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Systemic coordination and the problem of seasonal harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

Ramiro Berardo, School of Environment and Natural Resources. The Ohio State University
V. Kelly Turner, Urban Planning Department, Luskin School of Public Affairs, University of California Los Angeles
Stian Rice, Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education, University of Maryland, Baltimore County


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The management of natural resources may potentially be improved when governance structures in social-ecological systems enable coordination among multiple actors who may operate on the same or different geographic and/or governmental scales. In this article, we analyze the network of formal coordination ties that link governmental and nongovernmental actors in the Maumee River watershed, which is the largest source of phosphorus loading into Lake Erie, one of the five Laurentian Great Lakes of North America. Since the 1990s, Lake Erie has seen a return of the seasonal harmful algal blooms (HAB) that were common in the 1960s and 1970s, and considerable research suggests that they might be triggered by excessive amounts of phosphorus produced by agriculture. Analyzing an assortment of documents that collectively detail how stakeholders relate to each other on the topic of nutrient management in the watershed, we examine who are the actors that are more likely to fulfill coordination roles, and the scales at which coordination takes place (vertically vs horizontally). Results suggest that coordination has been formalized vertically, with actors who operate at higher governmental levels being more likely to coordinate the activities of actors at lower levels. In addition, we see evidence of horizontal coordination but only in the confines of the individual state jurisdictions that share the watershed. We see this as a potentially important obstacle to solving the HABs problem in Lake Erie, given that the management of interjurisdictional watersheds is likely to be ineffective in the absence of proper coordination across the different jurisdictions that share the watershed.

Key words

coordination; harmful algal blooms; Lake Erie; nutrient management

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087