Overcoming the Hypolimnion: Stakeholder Influence in Transboundary Water Quality Governance

Global surface water quality has been degrading with predictions of negative trends in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal ambient water quality targets (Mead, 2019; WWAP & UN Water, 2019). These water quality impacts can cross borders and impact populations in world’s 204 transboundary lake and reservoir basins (ILEC & UNEP, 2016). With risks including potential chronic health effects and impaired livelihoods, water quality trends have direct implications for local communities and can create domestic pressure on the states that manage the resource (Warner & Zawahri, 2012). Although water quality impairments are shared, they are experienced differently by all users. Various structural factors can shape local stakeholders’ exposure, impact, and influence on the state’s response. Simultaneously, these factors are influenced by the state practices that address the contamination in transboundary lakes. As a result, countries’ interactions over water quality are integral to understand how they impact local communities and, consequently, the extent to which communities’ needs are represented in the transboundary discourse. This research interrogates this dynamic to evaluate how local actors influence states’ behavior over transboundary water quality. Through utilization of a novel conceptual framework, the impact of stakeholder distributions of power, vulnerability, and risk are assessed for their capacity to shape conflictive and cooperative water interactions between states. Based on an analysis of three case studies in transboundary lakes, stakeholder vulnerability drove states to initiate cooperation under a narrative of development. As risk increased, the states responded by engaging in high-intensity cooperation to address water quality. Finally, as power increased, stakeholders’ concerns became more represented at the transboundary level, initially causing state conflict and resulting in continued cooperation. While stakeholders’ distributions showed a clear impact on state action, they were not the sole driver of interactions in the basin. Dynamics between states and international actors also exerted pressure to promote high-intensity transboundary cooperation. These multiple pressures were mutually influencing and created a mixing of scale that drives state interactions. This understanding of stakeholder influence informs the larger body of literature on transboundary interactions. By understanding triggers for cooperation and conflict, targeted interventions and management strategies can be employed (De Stefano, Petersen-Perlman, Sproles, Eynard, & Wolf, 2017). Through knowledge of stakeholders’ role in transboundary processes, information can be harnessed to promote positive cooperation and effectively address global water quality impairments.

Learn more about Alyssa's research by accessing her thesis through Scholar's Archive.

Learn more about Alyssa Offutt

lyssa Offutt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and certificates in International Engineering and Environmental Studies. She went on to pursue a Master's degree in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research compared sampling methods to predict the bioaccumulation of mercury in benthic oligochaetes and assessed the impact of the organisms on sediment biogeochemistry. Following, she worked as a consultant for four years in contaminated site remediation, conducting field sampling, litigation support, and remedial design.  With a passion for international water governance, she returned to graduate school to participate in the Water Cooperation and Diplomacy program where she focused her work in transboundary water quality and environmental justice. She looks forward to continuing her research following completion of the program.