Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

Patricia Limerick

Second Advisor

Paul W. Lander

Third Advisor

Benjamin S. Hale


Many people advocate collective decisionmaking through negotiation and collaboration among diverse stakeholder interests as a means to solve disagreements about water governance. An alternative to negotiation is litigation, which some people criticize for being expensive, time-consuming, and only leading to benefits for one party. Negotiation, ideally, will benefit all parties involved.

I analyze four watershed initiatives focused on the Dolores River in southwest Colorado. Kenney (1999) defines a watershed initiatives as “ad hoc, voluntary associations typically featuring both governmental and non-governmental actors organized together to collaboratively seek new strategies for addressing water and related natural resource problems at physically relevant regional scale.”

My two research questions are: 1) What helps and hinders collaboration? 2) How applicable is collaborative watershed management theory to the context of Dolores River watershed negotiations? I answered these questions utilizing semi-structured interviews and literature review to conduct a comparative analysis of four watershed initiatives in the Dolores River region. The analysis critiques collaborative resource management criteria identified by Conley & Moote (2003) and utilizes the advocacy coalition framework (ACF) described by Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith (1999).

The ACF helps identify two coalitions, which are characterized by priorities for water diverging along the line of agricultural water use and environmental/recreational water use. Conflict between these coalitions is one explanation for why some watershed initiatives are successful and others are not. Two other factors identified that influence the success of a watershed initiative are whether the initiative is focused on re-allocating water or not, and whether it is focused on establishing legislation or not. Watershed initiatives not focused on water allocation and not focused on legislation are shown to be more successful because they are less polarized.

There is a polarizing influence across the two coalitions from threats to prior appropriation water rights or proposed legislation, which may also threaten water rights. These two issues may be intractable for collaboration. Litigation may be the best alternative for solving conflicts about these topics.