Date of Conferral





Public Policy and Administration


Elizabeth Hagens


Population growth, coupled with changing weather patterns, is straining water supplies, especially in the American Southwest. A multitude of tools, including additional storage, will be needed to meet water demand and supply gaps. The Animas-La Plata Project, a reservoir in southwest Colorado, provides a case study of how groups worked for nearly 70 years to solve a water problem: insufficient irrigation for agriculture. This qualitative case study addressed a lack of first-person narratives from those most involved. Its purpose was to gather stakeholder narratives and analyze them using Kingdon's three streams theory to address the extent to which the problem, policy, and political streams converged to open policy windows that resulted in a built facility. Purposeful sampling identified 11 organizational stakeholders with the highest seniority and longest association with the project. Transcribed data from structured interview questions were inductively coded and thematically analyzed. Key findings include identification of a major federal policy change in the late 1970s to 1980s that excluded escalated benefits of water projects. Within this same timeframe, necessary elements were present to open a policy window, the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement, which resulted in project construction. If strategists can learn to predict the opening of policy windows "when the problem, policy, and political streams join" water resource planning and policy can be improved. Retrospective narrative analysis is a promising ex post audit and evaluation tool that policy analysts can use to assess program performance and lessons learned. Social change implications of the study are that its findings on the need for positive collaboration may prove valuable to those in management who seek to address water scarcity issues.