- Growing urbanization, shifting water uses, and a focus on ecosystem health in the Deschutes River Basin in Central Oregon led to experimentation with new voluntary market-based approaches to water management in the last decade. To meet groundwater demands while maintaining instream flows and upholding prior water allocations, the Oregon Water Resources Department implemented the Groundwater Mitigation Program (GMP) in 2002. While evaluative reports are due to the Water Resources Commission in 2008 and 2009, no comprehensive review of the GMP has been carried out. As the evaluation requires consultation with Deschutes Basin water users, this research focuses on the experiences of the participants in the program.
The research involves an assessment of the acceptability of the GMP to its participants, using the Institutional Analysis and Development framework (Ostrom, Gardner, and Walker 1994) as a basis for analysis. The study employs nine criteria to examine the acceptability of the program to its participants: 1) economic efficiency, 2) equity, 3) accountability, 4) adaptability, 5) usability, 6) environmental sustainability, 7) utility, 8) collaboration, and 9) information dissemination. Furthermore, in order to contextualize the acceptability of the current program, the research employs two hypothetical alternative institutional arrangements that bound the GMP and serve as comparators: 1) a complete moratorium on all groundwater pumping and 2) no institutional arrangement governing groundwater in the Deschutes Basin. The research incorporates a mixed-method approach. Primary data were collected through interviews and a postal survey that included open- and closed-ended questions. Data were gathered from a total of 111 respondents.
Results indicate that despite many frustrations with the program, including a lack of information dissemination to participants and a lengthy groundwater permitting process, the GMP is more acceptable to participants than the two proposed alternatives because it enables participants to meet their groundwater needs, offsets depletion of instream flows, and allows for economic growth in a manner that may restrict development more than having no institutional arrangement.