Four Decades of Polycentric Evolution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

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This paper reports preliminary results from our application of Baldwin, Thiel, McGinnis, and Kellner's Context-Operations-Outcomes-Feedback (COOF) framework to the case of collaborative watershed management in the Chesapeake Bay region from the 1980s to the present. We provide a novel approach to operationalizing the framework and discuss its utility. Based on initial analysis, we find a low probability of a polycentric governance (PG) arrangement emerging and surviving in the Chesapeake Bay given the evidence of a larger volume of inhibiting conditions compared to enabling conditions in the period leading up to the establishment of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement (CBA) and Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) in 1983-84. Yet these polycentric programs not only formed, but also grew in size, scope, and rigor over the next four decades. Key inhibiting conditions, such as the chronic inability of state leaders to impose pollution limits on politically powerful interests (urban/suburban developers and farmers), have significantly slowed progress toward Bay restoration to date and generated large volumes of criticism. Despite the system's many weaknesses, the original partners (DC, MD, PA, VA and the EPA) have continued to participate, and new partners (DE, NY, and WV) have joined. Some progress has been made toward pollution reduction, and some indicators of Bay health have improved. The paper identifies primary and secondary games played by principal actors within the Bay's PG institutions and emphasizes the vital role play by litigation in maintaining accountability for progress.



polycentric governance, Chesapeake Bay, natural resource governance