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Water Resources Research

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Water quality -- Public opinion, Water quality -- Social aspects, Water-supply -- Management, Water resources development, Sustainable development


How well city leaders represent their constituents and meet their needs are key concerns in transitioning to local sustainable water governance. To date, however, there is little research documenting the influence of social position between elected leaders who make policy, career staff water managers who design and operate systems and implement policies, and the members of the public whose individual water use behaviors are important drivers of water sustainability outcomes. In this study, we ask: ‘‘How does social position explain variation in water perceptions and concerns between different actors in a sociohydrological system?’’ Using a mixed method approach with survey and interview data, we explore the ways that positioning within the governance system, geographic context, and citizen engagement in local government mediate perceptions of the urban water system. Regardless of local biophysical water supply conditions, residents showed most concern about future water shortages and high water costs, while their leaders were consistently most concerned about deteriorating local water infrastructure. Further, constituents who received water-related information directly from public utility mailings or served on community committees and boards had perceptions that were more aligned with leaders’ concerns. The importance of social structure over natural and built environments in shaping water issue perceptions underscores the value of social analysis in socio-hydrology studies. Further, practitioners looking to increase consensus for a transition to sustainable water governance might work to develop institutional mechanisms to increase opportunities for water user involvement in local water system governance.


Originally appeared in Water Resources Research, vol. 54: 663-679. May be found at 2017WR021456.

© 2018. American Geophysical Union.


10.1002/ 2017WR021456

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