Summary Environmental data can play powerful roles in environmental governance. Monitoring and modeling environmental conditions provide a means of assessing conditions, trends, and potential futures, while social context shapes how actors use environmental data in policy implementation, and assessment. Yet questions remain about how and why environmental information is negotiated and used in water quality policy. The primary goal of this research was to understand the social dimensions of environmental data use for governance of non-point source pollution at the land use-water quality nexus, and the ways in which scientific uncertainty informs policy. The research also highlights options to improve the use of environmental data in water quality projects, and to increase the capacity of water governance to adapt to climate change.
Focusing first on Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) in the Upper Midwestern U.S., I conducted an online survey of SWCD employees (n=286) to examine the institutional, environmental and individual factors associated with SWCD staff use of water quality data. I also asked which of those factors increased the likelihood that an SWCD would implement adaptation measures in response to extreme storm events. Next, through a case study of a market-led water quality program in south central Wisconsin, I studied the effects of monitoring and modeling uncertainty on program development and stakeholder buy-in. I draw on these three studies to inform the growing social science literature on how environmental measurements influence public program formation and implementation, and in turn, how policies influence data production.