Folder Issue 3



The local and national politics of groundwater overexploitation

François Molle
UMR G-Eau, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Univ Montpellier, France;

Elena López-Gunn
I-CATALIST, S.L., Madrid, Spain; and Visiting Fellow, University of Leeds, UK;

Frank van Steenbergen
MetaMeta Research, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: Groundwater overexploitation is a worldwide phenomenon with important consequences and as yet few effective solutions. Work on groundwater governance often emphasises the roles of both formal state-centred policies and tools and self-governance and collective action. Yet, empirically grounded work is limited and scattered, making it difficult to identify and characterise key emerging trends. Groundwater policy-making is frequently premised on an overestimation of the power of the state, which is often seen as incapable or unwilling to act and constrained by a myriad of logistical, political and legal issues. Actors on the ground either find many ways to circumvent regulations or develop their own bricolage of patched, often uncoordinated, solutions; whereas in other cases corruption and capture occur, for example in water right trading rules, sometimes with the complicity – even bribing – of officials. Failed regulation has a continued impact on the environment and the crowding out of those lacking the financial means to continue the race to the bottom. Groundwater governance systems vary widely according to the situation, from state-centred governance to co-management and rare instances of community-centred management. The collection of papers in this issue illustrates the diversity of situations, the key role of the state, the political intricacies of achieving sustainability and establishing a mode of governance that can account for the externalities of groundwater overdraft, and the opportunities to establish cooperative arrangements.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater overexploitation, groundwater governance, water politics, water policy, wells, common-pool resources, co-management, permits, allocation


Differentiated access: Challenges of equitable and sustainable groundwater exploitation in Tanzania

Hans C. Komakech
WISE – Futures: Centre for Water Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy Futures, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Arusha, Tanzania;

Chris de Bont
Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden;

ABSTRACT: Groundwater is an important resource for a large share of the global population and economies. Although groundwater dependence in most sub-Saharan African countries is relatively low at the national level, localized overexploitation is occurring, leading to a decline in groundwater levels and quality deterioration. Currently, the sustainable and equitable governance of groundwater, both through promotion and regulation, is turning out to be a key challenge in many sub-Saharan African countries. This paper uses case studies of urban groundwater governance in Arusha, and rural groundwater development in the Pangani basin, to analyse how the current policy and regulation inadvertently creates spaces for asymmetric access to (good quality) groundwater resources in Tanzania. It shows how the groundwater landscape is evolving into a situation where small users (farmers and households) rely on springs and shallow wells, while large users (commercial users and urban water authorities) are encouraged to sink deep boreholes. Amidst a lack of knowledge and enforcing capacity, exacerbated by different priorities among government actors, the water access rights of shallow well and spring users are being threatened by increased groundwater exploitation. Hence, the current groundwater policy and institutional setup do not only empower larger actors to gain disproportionate access to the groundwater resources, but presents this as a benefit for small users whose water security will supposedly increase.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater governance, access, equity, sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania


Has Morocco’s groundwater policy changed? Lessons from the institutional approach

Kévin Del Vecchio
Sciences Po Lyon, UMR Triangle, Lyon; and UMR G-EAU, Montpellier, France;

Sylvain Barone
Irstea, UMR G-Eau, University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France;

ABSTRACT: Morocco’s Water Act of 1995 created River Basin Agencies (RBAs) designed to implement water policy according to the international standard of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). This institutional development was accompanied by new claims regarding the management and preservation of natural resources, including groundwater resources. Aquifer contracts were introduced for this purpose. This article aims to analyse their implementation and seeks to explain both the change and continuity in groundwater policy. Through a neo-institutional approach it highlights the historical and long-term processes and institutional factors behind groundwater policy outputs. It stresses the influence of bureaucratic interests and sectoral competition on the development and implementation of groundwater policy in Morocco. Finally, this article shows that, while the main policy objectives have changed very little as supply-side mechanisms remain dominant, the process of implementation is neither linear nor guided by a single, central rationale.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, public policy, administration, neo-institutionalism, Morocco


Groundwater balance politics: Aquifer overexploitation in the Orontes River Basin

Saadé-Sbeih Myriam
NAVIER, École des Ponts ParisTech, Champs-sur-Marne, France; Laboratoire les Afriques dans le Monde, Bordeaux, France;

Haj Asaad Ahmed
University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland;

Shamali Omar
Geo Expertise, Geneva, Switzerland;

Zwahlen François
Centre for Hydrogeology and Geothermics, University of Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland;

