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The Politics of River Basin Organisations

The Politics of River Basin Organisations

Coalitions, Institutional Design Choices and Consequences

Edited by Dave Huitema and Sander Meijerink

Can River Basin Organisations (RBOs) actually improve water governance? RBOs are frequently layered on top of existing governmental organisations, which are often reluctant to share their power. This, in turn, can affect their performance. The Politics of River Basin Organisations addresses this issue by exploring the subject on a global level.

Chapter 4: Designing an agency to manage a wicked water problem: the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board

Denise Lach and Dan Calvert

Subjects: environment, environmental governance and regulation, environmental politics and policy, management natural resources, water, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


Water in the western United States (US) is and has historically been a contentious issue. While many of the country’s largest rivers flow through the western half of the country, much of the landscape is desert or shrub steppe. Even those places with adequate rainfall enjoy a Mediterranean-like climate with dry summers, so almost all agriculture in the west is irrigated from rivers and through pumping groundwater. In an effort to encourage westward expansion in the nineteenth century, water policy was designed to favour the ‘first’ (that is, not Native Americans, Spanish or Mexican) settlers arriving from the east putting water to ‘beneficial’ (only to human) use. Through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, water in the west was used to generate power, irrigate agriculture, provide municipal and industrial water, and transport goods and people across the country. Economic development in the west was tied explicitly to the management of water and these uses transformed the landscape. Regional as well as local organisational structures were developed to manage water and its many uses; state and federal agencies responsible for water management are fragmented across various interests including agriculture, energy production, and water quality. The rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest are also home to several species of anadromous fish – salmon and steelhead (salmonids) born in freshwater streams that spend most of their lives in the ocean and return to fresh water to breed.

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