Brian Chaffin

Photo of Chaffin, Brian

Brian Chaffin

Assistant Professor of Water Policy

Office Hours:

Fall 2016: please email me for an appointment. 

Personal Summary

Water runs through each of our lives as a resource necessary to sustain human life—but I like to think that I have come to know water more intimately through my research and teaching. From over a decade of experience working as a wilderness river guide, a river ranger for the U.S. Forest Service and as a research assistant charged with critically examining the effectiveness of watershed groups in the Pacific Northwest, I bring practical, academic and public service experiences in water policy research and management to the Department of Society and Conservation. Most recently I worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Risk Management Laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency examining the role of green infrastructure (bio-infiltration) in mitigating violations to the Clean Water Act in major U.S. cities. My current teaching and research at UM rests at the confluence of water resources policy and influences from an ever-increasing body of research and practice on collaborative processes for conservation.

My research is focused generally on the interaction of the Endangered Species Act and the U.S.-Tribal trust responsibility, as well as the influences these policy doctrines have on water rights and water management regimes under changing climate scenarios in the U.S. West. Much of my work is theoretically framed through the lenses of complex systems, social-ecological resilience and adaptive water governance. My empirical research agenda is centered around an ongoing series of river basin assessments aimed at uncovering the effects of current water policies and politics on both vulnerable water supplies and vulnerable populations. I am specifically interested in the increasing phenomenon of dam removal in the U.S. and the contexts of governance that facilitate this type of social-ecological transformation. I look forward to teaching NRSM 422 (Natural Resource Policy) and NRSM 495 (Water Policy in the American West) during the spring semester 2016, and offering the graduate-level NRSM 595 (Adaptive Water Governance) during fall semester 2016.       

Current Research Projects:

  • Assessing Adaptive Water Governance in diverse social-ecological systems 
  • Transformative Environmental Governance: Re-Engineering U.S. Rivers for Social Ecological Resilience
  • Social Networks and Adaptive Management of Urban Stormwater in Cleveland, OH

I grew up in Cincinnati, OH along the banks of the mighty Ohio River, but after a trip to the mountains of New Mexico at age 16, I knew my days in the Rustbelt were numbered. I have spent the majority of the last 16 years exploring the various physical states of water in the Pacific and Inland Northwest by raft, kayak, board and skis. When not engaged in research and teaching, I enjoy running or skiing with my Alaskan malamutes Koda and Jack, teaching swiftwater rescue courses for the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and serving on the Board of Directors for the Redside Foundation, a non-profit organization that my wife Jenni and I helped found in 2010.


Ph.D. Geography, Oregon State University 

M.S. Environmental Science, University of Idaho

B.S. Resource, Recreation & Tourism, University of Idaho 

Courses Taught

NRSM 422:  Natural Resources Policy & Administration (Spring 2017)

NRSM 491: Water Policy in the American West (Spring 2017)

NRSM 595: International Water Governance (New Graduate Course Fall 2016) 

Honors / Awards

National Academies Postdoctoral Research Associate, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2014-2015) 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency STAR Graduate Fellow (2011-2014)

Selected Publications

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. doi:10.1146/ANNUREV-ENVIRON-110615-085817

Chaffin, B.C., W.D. Shuster, A.S. Garmestani, B. Furio, S. Albro, M.M. Gardiner, M. Spring, and O.O. Green. 2016. A tale of two rain gardens: Barriers and bridges to adaptive management of urban stormwater in Cleveland, Ohio. Journal of Environmental Management. 183: 431-441. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.06.025

Chaffin, B.C., A.S. Garmestani, D.G. Angeler, D.L. Herrmann, C.A. Stow, M. Nyström, J. Sendzimir, M.E. Hopton, J. Kolasa, and C.R. Allen. 2016. Biological invasions, ecological resilience and adaptive governance. Journal of Environmental Management. 183: 399-407. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.04.040

Herrmann, D.L., K. Schwartz, W.D. Shuster, A. Berland, B.C. Chaffin, A.S. Garmestani, and M.E. Hopton. 2016. Ecology for the shrinking city. BioScience. doi:10.1093/biosci/biw062

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

Chaffin, B.C., R.K. Craig, H. Gosnell, and A.S. Garmestani. 2016. Institutional networks and adaptive water governance in the Klamath River Basin, USA. Environmental Science & Policy 57: 112-121.

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.

Cosens, B., L.H. Gunderson, and B.C. Chaffin. 2014. The Adaptive Water Governance Project: Assessing Law, Resilience and Governance in Regional Socio-Ecological Water Systems facing a Changing Climate. Idaho Law Review: Natural Resources & Environmental Law Edition 51 (1): 1-27. 

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.  

Chaffin, B.C., R.L. Mahler, J.D. Wulfhorst, and B. Shafii. 2012. Collaborative Watershed Groups in Three Pacific Northwest States: A regional evaluation of group metrics and perceived success. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 48 (1): 113-122.