Jaubert Ronald
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: Aquifer overexploitation is widely used to describe negative effects on groundwater resources but has no agreed scientific definition. Usually viewed as a situation where average aquifer abstraction exceeds average recharge, a diagnosis of groundwater overdraft calls upon specific hydrogeological instruments, based on the groundwater balance approach. An analytical method for assessing changes in water flows and stocks through time and space, groundwater balance is also a tool for the investigation of knowledge construction and its embeddedness within power relations. We propose to discuss the politics of groundwater overexploitation diagnoses in Syria and more specifically the Orontes River Basin prior to the 2011 uprising and subsequent conflict. Groundwater overdraft at the national level became a matter of concern in official discourse in the late 1990s as diagnoses of groundwater overexploitation became commonplace in international reports. The steady increase in groundwater abstraction in relation to Syria’s centralised agricultural planning from the 1960s onward had undeniable consequences on the hydro-social system. However, the way diagnoses of groundwater overexploitation – in particular groundwater balances – were constructed and used to support water policies implemented from the mid-1990s onwards question the rationalities and interests lying behind technical arguments and actions.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater overexploitation, groundwater balance, politics, Orontes River Basin, Syria


Experiences with local water governance and outcomes for vulnerable communities in the Tihama Region of Yemen

Leslie Morris-Iveson
Environmental Recovery Consultants (ERC) Ltd., Oxford, UK;

Ahmed Alderwish
University of Sana’a, Sana’a, Yemen;

ABSTRACT: In communities that contend with low levels of human development in meeting basic needs, risks relating to groundwater overabstraction can enhance preexisting vulnerabilities. In Yemen, where per capita freshwater availability is amongst the lowest in the world, the most severe outcomes of water scarcity are felt at the local level, by the most marginalised. In addition to an analysis of available knowledge on norms and practices for community water management and the informal and formal networks that operate in rural Yemen, qualitative-based original research was undertaken in Hajjah and Al-Hodeidah governorates. The main objective of this research was to understand how improvements on management practices could lead to better outcomes for the poor.The research demonstrates that community members in areas that are typified by water insecurity have a high degree of awareness of the different factors, both hydrological and political, that lead to groundwater depletion. Community members have a collective interest to build on existing practices that respond to risks in order to safeguard resources – particularly in addressing the stemming of water overabstraction through deep well drilling to develop cash crops. The research also highlights the difficulties communities face in overcoming power structures which inhibit their efforts in implementing water-related decision- making.The paper argues that for improved water management practices to take place, the political nature of water management at the local level must be considered with a realistic identification of the stakeholders involved. Strengthening a formalised local government structure may have limited effectiveness if it is done without recognising the traditional and informal forms of leadership, and the existing patterns of power which drive local water governance. The paper concludes that there is an interest/demand for developing or further promoting allocation principles to promote equity amongst communities.

KEYWORDS: IWRM, water security, water scarcity, local water governance, groundwater management, Yemen


Failed policies, falling aquifers: Unpacking groundwater overabstraction in Iran

Ehsan Nabavi
School of Sociology, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University;

ABSTRACT: The rapid depletion of aquifers around the world is a growing concern. This depletion raises important questions at national and local levels about different aspects of groundwater over-exploitation and related social and political implications. Iran is a country which has historically relied on groundwater resources for development purposes, but in recent decades it has experienced a progressive decline in water levels of aquifers across the country. Groundwater policies and measures to control overabstraction have largely failed to restore the groundwater balance.This paper explores some of the key aspects of Iran’s persistent groundwater overabstraction problem. It addresses the demographic, legal, infrastructural, economic, socio-institutional, bureaucratic, and knowledge and expertise challenges as they affect water distribution and water security.The paper illustrates how technocratic knowledge-making, myopic policymaking, and populist lawmaking related to groundwater use have caused mismanagement at the national level and overabstraction at the local level. It is therefore essential that policy reforms pertaining to groundwater be guided by transformative visions in different areas of governance. A consistent, transparent, and integrated legal and institutional framework for law enforcement must be developed; the social and political costs of enforcing regulations must be reduced; and local communities must be included in law- and policy-making as well as implementation.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater management, overabstraction, water policy, water law, water governance, Iran


Inaction of society on the drawdown of groundwater resources: A case study of Rafsanjan Plain in Iran

S. Jalal Mirnezami
Research Institute of Science, Technology and Industry Policy (RISTIP), Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran; Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran;

Ali Bagheri
Department of Water Resources Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran;

Ali Maleki
Research Institute of Science, Technology and Industry Policy (RISTIP), Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran;

