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Water Conflict Management and Transformation in the Pacific Northwest and the World: The transformative moment & collaborative water use agreements

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  • With the advance of climate change and growth of human populations and economies, the amount of freshwater in the world remains roughly the same as it has been throughout history. The amount economically available for human use is only 0.007% of the total, or about 13,500 km3, which is about 2300 m3 per a person—a 37% drop since 1970. This increasing scarcity is made more complex because almost half the earth’s land surface lies within international watersheds—the land that contributes to the world’s 263 transboundary waterways. Both water quantity and water quality have been neglected to the point of catastrophe. More than a billion people lack access to safe water supplies. Almost three billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Five to ten million people die each year from water-related diseases or inadequate sanitation. Twenty percent of the world’s irrigated lands are salt laden, affecting crop production. The pressures on water resources development leads to intense political pressure often referred to as water stress, or water poverty. Furthermore, water ignores political boundaries, evades institutional classification, and eludes legal generalizations. Water demands are increasing, groundwater levels are dropping, surface water supplies are increasingly contaminated, and delivery and treatment infrastructure is aging. Collectively, these issues provide compelling arguments for considering the security implications of water resources management. If the challenges are both subtler and more local in nature then so too are the potential solutions. Throughout this presentation, we will note that shared water does lead to tensions, threats, and even to some localized violence—and we will offer strategies for preventing and mitigating these tensions—but not to war. Moreover, these tense “flashpoints” generally induce the parties to enter negotiations, often resulting in dialogue and, occasionally, to building creative and resilient working arrangements. We note also that shared water provides compelling inducements to dialogue and cooperation, even while hostilities rage over other issues. We will: (1) Provide a brief overview of the nature of conflict and experiences of cooperation over transboundary resources; (2) Provide a conceptual basis for understanding cooperation and the costs of noncooperation over water; (3) Indicate the possible triggers for conflict over water sharing and the implications on the livelihoods of ordinary communities; (4) Offer evidence on the potential costs of noncooperation or even conflict over water resources; (5) Analyze different examples of cases where basin stakeholders have successfully managed the competition for water resources; (6) Propose general principles and conclusions on conflict and cooperation.
  • Presented at The Oregon Water Conference, May 24-25, 2011, Corvallis, OR.
  • KEYWORDS: Collaborative use agreements, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), Water conflict and cooperation, Transboundary water
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