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Confronting a 'post-truth water world' in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

R. Quentin Grafton
Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University;

Matthew J. Colloff
Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University;

Virginia Marshall
School of Regulation and Global Governance and Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University;

John Williams
Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University;

ABSTRACT: Several independent findings about the current state of the environment and water management in the Murray-Darling Basin were released in early 2019 by the South Australia Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission, the Australian Productivity Commission, and the Australian Academy of Science. We review these findings in relation to: an environmentally sustainable level of water diversions, as mandated in the Australian Water Act 2007; Sovereign Indigenous water rights and interests; the economics of water recovery to increase stream and river flows; and water governance. After reviewing the independent findings and the responses by government agencies, we propose the following actions to respond to post-truth: (1) instituting greater transparency in measurements of water use, consumption, storage and return flows and also of water values (market and non-market); (2) using deliberative democracy, engaging in more effective and inclusive participation in decision-making in terms of water planning and allocations, especially of those who have been long excluded such as the First Peoples of Australia; and (3) giving primacy to the environmental goals of the Water Act 2007 and supporting this through the establishment of an independent standing commission which reports to the Australian parliament and has audit and oversight powers in relation to land, water and the environment.

KEYWORDS: Scientific integrity, deliberative democracy, regulatory capture, Indigenous water rights, Murray-Darling Basin, Australia



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The human right to water in Mexico: Challenges and opportunities

Margaret O. Wilder
School of Geography and Development and Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA;

Polioptro F. Martínez Austria
UNESCO Chair on Hydrometeorological Risks, Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), Puebla, México;

Paul Hernández Romero
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), Puebla, México;

Mary Belle Cruz Ayala
Department of Arid Lands Resource Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona;

ABSTRACT: This article analyses Mexico’s 2012 constitutional guarantee of the human right to water and the new General Water Law that is required to implement it. Mexico has struggled to find consensus regarding a new law, but none has as yet been adopted. We examine three key questions regarding the 2012-2019 period: How is the human right to water defined in the Mexican context? What is the legal and institutional framework for implementing it? What are the opportunities and challenges involved in institutionalising it in light of the proposed water legislation? This research is based on a literature review, participation and observation at public forums, and in-depth interviews with key actors. Two principal legal proposals emerged in 2015, contrasting a technocratic approach with a socially inclusive one; neither was adopted but both remain relevant to the current discourse. The 2018 election re-energised social mobilisation around the right to water, and the government launched a new process for developing legal proposals. Using legal geography and political ecology as theoretical framings, we find that the new law creates opportunities for transforming access to water for marginalised communities, yet faces social, political and structural obstacles. Despite the challenges, the constitutional guarantee of the right to water is a positive foundation for democratising water governance in Mexico.

KEYWORDS: Human right to water, legal geography, political ecology, Mexico

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Between project and region: The challenges of managing water in Shandong Province After the South-North Water Transfer Project

Dan Chen
College of Agricultural Engineering, Hohai University, Nanjing, China;

Zhaohui Luo
College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, China;

Michael Webber
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Sarah Rogers
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Ian Rutherfurd
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Mark Wang
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Brian Finlayson
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Min Jiang
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Chenchen Shi
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

Wenjing Zhang
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;

ABSTRACT: This paper examines the challenges that a region of China is facing as it seeks to integrate a centrally planned, hierarchically determined water transfer project into its own water supply systems. Water from China's South-North Water Transfer Project (SNWTP) has been available in Shandong since 2013. How has this province been managing the integration of SNWTP water into its water supply plans, and what challenges is it facing in the process? This paper demonstrates that Shandongʼs planners consistently overestimated future demand for water; this, together with the threats posed by reduced flows in the Yellow River, encouraged the Shandong government to support the building of the SNWTP. However, between the genesis of the plans for the SNWTP and its construction, the supply from the Yellow River became more reliable and the engineering systems and the efficiency of water use in Shandong Province itself has improved. As a result, by the time the SNWTP water became available, the province had little pressing need for it. Besides this reduced demand for SNWTP water, there have been difficulties in managing delivery of, and payment for, water within the province. These difficulties include unfinished local auxiliary projects that connect cities to the main canal, high water prices, conflict and lack of coordination among stakeholders, and ambiguous management policies. The result is that in 2016, on average, cities used less than 10% of their allocated quota of SNWTP water, while seven cities used none of their quota. The story of the SNWTP in Shandong is that of a centralised, hierarchically planned, fixed infrastructure with its deterministic projections coming into conflict with the fluidity of water demand and local political circumstances.

KEYWORDS: South-North Water Transfer Project (SNWTP), water demand, politics, planning, Shandong, China

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Framing the fluidity of water management conflicts in the Bagré irrigation scheme, Burkina Faso

Gabin Korbéogo
Joseph Ki-Zerbo University, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso;

ABSTRACT: Anchored in qualitative and quantitative research, this article analyses the main factors of water-related conflicts in the Bagré large-scale irrigation system in Burkina Faso. It addresses the question of how conflicts over the uses of water emerge, and how conflict management works in terms of local conflict resolution mechanisms. The analysis illustrates how water-related conflicts are connected to material objects or assets as well as to the deviant behaviours of some farmers such as non-compliance with water allocation rules. The occurrence of conflicts and their severity depend on the nature and density of social ties between local stakeholders and the economic value of what is at stake. When solutions to water-related conflicts are contested by stakeholders they can become exacerbated until they extend beyond the irrigation scheme and spread to other social spheres at the village and regional level; this shows the fluidity of water-related conflicts and their potential to grow beyond the issue at hand. The article points out that water conflicts are settled with the help of various social actors, networks and mechanisms, and through interpersonal negotiations which unfold in farmer-based and official institutions. The article goes on to argue that because of the social networks that connect local actors, and because of the necessity of preserving social peace, farmer-based institutions and face-to-face conciliation are the most commonly used conflict resolution mechanisms; through these mechanisms, those participating in irrigation schemes have modified the ways in which local institutions deal with water-based conflicts.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation systems, water resource management, rural livelihoods, water conflicts, conflict management, Bagré, Burkina Faso


