Transboundary Rivers in the Western United States

The Columbia Water Center was engaged in a multi-year research project on interstate agreements for managing transboundary rivers in the western United States (funded by the National Science Foundation, collaborative with Edella Schlager, University of Arizona). Professor Tanya Heikkila, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs and former Assistant Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, was the lead researcher on the project.

The primary focus of the study is interstate river compacts or agreements that establish rules for allocating water across state lines. The study is the first comparative institutional analysis, applying the IAD framework and Common Pool Resource Theory, of multiple interstate river basins governed by compacts.

The study established an extensive dataset on the governance rules of 14 interstate compacts, the management and operational outcomes of compacts. This research examined how compact commissions can address conflicts and engage in institutional adaptation over time.

This research also analyzed how different institutional venues have resolved an even broader range of water conflicts and the capacity of different types of institutions to handle the dilemmas that arise in transboundary settings.

The project explored the institutional design features of compacts, including their information and organizational infrastructure, and ultimately how these design features relate to compact performance. In doing so, it includes assessments of the linkages of compacts to intra-state water institutions, such as state water agencies, water rights and water-related legislation.