ABSTRACT: In this paper we will present a case study in Iran which explains the reasons for inaction by a society that is highly dependent on rapidly depleting groundwater resources. To obtain a better understanding of social inaction when faced with groundwater depletion, we investigated the changing role of society in groundwater systems and the movement away from collective action. A qualitative inquiry was used in this study, based mainly on an analysis of multiple interviews conducted with groundwater users, complemented by documentary analysis. Results are presented in different sections. First, a brief description of groundwater management in Rafsanjan is presented as typical of groundwater management in Iran. Then we present the chronology of the emergence of chaos in groundwater management in Rafsanjan. Finally, we provide the water users’ dominant frame of reference for the resolution of the critical water resource situation. Results indicate that the two main factors contributing to changes in groundwater drawdown are technological transitions and national policy reforms. However, findings suggest that the incorporation of factors related to political ecology – such as power relations, equity, and corruption – are important elements to consider in relation to the collective self-regulation of groundwater social-ecological systems. This paper does not provide a feasibility study for implementing a specific model of community-based management in Rafsanjan Plain, neither does it present an action plan towards self-regulation. It does, however, provide a more realistic viewpoint on the potential for pursuing a community-based management approach by helping to identify key challenges that would have to be considered.

KEYWORDS: Inaction, society, over-exploitation, groundwater, Rafsanjan, Iran


Managed aquifer recharge in India: Consensual policy but controversial implementation

Audrey Richard-Ferroudji
Independent Consultant, Associated researcher at UMR G-EAU, Univ Montpellier, Montpellier, France;

Raghunath T.P.
Centre for Ecology & Rural Development (CERD), Puducherry, India;

Venkatasubramanian G.
French Institute of Pondicherry, Puducherry, India;

ABSTRACT: In the Indian water policy, Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is considered as one of the best supply side water management options to face groundwater depletion. It is expected to optimize the resource as well as attain environmental sustainability and meet water demands and social justice. It is also expected to be implemented with a paradigmatic shift in water management. From policy to practices, at the local level, numerous recharge structures exist, are built or planned and reveal controversial implementation. With a socio-historical approach, our paper analyses the trajectory of MAR implementation in the Pondicherry Region (South India). Through interviews and observations, the trajectories of two local projects are scrutinized, The Tank Rehabilitation Programs in Pondicherry district and a recharge shaft in Kiliyanur. Stakeholders' strategies and values regarding MAR are analysed and how local appropriation leads to adaptation and diversion. Finally, there is no paradigmatic shift going with MAR implementation. Instead, MAR is shown as a consensual policy because it is a possible compromise between groundwater conservation, optimization of the resource, satisfaction of the users and social justice, but controversial positions and oppositions should be acknowledged within implementation. The paper discusses opposed conceptions of MAR: participatory vs. expert driven, demand vs. supply driven and traditional vs. modern.

KEYWORDS: Participation, paradigm, local appropriation, artificial recharge, India


Socio-environmental dynamics and emerging groundwater dependencies in peri-urban Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Anushiya Shrestha
Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands;

Dik Roth
Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands;

Deepa Joshi
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University, Coventry, England;

ABSTRACT: Groundwater is an increasingly important source of water supply in Kathmandu Valley, one of the fastest-growing South-Asian urban agglomerations. A groundwater policy drafted in 2012 was partly an outcome of an institutional restructuring of water management in Kathmandu Valley. Our findings in this article show that this policy lacks attention to peri-urban dynamics of change and growth and does little to address the unplanned and unregulated groundwater use in peri-urban locations in the valley, which urbanises at a faster rate than the main city. This article discusses the growing use of, and dependence on, groundwater in these rapidly evolving peri-urban spaces. Groundwater use continues to increase, despite growing protests and worries about its consequences. Our findings show that the polarised views and local conflicts around groundwater exploitation are the outcome of multiple entanglements: sectoral divides and overlapping responsibilities in water institutions, governance and management; social and economic transformations in peri-urban spaces; the invisibility of groundwater; and ambiguity in the hydrological dynamics of conjunctive water use. While we see no easy solutions to these problems, the policy-relevant recommendations we derive from our analysis of the drivers and the dynamics of using, governing and managing groundwater draw attention to the complex on-the-ground realities that need to be better understood for addressing macro-micro gaps in (ground)water management.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, institutions, peri-urbanisation, policy, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal



Emerging scarcity and emerging commons: Water management groups and groundwater governance in Aotearoa New Zealand

Sarah Boone
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington, New Zealand;

Stephen Fragaszy
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington, New Zealand;

