Equity in urban water governance through participatory, place-based approaches

Kelli Larson, Denise Lach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


While multiple reasons exist for involving citizens in local water governance, decentralization of decisions is generally thought to result in both effective and equitable governance regimes. To assess these claims, we examined the ability of a watershed council in metropolitan Portland, Oregon, to engage a wide variety of residents in environmental protection and decision-making. Through a survey and interviews, we found that participants in the case study watershed council over-represented urban residents in downstream Portland, as well as those who live near water in flood-prone areas. The council also over-represented newcomers to Oregon and residents with relatively high educational levels, in addition to classic pro-environmental (biocentric) worldviews and liberal political interests. Overall, watershed council participants appear to bring a bureaucratic capacity and liberal ideology to the council that does not reflect the full array of residents in the watershed. Therefore, rather than fostering widespread engagement among diverse stakeholders, the council reproduces the existing power structures in the community by providing another opportunity for citizens with access to professional and political venues to participate in local water resource governance. Residents with less human capital and with "politically incorrect" perspectives are, thus, less likely to be actively engaged in watershed planning and other projects, removing their voices, voluntary actions, and, for the most part, their geographic locales from decentralized, community-based governance. The lack of socio-spatial equity in participation has implications not only for democratic decision- making; it also hinders the effectiveness of community-based efforts aimed at voluntary watershed-wide restoration and enhancement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-430
Number of pages24
JournalNatural Resources Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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