Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Timothy J. Ehlinger

Committee Members

John A. Berges, Jenny Kehl, Linda Wittingham, Neal T. O'Reilly, Ramiro A. Berardo


Conflict, Governance, Public Trust Doctrine, Resilience, Social-Ecological Systems, Water


This dissertation investigates the possibility of linked surface-groundwater governance through the application of a social-ecological systems lens to the Lake Beulah Conflict over a high capacity well in Walworth County, Wisconsin. Potential adverse impacts the loss of Ca2+ rich groundwater would have on Lake Beulah’s water quality was modeled through an ex-ante assessment method using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake and reservoir model BATHTUB, the U.S. Geological Survey geochemical model PHREEQC and a Ca2+ mass balance equation. The utility of this information in a management setting was also analyzed. Reduction of Ca2+ through groundwater withdrawal revealed a eutrophication threshold and a drastic change in Ca2+ concentration in the downstream basins of Lake Beulah, uncovering the need for monitoring how groundwater withdrawal affects the interdependent basins in the lake. Currently, scientific information is used to generate results-based legitimacy, a hallmark of the model-as-mediator management paradigm. Utilization of these findings would best inform governance and management of linked surface-groundwater resources as a boundary object to generate consensus and initiate process development.

The analysis revealed that water policies favoring state level development interests threaten the water quality of groundwater dependent ecosystems and spark resistance at the community level. Conflicts are resolved through the court system affecting state level water governance, but local control over decision making regarding linked surface-groundwater resources is still lacking. Centralization of power over linked surface-groundwater resources fails to acknowledge the context dependency of local level conflicts and places power in the hands of state scale players like development and agricultural interests. Community and watershed non-governmental organizations focus on local issues of concern within their watershed such as invasive species management when conflicts over linked surface-groundwater resources are resolved, when state level interests pursue other avenues to influence the decision-making process. For the sustainable governance of LSGW resources, the Public Trust Doctrine must be integrated within a participatory governance process to resolve future conflicts.

The legal separation of groundwater and surface water has created independent institutions that now require new scales of collaborative adaptive governance to manage linked surface-groundwater resources. Identifying the opportunities and barriers to this collaborative adaptive governance is necessary to institutionalize practices that lead to sustainable water resource use. Application of Panarchy theory to analyze local, regional and state development in Wisconsin placed Lake Beulah and East Troy in their historical contexts. An understanding of cross-scale interactions outlined crises, opportunities and barriers operating within the Lake Beulah-East Troy Social-Ecological System. Opportunities for collaborative governance are largely based on current conditions of the system while barriers are rooted deeply in historical system development. For collaborative governance to be institutionalized in the Lake Beulah-East Troy Social-Ecological System, the barriers must be addressed before opportunities can be seized.