ABSTRACT: In New Zealand, intensifying agricultural production, particularly in the Canterbury and Heretaunga Plains, has led to groundwater overabstraction. Aquifer connectivity to lowland streams results in decreased streamflow with concomitant impacts on nutrient concentrations and other relevant factors for indigenous flora and fauna. Recent legislative reforms including the 2017 amendments to the National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management have increased local government responsibility and authority to address cumulative effects of diffuse resource use and have increased pressure on agricultural communities to farm within environmental constraints. Numerous water management groups (WMGs) have emerged across New Zealand in the past decade to deal with these reforms and ensure reliability of irrigation water supply. Regional governments view WMGs as helpful in dealing with water allocation challenges and integrated environmental management approaches. This paper uses two case study WMGs from Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury to illustrate aspects of common property management and explore the viability of this type of localised resource governance. The study highlights how these WMGs have navigated groundwater, local government, and environmental management issues and how their local context and constraints shaped their development. It also illustrates how WMGs can engage with water quality and broader environmental challenges while ensuring members’ economic viability.

KEYWORDS: Water user groups, common property resource institutions, surface water–groundwater interactions, local governance, groundwater quality, New Zealand


Groundwater governance in the Rio Grande: Co-evolution of local and intergovernmental management

Lucia De Stefano
Facultad de Ciencias Geológicas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain; and Water Observatory, Botin Foundation, Madrid, Spain;

Christina Welch
Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA;

Julia Urquijo
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain;

Dustin Garrick
Smith School Water Programme, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;

ABSTRACT: The physical interconnection of ground and surface waters is rarely acknowledged in inter-state and international agreements over surface water. This is especially true in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo basin, where groundwater pumping is at the heart of several disputes and legal cases related to compliance with intergovernmental water agreements. This research considers the Upper and Middle Rio Grande basin to explore how groundwater use and management interact with interstate (i.e. intranational within the US) and international relations (US-Mexico). We consider three distinct geographic regions to address the following questions: how have intergovernmental surface water agreements affected local groundwater management and policies? And, how does groundwater management at local scale influence intergovernmental relations over water? We combine documentary data and interview data collected through extensive fieldwork during 2016 and 2017. The analysis reveals the emergence of both state-driven and community-based groundwater initiatives aimed at reconciling needs and obligations stemming from different geographical and institutional levels. The analysis uncovers strong institutional interplay across water management levels and suggests that compliance with intergovernmental agreements in federal and international contexts both affects and is affected by local groundwater management. Moreover, we observed that while local water managers are sometimes prevented from solving problems locally due to interstate rules, opportunities for innovation in local groundwater governance can also be triggered by compliance obligations at other levels.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, transboundary water management, federal, interstate, institutional interplay, Rio Grande/Rio Bravo


Establishment of agencies for local groundwater governance under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Anita Milman
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, US;

Luisa Galindo
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, US;

William Blomquist
Department of Political Science, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana, US;

Esther Conrad
Community Engaged Learning for Environmental Sustainability, Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, US;

ABSTRACT: With the passage of its 'Sustainable Groundwater Management Act' (SGMA), California devolved both authority and responsibility for achieving sustainable groundwater management to the local level, with state-level oversight. The passage of SGMA created a new political situation within each groundwater basin covered by the law, as public agencies were tasked with self-organizing to establish local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). This research examines GSA formation decisions to determine where GSAs formed, whether they were formed by a single agency or a partnership, and whether agencies chose to pursue sustainable groundwater management by way of a single basin-wide organization or by coordinating across multiple organizational structures. The research then tests hypotheses regarding the relative influence of control over the resource, control over decision-making, transaction costs, heterogeneity and institutional bricolage on GSA formation decisions. Results indicate mixed preferences for GSA structure, though a majority of public water agencies preferred to independently form a GSA rather than to partner in forming a GSA. Results also suggest GSA formation decisions are the result of overlapping and interacting concerns about control, heterogeneity, and transaction costs. Future research should examine how GSA formation choices serve to influence achievement of groundwater sustainability at the basin scale.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, governance, politics, mandate implementation, California


Diversification or loading order? Divergent water-energy politics and the contradictions of desalination in southern California

Joe Williams
Durham University, Department of Geography, Durham, UK;

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the contradictory and sometimes incompatible imperatives towards enhancing water supply reliability and addressing the water-energy nexus. Using the highly contested development of seawater desalination for municipal water supply in the San Diego metropolitan region as an analytical entry point, the paper excavates divergent water-energy politics emerging in California. Two underlying paradigm shifts of water governance are identified. First, supply diversification represents an attempt to increase reliability through the development of multiple decentralised water sources. Second, the notion of a loading order is being promoted by certain groups as a way of prioritising different water source options according to sustainability criteria, including energy footprint. Drawing on the concept of the socio-ecological fix, the paper argues that seawater desalination – as a technological adaptation to water stress – occupies a paradoxical position, being consistent with diversification, but representing a water-energy trade-off inconsistent with the loading order. This has resulted, the paper suggests, in a polarised debate between desalination and wastewater recycling as alternative climate-independent sources of freshwater. As such, the disputes over desalination in San Diego are understood to be a crucible for broader politics of resource governance transitions.

