Sharing difficult waters: Community-based groundwater recharge and use in Algeria and India

M. Amine Saidani
Center for Research in Applied Economics for Development (CREAD), Algiers, Algeria; UMR G-Eau, CIRAD, Montpellier, France; Institute of Agronomic and Veterinary Institute Hassan II, Rabat, Morocco; am.saidani@gmail.com

Uma Aslekar
Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), Pune, Maharashtra, India; uma.aslekar@gmail.com

Marcel Kuper
University of Montpellier, Cirad, UMR G-Eau, Montpellier, France; kuper@cirad.fr

Jeltsje Kemerink-Seyoum
Water Governance Department, IHE-Delft, Delft, The Netherlands; j.kemerink@un-ihe.org

ABSTRACT: The intentional recharge and use of aquifers for drinking, domestic use and irrigation is one of the most elaborate community initiatives in groundwater governance. Communities deal with difficult waters like flash floods and runoff for short periods, and for more prolonged periods with dry spells that prompt frugality in water use. These collective systems have been challenged in recent decades by the massive development of individual boreholes; these have emerged in connection with intensive groundwater-based agriculture and have led to unsustainable groundwater exploitation. This article analyses how communities have been confronted with, and have resisted, such challenges in recent times. It focuses on two long-standing and functional community aquifer recharge and use systems, one in Algeria (M’Zab Valley) and the other in India (Randullabad, in the state of Maharashtra). We show that sharing such difficult waters requires, first, practice-based and shared knowledge of the complex interactions between the surface and groundwater that is collectively owned by the community; second, robust collective action to maintain and operate the common infrastructure that is undergoing continuous adaptation to the particular socionatural conditions of a specific area; and, third, adaptive institutions to carefully balance available water resources and their frugal use. Our analysis shows that community governance of groundwater is embedded in social norms and meanings and that these are expressed in the frugal use of scarce resources and/or the continuous challenging of irresponsible water use when it threatens domestic water supply. These community initiatives can represent sources of inspiration for ecologically sustainable and socially equitable forms of groundwater governance, even in very challenging situations.

KEYWORDS: Water sharing, irrigation, knowledge, institutions, infrastructure, Algeria, India