IWRM in the United States: Integration in the Chesapeake Bay Program
International Journal of Water Governance , Volume 2013 p. 237- 264
In the United States, IWRM has been slow to catch on as a label. But for decades, the concept has been implemented in a variety of forms—from small, local projects to large, multi-state efforts—and under a variety of rubrics—from interstate river commissions to ecosystem-based management and “watershed approach.” As of 2012, there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of IWRM-like initiatives under way in the United States; they are united by their focus on the river basin or watershed as a whole, their efforts to engage stakeholders and coordinate the activities of the agencies and jurisdictions operating within a watershed or river basin, and their emphasis on ecological restoration. It is unclear, however, whether and how these enterprises have improved either the process or the outcomes of water management. Therefore, this essay asks: how, and to what extent, has a commitment to the core principles of IWRM yielded genuine integration in water management, and with what consequences for the environment? To answer these questions, we examine the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), which is often described as the nation’s premier watershed-scale management initiative. Based on journalistic accounts, in-depth interviews, and an extensive review of program documents, we conclude that the CBP has enhanced technical, institutional, and—to a lesser extent—sectoral integration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Because the program has relied almost exclusively on voluntary cooperation among state partners and willing compliance by water users, however, implementation of collaboratively developed plans has been uneven and inadequate to meet the program’s goals. With neither the authority nor the resources to compel behavior changes, the CBP has been unable to alter the powerful and longstanding incentives facing program participants and stakeholders. As a consequence, despite nearly thirty years of integrated knowledge production and planning, the watershed has seen minimal ecological improvement. Keywords: IWRM, integration, water management, Chesapeake Bay Program.