Rivers and lakes often transcend established territorial borders, – such as those of nation states, regional entities, or municipalities – , and water resources might be affected by phenomena which originate across political borders, such as pollution, land use, or migration of species. Despite this crucial importance for the management of water bodies and resources, establishing cooperation across political borders remains a challenge. While a considerable body of research focuses on international cooperation, the factors and conditions that drive the cooperation on a sub-national level between federal states are underexplored.
Federalist and consensus-oriented Switzerland appears as a prime case for studying this phenomenon. While competences related to water are distributed over three levels of government, with the national level setting the general guiding principles, cantons are of prime importance in the management of Swiss water resources. They serve, as formal owners of their water bodies, as implementers of federal directives and benefit from large discretion and financial compensations for implementing their tasks. To fulfil these tasks, cantons have increasingly engaged in inter-cantonal cooperation by concluding formal concordats as a means for the management of cross-border water resources. Hence, this paper asks why do cantons cooperate in the water sector?
To answer this question, we will explore the role of a comprehensive set of factors, including water-relevant factors (e.g. joint water bodies such as lake and rivers, common problem settings), political factors (e.g. political orientation of government, same language, neighboring cantons), and network-related factors (number of cooperation treaties already in place, popularity, activity, etc.).
We rely on social network analysis and Exponential Random Graph Models to analyze cooperation among cantons: The intensity of cooperation, measured by the number of concordats between two cantons, defines the strength of a tie between both cantons in the network. Furthermore, we assess attributes of these ties determined by, e.g., the different aspects addressed such as the protection from water, the protection of water, and the use of water. Data stems from a systematic coding of inter-cantonal concordats in the water sector, based on an inventory of Swiss national and cantonal law (www.lexfind.ch). Based on this source we map the network of inter-cantonal cooperation and relate it to the social, political, and environmental factors that foster this cooperation.
This analysis will deliver important insights: First, from a political-democratic perspective, it is crucial to understand how cantons use their territorial competences and share these with other political entities to address pertinent water issues, and which factors influence whether they addressed or not. Second, from an environmental perspective, understanding the factors that influence cross-border cooperation is important, as it prequels the question of whether cross-border cooperation, and Integrated Water Resource Management more generally, have positive effects in terms of the quality of water resources, and related ecosystems.