KEYWORDS: Water-energy nexus, desalination, political ecology, diversification, loading order, California


'In these complicated times': An environmental history of irrigated agriculture in post-communist Ukraine

Brian Kuns
Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden;

ABSTRACT: This paper examines irrigation in post-communist Southern Ukraine, mapping the continuity of late Soviet investments in centre pivot irrigation technology in the post-Soviet period, but also situating this large-scale irrigation in a regional context where there are significant, but uneven, changes in water access. Framing irrigation change within long-term environmental history, this paper argues that post-Soviet developments are the consequence of a collapsing modernisation project. An Actor Network approach is used to explore the ontological politics surrounding possible alternative uses of irrigated farm fields, as well as the 'agency' of centre pivot irrigation technology, which 'acts' to undermine landowners’ rights. This is noted as ironic, because the technology was originally imported from the United States during the Cold War, while post-communist land reform was influenced by the Washington Consensus. Uneven water access near the area with centre pivot irrigation is explored. Understanding this uneven geography puts post-Soviet agrarian change in Ukraine in perspective, identifying the disappearance of collective farms as a factor driving changing water access. The paper concludes that 20th century Soviet investments in irrigation are potentially more sustainable than comparable investments in other countries – as in the American West – complicating the conventionally negative view of Soviet environmental management.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, agrarian change, environmental history, Ukraine, USSR


The continuous quest for control by African irrigation planners in the face of farmer-led irrigation development: The case of the Lower Moshi Area, Tanzania (1935-2017)

Chris de Bont
Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden;

ABSTRACT: Although much has been written about the indigenous irrigation systems of Tanzania, there has been no comprehensive historical study of state irrigation planning. This article fills this gap by analysing irrigation development policy in Tanzania between 1935 and 2017. Based on archival research, and using the Lower Moshi area in Kilimanjaro Region as a case study, it contains an analysis of 80 years of irrigation policy and state intervention. It distinguishes between four periods, based on changes in the perceived role of irrigation and the different actors that were considered important. It notes that the belief in the necessity of state intervention and formal engineering for proper irrigation development ran through all the time periods, and that these were the key factors defining the state’s attitude towards irrigation development planning, regardless of the political situation. This article argues that, ultimately, the development narrative of 'modern' irrigation as a driver for agricultural transformation has been successful in depoliticising irrigation interventions and has succeeded in closing the debate on whether state-controlled irrigation development is really the best way to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. To provide space for reflection on the possible role of governments in promoting, supporting, and regulating farmer-led irrigation development, future debates on African irrigation should start by recognising the unique contributions that can be made by farmers in realising the continent’s development targets.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation history, rendering technical, farmer-led irrigation development, Africa, Tanzania


Tankers, wells, pipes and pumps: Agents and mediators of water geographies in Amman, Jordan

Daanish Mustafa
Department of Geography, King’s College, London, UK;

Samer Talozi
Department of Civil Engineering, Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST), Irbid, Jordan;

ABSTRACT: Water tankers and private wells along with the municipal piped water system have become an important feature of the techno-social assemblage of water supply in Amman, Jordan. The article takes a theoretically hybrid approach aimed at generating a conversation between actor-network theory (ANT) and the critical-realist and political-economic approaches. We undertake both ANT-inspired and then social-structural analysis of the geography of access to water in Amman. The ANT-based analysis of 'things' like tankers, wells, pipes and pumps draws attention to their relational agency in enabling or constraining access to water. The structural analyses remind us of the enduring class-, gender- and geopolitically based power relations that provide the context for the technologies, or things, to work. The key argument is that ANT is useful as a meso-level framework, which may enrich structuralist narratives on geographies of access to water. Specifically, in the case of Amman, Jordan, the inequitable access to water is linked to the history of the Jordanian state, its security imperatives and the technologies that are pressed into service to manage water.

