Institutional adaptation and effectiveness over 18 years of the New York city watershed governance arrangement

Jeffrey Hanlon, Tomás Olivier, Edella Schlager

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


In 1997, an unlikely group of governments, nonprofit organizations, and interest groups signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to share governance of the adjacent Catskill and Delaware watersheds in the Catskills mountains of New York. At stake was the quality of the source for 90% of New York City’s municipal water, and the livelihoods and interests of the communities in the watersheds. The agreement was celebrated as an example of how regional approaches to water management may be possible in ways that promote equity, power sharing, economic growth, and resource protection, but has not since been assessed along those terms since a National Research Council report in 2000. Using interviews with governance actors, meeting minutes from a key decision-making forum, legal and policy documents, and 2015 survey data of policy actors, this article presents a retrospective of the first 18 years following the signing of the MOA to identify keys to its function as a living and changing policy system in the face of political and ecological change. As an example of adaptive co-management, the case is a rich and crucial test for large-scale regional watershed management, and presents insights for other large city watersheds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-49
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • Adaptive co-management
  • Institutional adaptation
  • Resource governance
  • Watersheds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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