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How water quality improvement efforts influence urban–agricultural relationships

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Church, Sarah P.; Floress, Kristin M.; Ulrich-Schad, Jessica D.; Wardropper, Chloe B.; Ranjan, Pranay ; Eaton, Weston M.; Gasteyer, Stephen ; Rissman, Adena

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Agriculture and Human Values


Urban and agricultural communities are interdependent but often differ on approaches for improving water quality impaired by nutrient runoff waterbodies worldwide. Current water quality governance involves an overlapping array of policy tools implemented by governments, civil society organizations, and corporate supply chains. The choice of regulatory and voluntary tools is likely to influence many dimensions of the relationship between urban and agricultural actors. These relationships then influence future conditions for collective decision-making since many actors participate for multiple years in water quality improvement. In this policy analysis, we draw on our professional experiences and research, as well as academic and practitioner literatures, to investigate how different types of water quality interventions influence urban-agricultural relationships, specifically examining policy tools on a regulatory to voluntary spectrum. Interactions between farmers and other rural agricultural interests on one hand, and urban residents and their stormwater managers and wastewater treatment plants on the other, influence dynamics relevant for water quality improvement. We suggest that the selection of policy tools within complex governance contexts influence urban–agricultural relationships through financial exchange, political coalitions, knowledge exchange, interpersonal relationships, and shared sense of place. Policy tools that provide a means to build relationships and engage with people’s emotions and identities have potential to influence personal and community change and adaptive capacity, while processes such as lawsuits can catalyze structural change. Engaging these relationships is particularly critical given the need to move out of polarized positions to solve collective problems.


Water quality policy; Regulatory and voluntary approaches; Urban–rural divide; Agriculture; Collaboration


Church, Sarah P.; Floress, Kristin M.; Ulrich-Schad, Jessica D.; Wardropper, Chloe B.; Ranjan, Pranay; Eaton, Weston M.; Gasteyer, Stephen; Rissman, Adena. 2020. How water quality improvement efforts influence urban–agricultural relationships. Agriculture and Human Values. 18 p.

Last updated on: October 26, 2020