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Capturing Flow: Stormwater governance and water resource development in Chicago and Los Angeles

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
August 2016

This dissertation focuses on the factors that shape how water resource managers shape the flow, or metabolism, of water through cities. Through a comparative and mixed-method approach drawing on archival research, key informant interviews, Q-methodology, and spatial analysis, this dissertation presents a framework for understanding the social and material factors that shape urban water flows. Focusing on Chicago and Los Angeles, the study concentrates on the methods and approaches water resource managers use to control volumes of water and achieve political goals. The results reveal the shortcomings of overly technical approaches to solve water resource problems, which are enmeshed within a spatially complex set of socio-political and historical processes. I also reveal the multiple ways water resource managers approach water challenges and come to particular ways of understanding solutions for them. I identify seven perspectives on stormwater governance: Market Skeptic, Hydro-managerial, Hydro-rationalist, Hydro-reformist, Hydro-pragmatist, Market Technocrat, Regulatory and Administrative Technocrat, Institutional Interventionist, Infrastructural Interventionist. It is shown that these viewpoints are shaped through multiple institutional and bureaucratic practices. Some viewpoints are geographically and idiosyncratically defined, while others transcend geographical and institutional specificity. Whether invoking stormwater as a “new” resource to achieve water quality and quantity goals, or negotiating the role of new technologies and financial mechanisms to control the flow of water, this dissertation reveals the commonalities across different ways of understanding water in order to offer more acceptable policies.

Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Water Resources
Environmental governance and decision-making, Industrial Ecology, Political Ecology, Stormwater, Urban Metabolism
Publication Type
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Cousins, Joshua. (2016) “Capturing Flow: Stormwater governance and water resource development in Chicago and Los Angeles.” Doctoral Dissertation, University of Michigan: Ann Arbor: 1-233.