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Water institutional reforms in Scotland: Contested objectives and hidden disputes

Antonio A.R. Ioris
School of Geosciences and Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability, University of Aberdeen, UK; a.ioris@abdn.ac.uk


ABSTRACT: One fundamental limitation of the contemporary debate over water institutional reforms has been the excessive concentration on scientific assessments and management techniques, with insufficient consideration of the underlying politics of decision-making and socio-economic asymmetries. This article examines the 'sociology of water regulation' to demonstrate how the implementation of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) in Scotland is profoundly influenced by broader political and economic circumstances. The ongoing reforms of regulatory institutions became entangled in the reorganisation of a devolved Scottish Administration in the late 1990s, which has directly influenced the channels of representation and the overall decision-making processes. It is claimed here that, despite a discursive construction around sustainability and public participation, the new institutional landscape has so far failed to improve long-term patterns of water use and conservation. The article also analyzes how the exacerbation of the economic dimension of water management has permeated the entire experience, serving as a political filter for the assessment of impacts and formulation of solutions. The ultimate conclusion is that formal changes in the legislation created a positive space for institutional reforms, but the effective improvement of water policy and catchment management has been curtailed by political inertia and the hidden balance of power.

KEYWORDS: Water institutions, water institutional reforms, Water Framework Directive, devolution, Scotland