KEYWORDS: Actor-Network Theory (ANT), Critical Realism, water tankers, private wells, Amman, Jordan


Integrating water footprint and sefficiency: Overcoming WF criticisms and improving decision making

Naim Haie
Water Resources and Environment Division, Civil Engineering Department, University of Minho, Guimarães, Portugal; and International Water Resources Association, Paris, France;

Miguel Rodrigues Freitas
Department of Studies and Planning, Águas do Norte, SA (AdP Group), Portuguese Public Water and Wastewater Company, Guimarães, Portugal;

Joana Castro Pereira
Lusíada University, Porto, Portugal; and IPRI-NOVA, Portuguese Institute of International Relations, Lisbon, Portugal;

ABSTRACT: The Water Footprint Network (WFN) methodology has emerged as a major framework of/for policy analysis as water problems increase. Being addressed by a growing body of literature, water footprint (WF) accounting has advanced substantially in recent years, whereas its sustainability assessment has lagged behind. For this and other reasons, the suitability of WF in guiding water management and planning has been criticised. Simultaneously, water efficiency has gone through much discussion and a new framework called 'sefficiency' (sustainable efficiency) has been presented. It uses a universal law (water balance) to develop systemic and comprehensive performance indicators, integrating water quantity, pollution and value to reveal their trade-offs in multi-level governance with climate descriptors and stakeholder enablers. This article revisits WF criticisms in six categories and advances the sustainability assessment phase of the WFN framework via sefficiency. Starting from, and critically reviewing, a two-country example presented by Dennis Wichelns, we illustrate, through nine (3x3) scenarios, real possibilities of integrating WF and sefficiency. The results reveal that economic and/or WF perspectives alone are insufficient to improve water decision-making processes, not necessarily guaranteeing an increase in the performance of the full system. Consequently, policy makers should be doubly careful about, for example, WF reductions, if sefficiency also decreases.

KEYWORDS: Water footprint, virtual water trade, sefficiency (sustainable efficiency), water resources management, water policies


Reimagining spaces of innovation for water efficiency and demand management: An exploration of professional practices in the English water sector

Claire Hoolohan
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK;

Alison L. Browne
Sustainable Consumption Institute/Geography, University of Manchester, UK;

ABSTRACT: Social practice theories have established an important counter narrative to conventional accounts of demand. The core argument of this body of research is that, having focused on informing and incentivising behavioural change, demand management has largely neglected the social and material dimensions of everyday action that shape how and why resources are used. Despite making a compelling case for reframing demand management, there is limited evidence of practice-based approaches having gained a foothold in policy and business practices. This raises important questions regarding how and why certain modes of intervention are pursued at the expense of others and, more broadly, the factors that shape the pace and direction of innovation in demand management. In this paper we turn a practice-lens towards the professional practices of demand management. Using mixed methods, we demonstrate how specific modes of intervention emerge as priorities within a social, political, semiotic and material landscape of professional practice. Our empirical analysis highlights four particular contingencies of demand management that constrain the scope of interventions pursued. These are industry expectations and ideals; modes of collaboration; processes of evidencing action; and hydrosocial disturbances. We discuss the implications of these findings, making suggestions as to how innovation in the practices of demand management might be facilitated, and the role of academic research in this process.

KEYWORDS: Water, demand management, governance, behaviour change, intervention, social change


Development through bricoleurs: Portraying local personnel’s role in implementation of water resources development in Rural Nepal

Juho Haapala
Water and Development Research Group, Aalto University, Aalto, Finland;

Pamela White
Development Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland; and Development Consulting, FCG International ltd.;

ABSTRACT: This article considers the little studied role of local implementation staff and their institutional operational environment at the grassroots of a rural development intervention in Nepal. The study describes the challenges the implementing staff encounters in relation to the steering policies, project modalities, local communities, partners in government administration, and their personal motivations. It observes the ways in which the implementing individuals must collaborate with their partners and facilitate the planned changes in local institutions and individual behaviours. The findings indicate that much of the actual implementation process at the grassroots is determined by informal, improvised, and fuzzy institutional surroundings, quite different to designed or regulated governance environs. The ability to operate in these less-regulated environs determines many of the implementation outcomes at the grassroots. Researchers, managers and decision-makers would benefit from incorporating institutional bricolage to the analyses of development interventions.

