Environmental Policy

Local Government Perspectives on Collaborative Governance: A Comparative Analysis of Iowa's Watershed Management Authorities

Yoder, L.; Ward, A.S.; Spak, S.; Dalrymple, K.E.


Collaborative governance has been promoted for decades as a means to tackle complex water management problems worldwide. Yet, watershed based efforts often lack interdependent consequences that can motivate participation, given upstream–downstream asymmetries. Additionally, watershed collaborations often have limited legal authority to take action, which can be due to political conflicts. While local governments often participate in collaborations, few studies have examined their motivations or how local governments could use existing legal authority to enact projects or change policies. This paper focuses on four cases in Iowa, USA, where local governments self‐organized to form watershed management authorities and undertake collaborative planning and management. We conduct a qualitative study to examine why local governments participate in collaborative governance and how they use their existing legal authorities. We found that local governments participated primarily to leverage external funding opportunities, while the advantage of multijurisdictional collaboration to reduce flooding and water quality was important but secondary. Using legal authorities to form agreements occurred in two cases to address flooding, but in all four cases collaboratives largely avoided water quality because of political tensions. We discuss the implications for how local governments might address the challenges of generating commitments and issues of legitimacy to act.