Articles | Volume 18, issue 4
Research article
09 Apr 2014
Research article |  | 09 Apr 2014

Relationships between environmental governance and water quality in a growing metropolitan area of the Pacific Northwest, USA

H. Chang, P. Thiers, N. R. Netusil, J. A. Yeakley, G. Rollwagen-Bollens, S. M. Bollens, and S. Singh

Abstract. We investigate relationships between environmental governance and water quality in two adjacent growing metropolitan areas in the western US. While the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington metro areas share many common biophysical characteristics, they have different land development histories and water governance structures, providing a unique opportunity for examining how differences in governance might affect environmental quality. We conceptualize possible linkages in which water quality influences governance directly, using monitoring efforts as a metric, and indirectly by using the change in the sale price of single-family residential properties. Governance may then influence water quality directly through riparian restoration resulting from monitoring results and indirectly through land use policy. We investigate evidence to substantiate these linkages. Our results showed that changes in monitoring regimes and land development patterns differed in response to differences in growth management policy and environmental governance systems. Our results also showed similarities in environmental quality responses to varying governance systems. For example, we found that sales prices responded positively to improved water quality (e.g., increases in DO and reductions in bacteria counts) in both cities. Furthermore, riparian restoration efforts improved over time for both cities, indicating the positive effect of governance on this land-based resource that may result in improved water quality. However, as of yet, there were no substantial differences across study areas in water temperature over time, despite an expansion of these urban areas of more than 20 % over 24 years. The mechanisms by which water quality was maintained was similar in the sense that both cities benefited from riparian restoration, but different in the sense that Portland benefited indirectly from land use policy. A combination of long-term legacy effects of land development, and a relatively short history of riparian restoration in both the Portland and Vancouver regions, may have masked any subtle differences between study areas. An alternative explanation is that both cities exhibited combinations of positive indirect and direct water quality governance that resulted in maintenance of water quality in the face of increased urban growth. These findings suggest that a much longer-term water quality monitoring effort is needed to identify the effectiveness of alternative land development and water governance policies.