||This study looks at the process of local policy change in environmental policy decisions.
It employs a comparative case study research design to analyze the creation of a new
recreational water right in Colorado to support whitewater boating. It compared the
12 communities that have applied for the new water right to 6 non-adopter communities.
Factors including stakeholder groups, citizens, policy entrepreneurs, mass media,
policy knowledge, policy timing, and politicians' motivations are analyzed to determine
their role in local policy decisions. This research also considers how policy change
in local communities promoted new state laws, and was in turn influenced by them.
The dataset includes interviews with 75 Colorado water experts and community decision
makers, mass media coverage of the policy process, and legal and legislative documentation
of the process. These data were then analyzed within cases and across cases to create
a model of community policy change.
This research found that three elements were present when a community's policies changed
regarding the use of natural resources. First, the community was dependent on the
resource, either economically or socially. Second, a policy entrepreneur was present
to influence the community's decision makers to enact a new policy regarding natural
resource use. These policy entrepreneurs were most often experts in water law or
management. Finally, the community had access to accurate information regarding the
The case study analysis found that neither mass media coverage of the issue nor citizen
participation influenced policy change. This may have occurred primarily because
water rights were viewed as a technical detail to be handled by experts. Citizens
usually became engaged in the process only after the decision to file for the water
right had been made. Similarly, media coverage of recreational water rights was present
in most cases only after the policy decision had been made.
This study provides an understanding of the processes that communities go through
in deciding to change policies to account for new non-consumptive uses and the factors
that influence those decisions. This research is not only relevant to water law in
Colorado, but also to environmental policy in general.