Water management systems in the western United States prioritize historical economic uses of water, but are being tasked with addressing growing populations, unmet ecosystem needs, and climatic changes. Collaborative governance scholars posit that collaborative processes generate solutions better suited to resolving wicked natural resource problems than traditional regulatory approaches. However, scholars dispute how collaboration and regulatory enforcement in the form of litigation interact: does litigation destroy collaborative efforts or does litigation facilitate collaboration? In the Upper Deschutes River Basin in central Oregon, stakeholders engaged two collaborative processes to lay the foundation for a new water management regime. However, a participant in these processes was concerned that they were not progressing and filed a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act. This research finds that litigation, strategically applied under specific conditions, can facilitate collaboration.

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