Brian Chaffin

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Brian Chaffin

Associate Professor of Water Policy & Governance

Curriculum Vitae: View/Download CV

Personal Summary

Water runs through each of our lives as a resource necessary to sustain human life. Access to clean water for drinking, sanitation, and food production is recognized globally as a fundamental human right, but at the same time, the economic importance of water to commodity production has led to significant privatization of water a resource. As such, societal efforts to manage water are often both collaborative and contested. Broadly, my research aims to disentangle elements of the human-water relationship to better understand potential pathways for managing water sustainably in the future, achieving "water for all," ensuring a sufficient supply of water to meet the global food production needs, and conserving healthy aquatic habitats and associated ecosystem services.

My research and teaching focus on complex questions of water policy and governance, including the emerging realities of administering systems of prior appropriation water rights in a changing climate and amid shifting social values. As an example, I am interested in the legal and political interactions between the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the U.S.-Tribal trust responsibility, and water rights and water management regimes under changing climate scenarios in the U.S. West. A human geographer by training, I leverage theories of complex systems with an application of mixed social science research methods such as ethnographic interviewing and social network analysis to better understand how informal aspects of water governance (e.g., social norms and collaborative networks) influence and are influenced by social-hydrologic conditions on the landscape. I work closely with ecologists and hydrologists in a focused effort to span boundaries between disciplinary science, interdisciplinary synthesis, and environmental decision making. My research projects involve both urban and rural settings and are funded through grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA. Prior to joining UM, I worked as a wilderness river guide, a river ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, and as a research fellow at the U.S. EPA charged with examining the role of green infrastructure (bio-infiltration) in mitigating violations to the Clean Water Act in major U.S. cities.    

Current Research Projects:

When not engaged in research and teaching, I spend time exploring the various physical states of water by raft, kayak, board and skis. I currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Redside Foundation, a non-profit organization that my wife Jenni and I helped found in 2010.

Prospective graduate students: I am not accepting graduate students until Fall 2023 at the earliest; please hold your correspondence until Fall 2022. At that time, I will look for dedicated graduate students with similar research interests and a clear vision for a tractable research project. If you are interested in working with me and others in our Water and Society Research Group, please send me an email with your Resume/CV as well as a brief statement on any previous research expierence, other relevant background, and your proposed research. I do not have funding for new graduate students at this time. 


Ph.D. Geography, Oregon State University (2014)

M.S. Environmental Science, University of Idaho (2010)

B.S. Resource, Recreation & Tourism, University of Idaho (2004) 

Courses Taught

NRSM 422:  Natural Resources Policy & Administration (Spring 2022)

NRSM 427: Water Policy (Fall 2022)

NRSM 428: Climate Policy (Fall 2021, 2023)

NRSM 570: Political Ecology (Fall 2021, grad only) 

Honors / Awards

Fellow, Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes (CRAWL), University of Nebraska-Lincoln 

Selected Publications

Boda, C.S., T. Faran, M. Scown, K. Dorkenoo, B.C. Chaffin, M. Nastar, and E. Boyd 2021. Loss and damage from climate change and implicit assumptions of sustainable development. Climatic Change 164: 13.

Boda, C.S., M. Scown, T. Faran, M. Nastar, K. Dorkenoo, B. Chaffin, and E. Boyd. 2020. Framing loss and damage as a failure of sustainable development. Climate and Development. 

Chaffin, B.C., Floyd, T.M., Albro, S.A. 2019. Leadership in informal stormwater governance networks. PLOS ONE 14(10): e0222434.  

Garmestani, A.S., Ruhl, J.B., Chaffin, B.C., Craig, R.K., van Rijswick, H.F.M.W, Angeler, D.G., Folke, C., Gunderson, L.H., Twidwell, D., and Allen, C.R. 2019. Untapped capacity for resilience in environmental law. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(40): 19899-19904.

Jones, K. Abrams, J., Belote, T., Beltran, B., Brandt, J., Carter, N., Castro, A., Chaffin, B.C., Metcalf, A., Roche-McNally, G., Wallen, K., and Williamson, M. 2019. The American West as a social-ecological region: Drivers, dynamics and implications for nested social-ecological systems. Environmental Research Letters

Wyborn, C., Datta, A., Montana, J., Ryan, M., Leith, P., Chaffin, B.C., Miller, C. and van Kerkhoff, L. 2019. Co-Producing Sustainability: Reordering the Governance of Science, Policy, and Practice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 44: 319-346.

Chaffin, B.C., and M. Scown. 2018. Social-ecological resilience and geomorphic systems. Geomorphology 305: 221-230.

Gosnell, H., B.C. Chaffin, J.B. Ruhl, C.A. Arnold, R.K. Craig, M.H. Benson, and A. Devenish. 2017. Transforming (perceived) rigidity in environmental law through adaptive governance: a case of Endangered Species Act implementation. Ecology and Society 22(4):42.

Chaffin, B.C., A.S. Garmestani, L.H. Gunderson, M.H. Benson, D.G. Angeler, C.A. Arnold, B. Cosens, R.K. Craig, J.B. Ruhl, and C.R. Allen. 2016. Transformative Environmental Governance. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 41: 399-423.

Cosens, B., and B.C. Chaffin. 2016. Adaptive governance of water resources shared with Indigenous peoples: The role of law. Water 8 (3): 97.

Chaffin, B.C. and L.H. Gunderson. 2016. Emergence, Institutionalization and Renewal: Rhythms of Adaptive Governance in Complex Social-Ecological Systems. Journal of Environmental Management 165 (1): 81-87.

Chaffin, B.C., R.K. Craig, and H. Gosnell. 2014. Resilience, Adaptation, and Transformation in the Klamath River Basin Social-Ecological System. Idaho Law Review: Natural Resources & Environmental Law Edition 51 (1): 157-193.

Chaffin, B.C., H. Gosnell, and B.A. Cosens. 2014. A Decade of Adaptive Governance Scholarship: Synthesis and future directions. Ecology and Society 19 (3): 56.