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Querying water co-governance: Yukon First Nations and water governance in the context of modern land claim agreements

Nicole J. Wilson
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;

ABSTRACT: There exist few examples of functioning water co-governance systems where Indigenous and settler colonial governments work together to share authority for water on a nation-to-nation basis. In this paper I examine the multiple barriers to achieving water co-governance, highlighted by a multidimensional framework including distributional, procedural and recognitional (in)justices. I apply this framework to a case study in the Yukon, Canada, which is based on research conducted in partnership with four out of fourteen Yukon First Nations (Carcross/Tagish, Kluane, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and White River First Nations); all are in areas where the water governance system is shaped by Indigenous water rights and authorities that are acknowledged in modern land claim and self-government agreements. Despite the many substantive and positive changes resulting from the explicit acknowledgement of Yukon First Nation water rights, I find that this system falls short of achieving co-governance. In particular, Yukon First Nations critiques highlight the limitations imposed by the continued assertion of 'Crown' jurisdiction over water and by the marginalisation of Indigenous legal orders that follows from the privileging of settler worldviews and forms of governance. Thus, co-governance arrangements depend not only on the distributional justice of shared jurisdiction; Indigenous legal orders and relationships to water must also be reflected in the procedural and recognitional justices of the decision-making processes and institutions that are developed.

KEYWORDS: Co-governance, environmental justice, Indigenous law, Indigenous water governance, modern land claims, Yukon, Canada

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Pop-up infrastructure: Water ATMs and new delivery networks in India

Jeremy J. Schmidt
Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK;

ABSTRACT: Over the last decade, thousands of water ATMs have been installed across the Global South. In India, these vending machines increasingly augment both formal and informal networks of water supply and delivery. This article examines media reports on water ATMs in India in order to survey some of the variance across different water ATM technologies with respect to cost, capacity, and fit with infrastructure networks. It then examines how water ATMs are socially and politically positioned with respect to existing, promised, and incomplete infrastructure projects where they are installed: slums, hospitals, commuting routes, railway stations, rural villages, religious sites, and in 'smart city' initiatives. The analysis considers how water ATMs frustrate the distinctions between formal and informal infrastructure that are often used to describe differences in water networks. The article develops a novel approach to water ATMs as 'pop-up infrastructure' in which the movement of matter is operationally independent from, and only contingently reliant on, existing water delivery networks. Despite their unique aspects, water ATMs produce new common borders among social, material, and political relations to water. These relations are often contested and suggest important areas for future research on water ATMs.

KEYWORDS: Water ATMs, infrastructure, smart cities, urban, rural, peri-urban, India



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Opening the gates of the Pak Mun Dam: Fish migrations, domestic water supply, irrigation projects and politics

Ian G. Baird
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA;

Kanokwan Manorom
Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University, Ubon Ratchathani, Warin Chamrap, Thailand;

Aurore Phenow
Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA;

Sirasak Gaja-Svasti
Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University, Ubon Ratchathani, Warin Chamrap, Thailand;

ABSTRACT: The Pak Mun Dam on the Mun River in Ubon Ratchathani Province in northeastern Thailand has long been one of the most controversial hydropower projects in Southeast Asia. The environmental and social impacts associated with blocking important fish migrations between the mainstream Mekong River and the Mun River Basin are particularly well known. Fishers, non-governmental organisations and academics have advocated for opening the gates of the dam either year-round or at least for an extended period, and especially at the beginning of the rainy season when a large number of fish migrate upstream. Crucially, however, the damʼs gates are not always opened at the beginning of the rainy season as required by previous agreements. Water management issues associated with opening the Pak Mun Dam have become increasingly complex and fraught because of additional challenges relating to the construction of new infrastructure such as irrigation dams on tributaries, and because of an increasing demand for piped domestic water to supply urban dwellers in Ubon Ratchathani City. In this paper, we adopt a political ecology approach to examine the present economic, ecological and political circumstances associated with the management of the Pak Mun Dam, including the trade-offs associated with different possible management decisions.

KEYWORDS: Hydropower dam, fish migration, infrastructure, fisheries, Pak Mun, Thailand



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Sociotechnical alternatives and controversies in extending water and sanitation networks in Lima, Peru

Laure Criqui
Independent researcher and consultant, Paris, France;

ABSTRACT: Basic service utilities in developing countries have long been criticised for their inefficiencies. Lima’s public utility firm, even so, has experimented with technical, social and institutional alternatives in order to adapt and extend water and sanitation networks to informal settlements. Though efficient, these innovative solutions have challenged conventional work practices and have not prompted a paradigm shift in the water and sanitation sector. The political economy of the utility’s neoliberal reform and its limitations has already been extensively studied. Much less studied, however, are the everyday practices and discourses that underpin what can be considered to be innovation niches and which have actually permitted service extension to the poor. Focusing on these practices, this paper examines the cognitive, social and political controversies around adjusting the ‘modern infrastructure ideal’ to informal urbanisation patterns. It shows how urban policies in the Global South are both highly influenced by conventional international models and required to adapt to ‘unconventional’ conditions. It argues that the sociotechnical dimension of urban water supply has been neglected in conducting service delivery reforms, hindering sustainable implementation of innovations. Changing professional mindsets and practices therefore appears as a key driver in the support of pro-poor alternatives in urban water and sanitation provision.

KEYWORDS: Lima, water and sanitation, innovation, sociotechnical regimes, informal urbanisation