Water resource governance in California is characterized by complex jurisdictional relationships and overlap between agencies tasked with specific mandates. This is exemplified in the California Delta, where critical needs such as flood control do not fall exclusively within the purview of any one entity and therefore must be addressed through coordination and collaboration at multiple scales. Yet CALFED, recent effort to produce integrated, collaborative governance in the Delta, has had mixed results. In this paper, we examine accountability within the existing governance system in the Delta. As a thought experiment we ask how accountability would function in a hypothetical governance system that incorporates principles from the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) into the context of the Delta. Network-based governance approaches such as CALFED blur the lines between public and private authority. They challenge traditional notions of vertical, top-down / down-up accountability by instead adopting a logic of accountability that is more horizontal, relationship-oriented, and diffused among multiple actors and organizations.
We use the case of the Dutch Slough salt marsh restoration project in the Delta to understand the fragmented institutional landscape in which such projects are embedded, to ask how this landscape shapes the pathways of accountability in governance, and to reflect on the rise of alternative models in the European Union may offer lessons for California. The case study reveals the need for governance efforts to more effectively embed both vertical and horizontal accountability. To understand the applicability of the WFD to California, we compare the European and American social and political contexts as they relate to water. We suggest that different views the roles of the state and non-state actors, property rights, and values associated water ultimately shape the unique contexts in which European and American water policy can proceed. We conclude with suggestions for crafting governance institutions with effective linkages across organizations and multiple scales of government.