KEYWORDS: Institutional bricolage, implementation, adaptive management, rural development, Nepal


Comparative analysis of institutions to govern the groundwater commons in California

Ruth Langridge
University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA;

Christopher Ansell
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA;

ABSTRACT: The management of groundwater, a common-pool resource, is a fundamental collective action problem that can lead to over-exploitation. Our paper examines the management of two groundwater basins in California’s Central Coast region whose geographic proximity, land use patterns, socioeconomic characteristics, and timing of institutional formation provide an ideal basis for comparative study. However, each basin is governed by a distinctive institutional configuration. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency is a legislatively created Special Act District with a collective public management focus, while the Santa Paula Groundwater Basin is managed through a court adjudication with a rights-based focus. We compare the legal and administrative foundations of these institutional arrangements and examine their implications for the polycentric regulation of sustainable groundwater use. We find that while adjudication may specify groundwater rights, an approach that scholars argue can be critical for achieving sustainability, it also promotes insularity with a wider polycentric system and this ultimately limits its management strategies. The Special Act District, by contrast, does not encourage as clear an allocation of water rights, but does encourage a broad sustainability mission and wider polycentric engagement, though it still struggles with declining groundwater levels. Ultimately, neither institutional arrangement fully addresses the problem of groundwater sustainability. This suggests the need for further research on how institutional configurations and developmental pathways impact resource outcomes.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater management, comparative study, adjudicated groundwater basins, special act groundwater districts, polycentric, facilitating conditions, California


Chronicle of a demise foretold: State vs. local groundwater management in Texas and the High Plains Aquifer system

Alvar Closas
International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Cairo, Egypt;

François Molle
UMR G-Eau, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Univ Montpellier, France; and (at the time of the research) International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Cairo, Egypt;

ABSTRACT: This paper assesses a case of co-management of groundwater between the state of Texas, pushing for the rationalisation of groundwater management, and local (mainly farming) communities organised in Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs), which are protective of their private groundwater rights. We first describe the main legal and policy steps that have shaped this relationship. The article focuses on the Texan portion of the Ogallala Aquifer in the High Plains aquifer system – an almost non-renewable system covering 90,000 km2 and providing 95% of the irrigation needs in northern Texas. With this example, we further highlight the strategies of both parties, the different political, administrative, legal and regulatory complexities of the struggle around the definition of GCD-level aquifer management rules (the so-called 'Desired Future Conditions'). We end by reflecting on the power balance that has resulted from successive adjustments to a co-management form of governance, the advantages and disadvantages of a multi-layered state water governance system, and whether the de facto 'managed depletion' of the Ogallala Aquifer in Texas should be seen as an achievement or a failure.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater governance, co-management, groundwater policy, regulation, aquifer depletion, Ogallala, Texas


Adaptive groundwater governance and the challenges of policy implementation in Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain aquifer region

Margaret V. du Bray
Augustana College, Rock Island, IL, USA;

Morey Burnham
Idaho State University, Stop, ID, USA;

Katrina Running
Idaho State University, Stop, ID, USA;

Vicken Hillis
Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA;

ABSTRACT: Globally, groundwater overdraft poses significant challenges to agricultural production. As a result, it is likely that new water management policies and governance arrangements will be needed to stop groundwater depletion and maintain agricultural viability. Drawing on interviews with state and non-state water managers and other water actors, this paper provides a study of a recent resource management agreement between surface water and groundwater irrigators in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer region of Idaho. Using adaptive governance as our descriptive framework, we examine how groundwater governance arrangements emerge and are applied to mitigate the impacts of groundwater overdraft. Our findings suggest that adaptive governance, while not a stated goal of the agreement, may enable flexible and sustainable social and ecological outcomes. Our findings also indicate that this new governance arrangement creates a vacuum in enforcement authority that may prove challenging as the management agreement is implemented. These findings extend our understanding of the conditions necessary for effective adaptive governance of groundwater resources, and highlight the challenge of creating capacity for local resource managers as governance shifts from more bureaucratic to adaptive and decentralised arrangements.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater governance, adaptive governance, irrigated agriculture, US West, Idaho


The ostrich politics of groundwater development and neoliberal regulation in Mexico

Jaime Hoogesteger
Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: In this article I present the politics that spurred groundwater development in Central and Northern Mexico between 1930 and 1990, and analyse the working/effects of the neoliberal groundwater policies that were implemented in the country since the 1990s. I first present, based on an analysis of the Comarca Lagunera and the state of Guanajuato, the socio-economic, political and institutional dynamics that shaped groundwater development between 1930 and 1990, with a special focus on how with state support large commercial farmers and small ejidatarios developed groundwater irrigation. My analysis shows how the actors involved in groundwater development, just like ostriches, stuck their head in the sand, oblivious to aquifer overdraft and its environmental consequences. Then I present how – since the 1990s – neoliberal groundwater regulation policies have worked out on the ground opening the doors to regulatory capture and groundwater accumulation through capital, oblivious to sustained aquifer overdraft, a shrinking peasant ejido sector, increased rural outmigration and the health threat of toxic concentration of Fluoride and Arsenic in many groundwater dependent areas. This analysis raises serious doubts about the capacity of – often (inter)nationally lauded – neoliberally inspired groundwater policies to contribute to socio-environmental sustainability and equity.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, water policy, water markets, water grabbing, agrarian policies, Mexico


