Folder Issue 2



"We are fingers of a hand that make a fist": Working class alliances in Colorado River water protests in the Mexicali Valley, Mexico

Benjamin P. Warner
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico;

Anthony Meluso
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico;

ABSTRACT: This article explores recent water protests across northern Mexico which emanated from the Mexicali Valley in Baja California, Mexico. Beginning in 2015, communal farmers and industrial labourers, among other groups, aligned under the banner of Defense of Water to protest the construction of a United States-based beverage production facility. Through interviews, participant observation and archival research, we study this social movement through a class-based, historical lens to show how the meaning of water presupposes and represents a century of class politics that has allowed seemingly disparate groups to find meaning and build alliances within it. It is this history that has allowed protesters to achieve shared goals.

KEYWORDS: Social movements, class analysis, longue durée, Colorado River, Mexicali, Mexico




The political ecology of large hydropower dams in the Mekong Basin: A comprehensive review

Carl Middleton
Center of Excellence on Resource Politics for Social Development, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand;

ABSTRACT: Since the early 1990s, the Mekong basin has been transformed from a largely free-flowing basin to one that is increasingly impounded by large hydropower dams, impacting river hydrology, ecology, riparian livelihoods, and water governance. This comprehensive review organises and assesses political ecology literature on large dams in the basin. Following a conceptual scoping of the political ecology of large dams, the review covers: the biophysical impacts of hydropower in the Mekong basin and how the scientific studies that research them relate to political ecology literature; relational hydrosocial approaches, including hydrosocial ordering and networked political ecologies; the ontological multiplicity of the Mekong(s) and associated ontological politics; the political economy of large dams in the Mekong basin and its relationship to transboundary water governance and hydropolitics; the discourses and knowledge production about large dams, including those regarding water data politics, 'international best practices', impact assessments, and public participation; and livelihoods, the commons, and water justice. The review details how some large hydropower dams in the Mekong basin have taken on global salience, including the Pak Mun dam, the Nam Theun 2 dam, and the Xayaburi dam. The review argues that political ecology research has revealed the fundamentally political character of large dams’ planning, construction, operation, ownership, and financing and has significantly widened the scope of how large hydropower dams are understood and acted upon, especially by those challenging their realisation. This includes how large hydropower dams’ political processes and outcomes are shaped by asymmetrical power relations with consequences for social and ecological justice. Recognising that a substantial portion of political ecology research to date has been conducted as extensive plans for large dams were being materialised and contested, the review concludes by outlining future priority research areas that cover existing gaps and posing new questions that are arising as the river basin becomes progressively more impounded.

KEYWORDS: Political ecology of large hydropower dams, hydrosocial ordering, critical hydropolitics, commons, water justice, Mekong-Lancang River


A review of water policies on the move: Diffusion, transfer, translation or branding?

Farhad Muktarov
International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Hague, the Netherlands;; Institute of Water Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore;

ABSTRACT: This review provides a fresh look at the strengths and weaknesses of four distinct generations of research on water policy travels. Studies on policy diffusion explicate patterns of adoption across large-n units and are interested in tipping points, early and late adopters, and which policies spread more easily. Diffusion research privileges structural forces such as globalisation and competition over diffusion agents and national-level politics. Policy transfer scholarship is based mainly on small-n case studies and interrogates the 'what' and the 'who' of policy transfer as well as asks into what conditions a policy is transferred. The key premise of this school of research is that transfer decisions are made rationally based on voluntary learning, coercion, or some negotiated motivation. Policy translation scholarship developed as a critique of diffusion and transfer studies. It posits that policies undergo significant transformation when moving through various settings and that this process is intensely political and power-laden. Policy branding is an offshoot of policy translation research. It focuses on branding of policies and policy agents by establishing an explicit link with places and projects. The key focus is on the power of ideas and neoliberal underpinnings of policy travel. These four generations of research are based on contrasting premises about what travels, how and why it travels, and to what effect. The review offers an appraisal of this large and diverse literature and proposes potential complementarities.

