Livestock production, water scarcity, and the potential for collaborative water governance in northwest Iowa
After a severe drought in 2012, stakeholders in northwest Iowa (NW Iowa) began exploring strategies to increase the resiliency of the region’s groundwater resources and distribution systems. The lead actor in the effort, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), uses an emerging collaborative governance approach to engage stakeholder groups. We conducted in-depth interviews to explore NW Iowa stakeholders’ perceptions of current and future water supplies, water beliefs, values, and behaviors, interactions with other stakeholders, and preferences for groundwater governance and management. A stakeholder analysis is employed to characterize stakeholder groups and their positions of influence, levels of interest, and patterns of communication with other stakeholder groups. A governance regime analysis then characterizes the four structural dimensions of the current governance system for comparison against a spectrum of governance regime ideal types. Our analysis identifies opportunities to form coalitions, raise awareness among less engaged stakeholders, and encourage social learning; decreasing the uncertainty in the system should be prioritized. We find that under circumstances of pervasive uncertainty and in the absence of effective governance institutions, stakeholders in NW Iowa have developed shared assumptions about groundwater resources to fill the institutional gaps. The assumptions are counter-productive to the collaborative governance effort and will require strategic attention to overcome.