Water grabbing via institutionalised corruption in Zacatecas, Mexico

Darcy Tetreault
Department of Development Studies, Autonomous University of Zacatecas (Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas), Mexico; email:

Cindy McCulligh
Department of Development Studies, Autonomous University of Zacatecas (Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas), Mexico; email:

ABSTRACT: Groundwater overdraft is a growing problem in the central region of Zacatecas. In this high-altitude semiarid region located in the Western Sierra Madre of north central Mexico, the over-exploitation of aquifers is compounded by problems of water contamination and unjust distribution. Most of the water extracted from wells, and the best quality water, is delivered to the private sector: to large- and medium-scale farmers and to industrial producers of beverages. Conversely, water with concentrations of arsenic and fluoride far above permissible limits for human consumption is channelled mostly to the public urban sector. Recently, the government of the state of Zacatecas and the National Water Commission have laid plans to build a large dam on the Milpillas River to the west of the state capital, to increase the supply of water for public, urban and industrial consumption in the central region of the state. What are the political economic forces that have historically shaped and continue to shape the water crisis in the central region of Zacatecas? Why have existing water governance policies and practices been unable to effectively address the crisis? Can an interbasin transfer from the Milpillas Dam deliver on its promise to allow aquifers in this region to recover from over-exploitation? We introduce and employ the concept of institutionalised corruption to explain the modus operandi of infringement on water laws by government agencies and large water consumers and/or polluters, particularly for the purpose of accommodating the needs of extractive capital. Along these lines, we demonstrate that the Milpillas Dam will not allow aquifers to recover and argue that the driving political economic forces behind the project treat it as a vehicle for the realisation of capital through the commodification of produced water, which allows for the extraction of rent.

KEYWORDS: Institutionalised corruption, water grabbing, value grabbing, rent, Zacatecas, Mexico


A doubly invisible aquifer: Hydrogeological studies and actorsʼ strategies in the Pampa del Tamarugal Aquifer, northern Chile

Elisabeth Lictevout
Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile; and Carpe Science, San Pedro de la Paz, Chile;

Nicolas Faysse
G-Eau research unit, Cirad, Montpellier University, Montpellier, France; and Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok , Thailand;

ABSTRACT: In northern Chile groundwater resources are used intensively for mining activities, drinking water and agriculture. This article analyses the groundwater management in the Pampa del Tamarugal Aquifer, paying special attention to the links between (a) how information relating to groundwater resources and its uses is applied to management and (b) actors’ strategies and discourses on groundwater management. The analysis focuses on two moments: the decision to stop issuing new water rights and the short-lived experience of a regional water resources research centre. Actors never actually discussed an appropriate groundwater pumping rate and some used groundwater resources as a means of pursuing strategies that were not related to water management per se. Many called for a participatory process to allocate water for different uses, although this would entail changes to Chilean legislation. Such a process would help the Pampa del Tamarugal Aquifer become more 'visible' and could trigger genuine discussion about the status and use of groundwater resources.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater management, hydrogeological assessment, Pampa del Tamarugal, Chile


Groundwater governance: The case of the Grootfontein Aquifer at Mahikeng, South Africa

Jude Cobbing
Consulting hydrogeologist, Washington, DC, USA;

Cleo Rose-Innes
Economist, Washington, DC, USA;

ABSTRACT: This research investigates the case of the Grootfontein Aquifer at Mahikeng. The main aim is to understand why, despite well-established capacity in hydrogeology and progressive groundwater governance rules and practices, groundwater management continues to be poor, with significant deleterious outcomes now and likely in the future. A combination of hydrogeological and institutional analysis reveals a complex set of institutional issues that has inhibited the outcomes anticipated in South African water legislation. The research identifies why conditions are unfavourable for the self-organisation anticipated in the groundwater governance approach that was adopted after 1994, and why actions by specific problem-solving actors are fundamental to the success of this approach. These findings illuminate approaches to economic development that have occurred within the larger public policy context in South Africa since 1994 and find that this has implications for the wider developmental agenda and the political-economic role of the modern African state.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater governance, hydrogeology, Grootfontein Aquifer, common-pool resource, South Africa