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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Abel, Troy D.

Second Advisor

Hollenhorst, Steven J.

Third Advisor

Singleton, Sara (Sara G.)


Low water levels in the Skagit River threaten three salmonid species in the Puget Sound: 1) Chinook, 2) Bull Trout, and 3) Steelhead. Consequently, the Washington State Department of Ecology (aka Ecology) developed and now enforce an instream flow, or “Low Flow” rule that effectively bans new well development in the Skagit watershed. Subsequently, lawsuits between 2002 and 2017 have pitted Skagit County versus Ecology, the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle Tribes against Skagit County, the Swinomish Tribe versus Ecology, and two landowners against Skagit County. Yet, in 2016, key stakeholders invested in new Skagit River watershed management and outreach solutions that potentially promise a resolution to what the media has describes as the “Skagit Water War.” A combination of interviews, surveys, and document analysis explored the following questions: What new institutional arrangements are emerging in the Skagit Water War? Are these arrangements more or less polycentric? Could these arrangements improve or worsen governance outcomes? The research utilized an exploratory case study and the theoretical framework of polycentricity; an increasingly popular scholarly perspective that examines the promise and pitfalls of collaborative watershed planning. The results of this study indicate that polycentricity exists superficially in the Skagit River watershed, there is little ecosystem level coordination, and lingering conflict and mistrust among key stakeholders probably undermines a positive governance outcome. Moreover, the Skagit also reflects the traditional fragmentation between land use and water use found in Western watershed governance.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Watershed management--Political aspects--Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.)--Case studies; Water resources development--Political aspects--Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.)--Case studies; Streamflow--Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.)--Case studies; Water rights--Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.)--Case studies; Water withdrawals--Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.)--Case studies; Legal polycentricity--Washington (State)--Case studies; Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.)

Geographic Coverage

Skagit River Watershed (B.C. and Wash.); Washington (State)




masters theses




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