as the focal point for addressing fundamental issues of resource management and democratic administration, emphasizing many of the ideas expressed a century earlier by John Wesley Powell—including the importance of a regional systems perspective, the integration of institutions for land and water, the link between environmental sustainability and community stability, and participatory government. Perhaps more significantly, the modern “watershed movement” is generally seen as a highly pragmatic response to a series of deficiencies that have plagued US water institutions, namely: • • • • • • • the limited opportunities for meaningful public involvement in decision-making; the frustration with decision-making processes that are frequently adversarial; the lack of decision-making processes and forums focused at physically relevant scales; the lack of incentives and opportunities for creative and flexible problem-solving strategies; the frustration over decision-making processes that are time-consuming and costly; the difficulty in balancing science, local knowledge, and values as part of decisionmaking; and, the need to ensure that decisions actually result in on-the-ground action and the solving of real problems.

Despite the uncoordinated and grassroots nature of the watershed movement, the arrangements that have evolved have skillfully avoided many of the problems that have plagued past innovations in regional governance. One of those problems avoided is agency resistance. Watershed partnerships rarely seek to replace existing bureaucracies, but rather work to coordinate and improve their functioning. In fact, most watershed partnerships have no official governmental mandate or power of any kind, although at least six States offer financial assistance to watershed partnerships that meet certain standards in terms of structure and membership, and it is very common for Federal agencies to provide funding and encouragement to watershed partnerships. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been among the most active proponents urging establishment and use of watershed partnerships (EPA, 1996), and members of Federal agencies are typically among the most satisfied participants in these efforts (Sabatier et al., 2005). Why? Watershed partnerships are frequently viewed by agencies as a mechanism to help them do their jobs and to overcome the policy gridlock that frequently characterizes agency decision-making in the modern environmental era. Also key to watershed partnership functioning is the typical decision to encourage broad membership and to make decisions through consensus, qualities that can seriously limit


the ability of these organizations to tackle highly divisive issues, but which provide participation incentives on those other issues where the primary barriers to progress are inadequate coordination and cooperation across jurisdictions. Prime examples of suitable activity areas are non-point source water pollution management and the restoration of aquatic habitats, areas where a failure to act can trigger punitive regulatory programs—a useful incentive (Kenney et al., 2000). An area generally not amenable to the watershed partnership approach is water allocation (and reallocation), not surprising given the inherently zero-sum nature of the activity. This observation suggests that watershed partnerships, while exciting and innovative, are only one partial solution in the ongoing national search for appropriate regional water governance arrangements, and that the successes experienced thus far by this model reinforce the salience of correctly matching institutional arrangements to governance challenges, a common source of error in US history.

IV. Conclusions
The preceding historical review suggests that the relative inability of the US to develop effective institutional arrangements for the governance of regional water resources cannot be attributed to a lack of interest or effort. To the contrary, regional water resources have attracted a wealth of scholarly attention and, more impressively, intergovernmental experimentation. Yet, few river basins possess institutional arrangements that are widely perceived as innovative, and the small watershed has only recently emerged as an active scale for regional water governance. While it is easy and common to attribute this disappointing track record to those intergovernmental and inter/intra-agency factors that promote narrow and short-sighted thinking, the reality is that the fragmentation of institutions is inevitable in a country that embraces decentralized government and diffused power and that encourages individuals, interest groups, and agencies to pursue different objectives derivative of distinct ideological perspectives and self-interests. Given this context upon which regional water institutions must evolve, it is clear that the expectations frequently placed on these institutions are unrealistically high. It is also undoubtedly true, however, that there is room for improvement. In general, regional water institutions have evolved in accordance with broad trends in federalism, something that is best illustrated by changes in the Federal-State balance of power in regional water organizations over time. Historically, these shifts have been gradual and incremental, however, recent decades (particularly the 1960s and 1970s) have brought more significant transformations. Perhaps more subtle, but equally important, have been changes concerning the processes of decision-making, something closely tied to the transition from a development to a management focus, and in turn to the changing roles among the branches of government. The public faith in agencies and in the ideal of unbiased scientific decision-making that was so central to Progressive and Depression era thinking has eroded over time, as has the key role of Congress in authorizing and funding water projects offering great political benefits but frequently failing to meet reasonable standards of integration and economic rationality. In the


modern environmental era, the roles of the judiciary, regulatory agencies, and the public in water governance have expanded, leading to a new and more complex intergovernmental environment frequently characterized by policy gridlock. Consequently, new governance arrangements are now at a premium, as evidenced by the warm reception given the new watershed framework (Born and Genskow, 2001). Looking forward, it seems likely that the trend toward greater State and local empowerment in regional water management programs will continue, although a significant Federal presence—especially in the West—is likely to continue indefinitely. Better coordination within the Federal bureaucracy is a challenge that is unlikely to wane; at the Federal level, over 25 agencies have some jurisdiction over water resources (Smith, 1995). Nonetheless, a lasting legacy of environmental laws built on Cooperative Federalism and New Federalism ideals suggest that many of the greatest opportunities for innovation and leadership likely belong to State leaders and non-governmental actors, an opportunity that is increasingly being seized at the watershed level. The lack of progress at the river basin scale remains troubling, however, as it is uncertain if innovation at the watershed scale can yield lasting resource management benefits if it is done in isolation to events and decision-making at this larger scale. Surely achieving the lofty goals of integrated management includes institutional arrangements that explicitly recognize the interrelationship between small watersheds, sub-basins, and large river basins, just as certainly as the many interrelationships between branches and levels of government must be considered. In the US, this is a formidable and largely uncompleted challenge, despite two centuries of research and experimentation.


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