Legible rivers, resilient rivers: Lessons for climate adaptation policy from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


As conservation is an increasingly championed tool to promote nature-based adaptation strategies and ecosystem service and freshwater biodiversity protection, taking lessons from the creation of historical acts of environmental policy making may inform the creation and increased application of policies to foster resilient riverine. This chapter investigates the use of integrated water resource management (IWRM) principles and emergent ecosystem knowledge in the development of several water resource policies during the 1960s environmental era and their influence on the creation of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 (WSRA), the first free-flowing river conservation policy in the world. Analysis is grounded in discourse analysis of archival documents and theoretical approaches offered through the poststructural turn in political ecology. The concept of legibility for conservation purposes-including the surveying, cataloging, policymaking, and management of natural resources-is used to reframe the WSRA as a legibility act protecting riverine ecosystem services important to society and reveals the policy as a corollary of evolving national water governance priorities grounded in shifting perceptions of nature. Unlike work that characterizes the unintended consequences of legibility acts as state failures, this chapter offers the WSRA as a flexible conservation policy framework viable for broad application in the United States and adoption abroad as a climate adaptation policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNature-Based Solutions and Water Security
Subtitle of host publicationAn Action Agenda for the 21st Century
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780128198711
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Eco-governmentality
  • Freshwater biodiversity conservation
  • Integrated water resource management
  • Riverine ecosystems
  • Socio-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science


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