KEYWORDS: Water policy, diffusion, transfer, translation, branding, review




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The history and politics of communal irrigation: A review

Olivia Aubriot
CNRS-CEH (Centre for Himalayan Studies), Paris, France;


Communal irrigation or user-managed irrigation – also long referred to as indigenous or traditional irrigation – has been the focus of interest for two main complementary reasons: 1) from a perspective of development practice (to learn lessons from customary management of these irrigation systems); and 2) from a theoretical perspective (to explore the relationship between irrigation and society). This paper reviews the main discourses through which the category of 'communal irrigation' is politically constructed. This is done through an historical reconstruction of the three main phases during which communal irrigation was the subject of discussion – namely, in the 19th century, the 1950s to 1980s, and from 1990 onwards. The review shows that while the definition of this category has evolved over these three periods it has always served the way the state positions itself in relation to the policies to be implemented. It underlines the adaptation, resistance or decline of the systems in the present context of growing competition over water, increasingly restrictive legislative frameworks, and more wide-ranging societal change. Finally, the review argues that the normative perspective and the universalistic principles that undergird most water policies conceal the diversity of knowledge and potentially weaken customary rules and historical communal systems.

KEYWORDS: Communal irrigation, indigenous irrigation, traditional irrigation, farmer-managed irrigation systems, common-pool resource, collective action, development paradigm, institution, water user association




Networked sovereignty: Polycentric water governance and Indigenous self-determination in the Klamath Basin

Sibyl Diver
Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, USA;

M.V. Eitzel
Science and Justice Research Center, UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, USA; Center for Community and Citizen Science, UC Davis, Davis, USA;

Susan Fricke
Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Orleans, USA;

Leaf Hillman
Karuk Tribe, Orleans, USA;

ABSTRACT: Water governance engages with complex collective action problems that typically involve a wide range of actors across multiple jurisdictions and large geographical areas. Scholars have conceptualised frameworks of collaborative and polycentric governance to reflect more democratic, devolved and diverse arrangements for governing complexity. What has often been overlooked, however, is the sociopolitical context of working with Indigenous nations and the distinct cultural and political perspectives they bring to polycentric water governance. Focusing on the Karuk Tribe in the Klamath Basin (western United States), this case study examines sovereignty and sustainability concerns that arise with collaborative, polycentric water governance initiatives that involve Indigenous nations. First, we leverage environmental justice frameworks to reveal tensions between collaborative, polycentric governance and social justice concerns. Second, using social network analysis, we examine Klamath water quality networks that involve the Karuk Tribe. Our analysis shows that the Karuk Tribe – as represented by five tribal natural resource managers – connected to 244 distinct organisations and 21 coalitions around water quality issues during the 2018/2019 study period. Social networks help us to visualise the labour required of tribal managers working on water quality issues across multiple centres of governance. Third, we develop the concept of networked sovereignty in water governance to consider both the opportunity and the burden that some Indigenous nations are taking on to advance self-determination in this moment of devolved governance – when tribal managers are building relationships with hundreds of agencies and organisations.

KEYWORDS: Collaborative governance, environmental justice, water quality, polycentric governance, Indigenous rights, Indigenous water governance, social network analysis, Klamath River Basin




Achieving development outcomes by building practical authority in WASH participatory collectives in Melanesia

Katherine F. Shields
Department of Geography, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA; The Water Institute at UNC, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA;

Dani J. Barrington
School of Population and Global Health, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia; School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK; International WaterCentre, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia; Department of Marketing, Monash University, Caulfield, Australia;

Semisi Meo
Institute of Applied Science, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji;

Srinivas Sridharan
Department of Marketing, Monash University, Caulfield, Australia;

Stephen G. Saunders
Department of Marketing, Monash University, Caulfield, Australia;

Jamie Bartram
The Water Institute at UNC, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA; School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK;

Regina T. Souter
International WaterCentre, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia;


