The local and national politics of groundwater overexploitation

François Molle
UMR G-Eau, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Univ Montpellier, France; francois.molle@ird.fr

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

Frank van Steenbergen
MetaMeta Research, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands; fvansteenbergen@metameta.nl

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