© 2017 Millennium Economics Ltd. This paper explores associations between disturbances and cooperative responses in a selection of irrigation associations from Spain. Transaction costs and collective action theories are used to characterize disturbances and responses. Disturbances are characterized by looking at the uncertainty they generate, their frequency, the distance of the transacting partners they affect, and their impact on asset-specific transactions. Responses are assessed based on the collective action tasks they involve and classified into coordination and cooperation responses. A qualitative comparative analysis confirms two pathways that are sufficient for the emergence of cooperation responses. The first path is congruent with transaction costs theory, and points to disturbances that are frequent and asset specific; the second path supports relational theory, and points to disturbances that emerge progressively from within the system. Other patterns include the tendency of irrigation associations to delegate to external entities when disturbances are external and occur frequently; and the adaptation of existing institutions when the disturbances are internal and progressive.