Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Michaels S (2023) Differentiating between urban flood risk as a unitary problem and as a strand in a braided problem set: Implications for administrative coordination. PLOS Water 2(3): e0000090. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pwat.0000090


Open access.


Flood protection is a leading priority for urban water sustainability. Making cities more resilient to flooding has become urgent as the climate changes and as cities increasingly become the loci of human population and resources. Reducing the risk of future flooding in cities often necessitates different jurisdictions working together. They may do so because they confront a shared problem. This was the case in the City of Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, when partnering agencies shared a single focus on reducing flood risk from Beal Slough to the Nebraska State Penitentiary. In contrast, entities may band together to confront braided problems, intertwined problems that cannot be resolved independently. The Antelope Valley Project, also in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, combined addressing three problems, for which individual solutions had not been achieved: reducing flood risk from Antelope Creek, improving road transportation safety and capacity, and revitalizing neighborhoods with deteriorating physical structures. Such a scenario is becoming more frequent as cities increasingly face multiple demands on the same location. As this comparative case study demonstrates, there are implications for administrative coordination for whether flood risk reduction can be achieved as a sole focus of a project and when it cannot. The Antelope Valley Project necessitated an innovative management structure and governance process that the Beal Slough Project did not. In the Antelope Valley Project three different, stand-alone entities operating in dissimilar, substantive domains redirected their independent policies to harmonize their problem solving. Collaborative learning among policy actors in the Antelope Valley was more extensive and across policy domains than was required in the Beal Slough Project. Yet, both projects were triggered by policy-oriented learning from the remapping of their respective subwatersheds. The study contributes to understanding interdependency among policy problems and to reducing urban flood risk through administrative coordination.