ABSTRACT: The strength of the 'enabling environment' for development is often considered to be one of the key elements in whether development initiatives fail or succeed. Attempts to strengthen the enabling environment have resulted in a series of checklists and frameworks that imagine it largely to be fixed, static, and separated from 'beneficiaries'. In the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector, there is a preoccupation with fostering an optimal enabling environment that will result naturally in 'ideal' and formalised user participation, which will in turn lead to universal access to water and sanitation. In this paper, we challenge this simplistic and linear view of an enabling environment that is perpetuated by checklists and frameworks. We conducted a three-and-a-half-year transdisciplinary participatory action research (PAR) project which sought to foster WASH solutions in impoverished informal settlements in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. In a critical reflection on this project, we analyse the ways in which we both perpetuated problematic checklists and worked collaboratively with our participants to reimagine the enabling environment. We show how individuals challenged the expert–beneficiary dichotomy as they built 'practical authority' from their peers through taking action. Our study demonstrates that conceptualising the enabling environment as a dynamic ecology of actors, relationships and processes that includes the users of WASH as active participants was essential to supporting progress towards universal WASH access. We argue that working within the politics of development rather than seeking to render problems as technical was crucial to fostering WASH improvements that were determined by residents themselves and supported by stakeholders. Such an inclusive approach is essential to fully leveraging the co-productive possibilities of participation. If development practitioners and scholars are to achieve development outcomes in an equitable and participatory manner, they must shift their conceptualisation of the enabling environment as being a checklist of things 'out there' to one where they work to find their place within an ecology of participatory collectives.

KEYWORDS: Participation, participatory action research, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), enabling environment, practical authority, Melanesia




Understanding repair and maintenance in networked water supply in Accra and Dar es Salaam

Lazarus Jambadu
Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University and Research Training Group 'Critical Infrastructures', TU Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany;

Jochen Monstadt
Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University / Laboratoire Techniques, Territoires et Sociétés (LATTS), Université Gustave Eiffel, Marne-la-Vallée, France;

Sophie Schramm
Department of International Planning Studies, Faculty of Spatial Planning, TU Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany;

ABSTRACT: One of the main challenges undermining water supply in African cities is the rapid decay of networked infrastructures. Urban water managers, policymakers and researchers, however, have paid little attention to repair and maintenance or to their importance for the operation and renewal of urban water utilities. Using a sociotechnical framework, this paper investigates the maintenance and repair practices of utility officials from two water companies, one in Accra and one in Dar es Salaam. More specifically, through the interplay of four variables, we develop a novel analytical framework inspired by science and technology studies to explain and compare the contingent, place-based maintenance and repair practices that shape urban water supply. These four variables are materialities, discourses, institutional arrangements, and the knowledge of local experts. The two aims of this paper are to explain how the 'everyday' repair and maintenance practices of utility officials shape water supply, and to draw lessons for improving water supply in both cities. Our findings show that repair and maintenance practices are strongly shaped by place-based materialities and contextual knowledge in water supply, but at the same time are contingent on wider national and international relations as reflected in discourses, policies, and the supply of technical and material spare parts.

KEYWORDS: Repair and maintenance, non-revenue water, urban infrastructure, urban planning, STS, Accra, Dar es Salaam




Water supply services and the practices, perceptions, and representations of non-residential water users: An exploratory study in France

Bénédicte Rulleau
INRAE, UR ETTIS, Cestas, France;

Kevin Caillaud
INRAE, UR ETTIS, Cestas, France;

Denis Salles
INRAE, UR ETTIS, Cestas, France;

