Resilience, Governance, & Food/Energy/Water Policy in the Klamath River Basin, USA

101 Becker Communication Studies Building
Friday, September 28th, 2018
Photo of Klamath River

The PPC is happy to support this Kohn Colloquium with Brian Chaffin, Assistant Professor of Water Policy at the A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation at the University of Montana.

The Klamath River Basin straddles northern California and southern Oregon and has been the locus of a century-long struggle for community stability and ecosystem function in a system of over-allocated water resources. Along the Klamath River, multiple hydroelectric dams and extensive irrigation infrastructure have created economic and community dependence on irrigated agriculture as well as severely reduced aquatic habitat for the multiple endangered and threatened species in the basin. Recently, however, the communities of the Klamath Basin have worked together in an effort to transform food-energy-water management to promote greater resilience for both human populations and aquatic species, and to comply with both social and cultural demands on water and with laws such as the Endangered Species Act. The narrative of struggle for identifying tradeoffs between food, energy, and water in the Klamath Basin highlights many issues that are common to resource scarcity challenges across the western U.S., including the need to: build trust across conflicting interests; promote and share real-time data about water use and availability; and better understand the coupled functions of the social, ecological, and hydrologic system.

In this talk, Dr. Brian Chaffin from the University of Montana will discuss social science research he has pursued in the Klamath Basin since 2011. Dr. Chaffin will discuss the conflict over water in the Klamath Basin from both historic and contemporary perspectives, as well as present key social and cultural changes that have occurred among basin stakeholders in the past decade that are leading to new approaches to food-energy-water management. Dr. Chaffin’s talk will focus on the Klamath case in the context of changing climatic and legal availability of water and implications for local agricultural production, cultural practices, and energy demands.

About Brian Chaffin:

Water runs through each of our lives as a resource necessary to sustain human life—but I like to think that I have come to know water more intimately through my research and teaching. From over a decade of experience working as a wilderness river guide, a river ranger for the U.S. Forest Service and as a research assistant charged with critically examining the effectiveness of watershed groups in the Pacific Northwest, I bring practical, academic and public service experiences in water policy research and management to the Department of Society and Conservation. Most recently I worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Risk Management Laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency examining the role of green infrastructure (bio-infiltration) in mitigating violations to the Clean Water Act in major U.S. cities. My current teaching and research at UM rests at the confluence of water resources policy and influences from an ever-increasing body of research and practice on collaborative processes for conservation.

My research is focused generally on the interaction of the Endangered Species Act and the U.S.-Tribal trust responsibility, as well as the influences these policy doctrines have on water rights and water management regimes under changing climate scenarios in the U.S. West. Much of my work is theoretically framed through the lenses of complex systems, social-ecological resilience and adaptive water governance. My empirical research agenda is centered around an ongoing series of river basin assessments aimed at uncovering the effects of current water policies and politics on both vulnerable water supplies and vulnerable populations. I am specifically interested in the increasing phenomenon of dam removal in the U.S. and the contexts of governance that facilitate this type of social-ecological transformation. I look forward to teaching NRSM 422 (Natural Resource Policy) and NRSM 495 (Water Policy in the American West) during the spring semester 2016, and offering the graduate-level NRSM 595 (Adaptive Water Governance) during fall semester 2016.       

Current Research Projects:

  • Assessing Adaptive Water Governance in diverse social-ecological systems 
  • Transformative Environmental Governance: Re-Engineering U.S. Rivers for Social Ecological Resilience
  • Social Networks and Adaptive Management of Urban Stormwater in Cleveland, OH

I grew up in Cincinnati, OH along the banks of the mighty Ohio River, but after a trip to the mountains of New Mexico at age 16, I knew my days in the Rustbelt were numbered. I have spent the majority of the last 16 years exploring the various physical states of water in the Pacific and Inland Northwest by raft, kayak, board and skis. When not engaged in research and teaching, I enjoy running or skiing with my Alaskan malamutes Koda and Jack, teaching swiftwater rescue courses for the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and serving on the Board of Directors for the Redside Foundation, a non-profit organization that my wife Jenni and I helped found in 2010.