Managing Water and Climate Change in Europe and North America
Edited by Inger Weibust and James Meadowcroft
Chapter 4: Multilevel governance and the politics of environmental water recoveries
In the middle two quarters of the twentieth century, irrigated agriculture expanded rapidly in many parts of the world, including western Canada, southeastern Australia and the western United States (US). Much of this expansion was facilitated by government policies that directed public money towards large scale dam and irrigation project construction, as well as liberal water allocation policies that sought to get as much water as possible into productive agricultural use. By the early 1970s however, the political consensus that had supported the era of irrigation expansion was under significant challenge. The emerging environmental movement, in particular, successfully challenged the construction of many new damming projects and generally worked towards the protection and restoration of riverine environments in irrigation areas. One of their most important efforts in this regard has been their push for environmental water recoveries. Environmental water recoveries are government programs that take water originally allocated for irrigation and reallocate it for environmental protection purposes. While many environmentalists see these water recoveries as essential for creating a sustainable balance between nature and economic production, most irrigators regard them as a fundamental threat to their livelihoods and communities, and both sides have worked to advance their interests through the political process. Due to the federal nature of Canada, Australia and the United States, irrigator-environmentalist conflicts over environmental water recoveries have played out in multilevel political institutions.
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