Failed policies, falling aquifers: Unpacking groundwater overabstraction in Iran

Ehsan Nabavi
School of Sociology, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University; ehsan.nabavi@anu.edu.au

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