ABSTRACT: In France, the performance indicators applied to drinking water supply systems tend to be service-oriented, making no distinction between residential and non-residential users. In this paper, we seek to test our working hypothesis that these different groups of consumers each have their own sets of expectations, constraints, and vulnerabilities and would thus constitute distinct actors in case of a service failure. Three water utilities located in southwestern France serve as a case study. Results show that non-residential users’ perceptions of service performance can differ significantly from those of residential consumers. Our findings indicate that non-residential users tend to focus more intensely on certain subjects, i.e. the balance of remaining comfortable while not wasting time, trade-offs between restrictions and profitability, etc. Furthermore, non-residential users do not form a homogeneous category. Within non-residential users, three rationales can be distinguished: 'productive', which relates to users who are highly dependant on the current model of drinking water supply; 'routine', in which use of water from the tap seems to continue out of habit, convenience, and/or safety reasons; and 'economic optimization' or 'moderation'. This additional performance-related knowledge could prove invaluable in designing effective strategies for water infrastructure asset management as it allows utilities to prioritise sectors for improvement and be more efficient. It helps utilities better serve their customers by addressing their specific needs. It also helps target communication on less familiar or understood topics. Finally, our work contributes to the debate on management through indicators as it questions their meaning and scope.

KEYWORDS: Water supply, global change, performance, interviews, perceptions, asset management, France


Roman law and waters: How local hydrography framed regulation

Alberto Quintavalla
Erasmus University Rotterdam;

ABSTRACT: Is there a relationship between the conceptualisation of water and its regulation? There is no simple or obvious answer to this question. This paper contends that the Roman regulatory framework mirrored the fragmented conceptualisation of water that was dominant in pre-modern times. The paper aims to show that water regulation is sensitive to the particular conceptualisation of water that a society adopts, which in turn reflects the specific historical period in which it is embedded. It also aims to show that there may be a way to deal with local hydrography differently from the paradigm currently promoted by the integrated water resource management framework. These considerations are not moot in today’s discussions on water resource management.

KEYWORDS: Water law, Roman law, water conceptualisation, ownership categories, water history


When international blueprints hit local realities: Bricolage processes in implementing IWRM in South Africa, Mongolia and Peru

Evelyn C.G. Lukat
Institute of Geography, Osnabrück University, Osnabrück, Germany;

Mirja Schoderer
German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik, Bonn, Germany; and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), the Netherlands;

Sofia Castro Salvador
Institute for Nature, Earth and Energy (INTE)-PUCP, Lima, Peru; and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France;

ABSTRACT: International targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals or those that are set as part of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) programmes are, on the whole, universally accepted; however, they are often shaped mainly in the Global North. As a result, when these institutionally set targets conflict with pre-existing rules and norms in implementing states, implementation difficulties may result, as one can currently observe with regard to IWRM and SDG 6.5. Governance challenges that result from implementation gaps are often filled at the local level, where actors arrange for functional management processes despite institutional insecurity. Applying institutional bricolage theory, we investigate such processes for South Africa, Mongolia and Peru, focusing on how horizontal and vertical coordination, as well as participation, are achieved as key aspects of IWRM. By adopting an analytical frame focusing on institutions, discourses and power relations based on Frances Cleaver’s bricolage dimensions, we show how their governance and management arrangements have evolved. In the process of comparing the three cases, we consider what conclusions can be drawn from these arrangements with regard to facilitating institutional transfer processes. Our study shows that informal aspects of governance systems powerfully influence the interpretation of newly introduced policies. We find that efforts to implement international blueprints that neglect institutional legacies, sociocultural dynamics, and pre-existing inequalities are unlikely to result in arrangements that are suited to local realities.

KEYWORDS: Institutional bricolage, informal institutions, Integrated Water Resources Management, participation, horizontal coordination, vertical coordination, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, Latin America


Can irrigation technologies save water in closed basins? The effects of drip irrigation on water resources in the Guadalquivir River Basin (Spain)

David Sampedro-Sánchez
University of Seville, Department of Human Geography, Seville, Spain;

