Brian Chaffin

Photo of Chaffin, Brian

Brian Chaffin

Assistant Professor of Water Policy

Office Hours:

Fall 2018: I am away from the UM campus this semester pursuing research; I will return January 2019.

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 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.

I am always looking 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 the Water and Society Lab, 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, but there is potential for funding through the UM BRIDGES National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program at the University of Montana.


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 2019)

NRSM 427: Advanced Water Policy (Spring 2019, Fall 2019)

Graduate Course in Social-ecological Systems Governance (Forthcoming Fall 2019) 

Honors / Awards

NSF EPSCoR RII Track-4 Fellow, University of Nebraska Lincoln (2017-2019)

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., 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. 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.

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.