Global Integrative Studies, School of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Bitterman P, Koliba C (2023) Engagement in water governance action situations in the Lake Champlain Basin. PLoS ONE 18(3): e0282797.


Open access.


Water quality governance encompasses multiple “wicked” interacting problems that manifest within social-ecological systems. Concerned governments, institutions, and actors concerned with addressing these issues must wrestle with complex systems that span time, space, and scale. This complexity of connected systems requires the participation of multiple actors across political boundaries, problem areas, and hydrologic domains. In Lake Champlain (US), frequent cyanobacteria blooms negatively affect property values, recreational activities, and public infrastructure, in addition to their impacts on the aquatic ecosystem. Through a survey of actors working on water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin, we analyze how actor participation in structured issue forums creates a network of connected action situations across multiple spatial scales and problem domains. We apply exponential random graph models to quantify the effects of scale, issues, and homophily on actor participation in these forums. Our findings show that actors tend to favor participating in similarly scoped forums at their spatial scale, that actors are less likely to participate in structured forums focused on agriculture, and that actors participate independently of others with whom they have pre-existing collaborative relationships. Further, we find that in the case of the Lake Champlain Basin, actor participation in issues related to water quality is misaligned with modeled sources of nutrient pollution. This study demonstrates that the design and maintenance of water quality action situations play an important role in attracting the participation of actors working collaboratively to address wicked social-ecological problems. Further, linking current and potential configurations of governance networks to socialecological outcomes can aid in the effective and efficient achievement of management objectives.