ABSTRACT: Numerous institutions and governments have opted to increase irrigation efficiency to tackle water problems, especially water scarcity. The purpose of this research is to analyse the effects that the introduction of new irrigation technologies has in closed basins with high water reuse and where most of the water is used for agriculture. We analyse the evolution in the water supply, the irrigated area and the crops in three irrigation communities in different sections of the Guadalquivir River Basin. The results are compared with irrigation areas where traditional irrigation systems are still in use as control groups. The new irrigation systems have triggered a wide range of responses in the irrigated areas, including increases in the size of the irrigated areas, the introduction of crops with greater water requirements, and the production of two harvests per year. Such intensification features have been enabled by the exploitation of resources that previously returned to the system. The analysis of the water balances shows that appropriate measures need to be implemented to reduce rather than increase pressure on resources, most prominently including a revision of water rights and devoting the savings to improving the quality of water ecosystems and/or to urban supply.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation efficiency, closed basins, drip irrigation adoption, water conservation, rebound effect, water rights, Guadalquivir, Spain


Desalination in the 21st century: A critical review of trends and debates

Joe Williams
Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom;

ABSTRACT: Desalination – or the creation of 'new' water by removing salt and impurities from saline, brackish or contaminated water – has transformed water resource management in many parts of the world. This technology is likely to continue to reshape the practices, politics and political economy of water throughout the 21st century. Desalination has long been a focus of research in techno-managerial and techno-triumphalist circles, but as global capacity has grown and as new water infrastructures have developed in more diverse and contested contexts, it has increasingly attracted debate in the critical social sciences and humanities. This paper offers a critical review of the current state of the desalination debate. The paper proceeds in three parts. First, it sketches out the contours of desalination’s uneven global emergence as a game changer in water resource management, briefly introducing the reader to its technical aspects and highlighting key trends. Second, the paper examines differing interpretations of the drivers of this phenomenon. The paper challenges dominant and reductionist explanations that tend to highlight water scarcity as an external factor, population growth and industrialisation. Instead, it foregrounds four alternative explanations for the extraordinary growth of desalination as: 1) a tool for fixing insoluble political issues in water management; 2) a technological adaptation that reflects and reinforces processes of decentralisation in water management; 3) a source of reliable long-term revenue for increasingly financialised models of water service provision; and 4) a driver of growth in particular industries and economic sectors. Finally, the paper suggests some future directions for critical desalination research.

KEYWORDS: Desalination, political ecology, water security, hydropolitics, transitions


Water governance research in a messy world: A review

Luke Whaley
Sheffield Global Sustainable Development Institute, University of Sheffield, UK;

ABSTRACT: Water governance research is confronted with a messy world that is difficult to make sense of. Mainstream policy approaches tend to simplify and standardise this messiness in ways that obscure complexity, power and politics. As a result, these approaches not only promise more than they can deliver but often end up reproducing unequal and iniquitous governance dynamics. A wealth of critical scholarship has attempted to address these limitations but with little impact. This review takes this dilemma as its central concern. The aim is to understand different ways that water governance scholarship has engaged with the messiness of the world, laying the groundwork for more fruitful dialogue with mainstream approaches. Firstly, the article recounts policy attempts to 'mainstream messiness' at the level of discourse. It notes salient features of these discourses, including integration, combination, and participation. Three sections follow that concern themselves with ways that critical water governance research has engaged with messiness. The first is messiness as 'scalar complexity'. A distinction is made between research that assumes that scales are fixed and pre-given and literature examining the politics and performativity of scale. Next, the review focuses on 'institutional diversity' and strands of literature that do a different job of articulating messy water governance arrangements, including neo-institutionalism, legal pluralism, and critical institutionalism. The third way of engaging with messiness is through the 'multiple meanings and practices' of water users and governance actors. The strands of literature reviewed are culture, values, and beliefs; narratives and discourse; and water ontologies. The penultimate section of the article proposes three broad interdisciplinary approaches that attempt to manage messiness by bringing together scalar complexity, institutional diversity, and multiple meanings and practices. The article concludes by revisiting the dilemma noted above: the failure of much critical water governance research to influence mainstream policy and practice.

KEYWORDS: Water governance, messiness, scale, institutions, meaning, practices