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Common pool resource (CPR) management has the potential to overcome the collective action dilemma, defined as the tendency for individual users to exploit natural resources and contribute to a tragedy of the commons. Design principles associated with effective CPR management help to ensure that arrangements work to the mutual benefit of water users. This study contributes to current research on CPR management by examining the process of implementing integrated management planning through the lens of CPR design principles. Integrated management plans facilitate the management of a complex common pool resource, ground and surface water resources having a hydrological connection. Water governance structures were evaluated through the use of participatory methods and observed records of interannual changes in rainfall, evapotranspiration, and ground water levels across the Northern High Plains. The findings, documented in statutes, field interviews and observed hydrologic variables, point to the potential for addressing large-scale collective action dilemmas, while building on the strengths of local control and participation. The feasibility of a “bottom up” system to foster groundwater resilience was evidenced by reductions in groundwater depths of 2 m in less than a decade.