Folder Issue2



Perspectives from the ground: Governing informality of water in Metro Manila

Nazia Hussain
University of Tokyo Institute for Future Initiatives, Tokyo, Japan;

Carmeli Chaves
School of Urban and Regional Planning, University of the Philippines, Metro Manila, Philippines;

ABSTRACT: Although privatisation in Metro Manila has resulted in increased access to piped connections and reduced pilferage, the urban poor pay more for low-quality water and access it through small-scale providers including cooperatives and syndicates. While forming cooperatives can represent efforts of urban poor communities to claim legality, the selling of water to neighbours or offering protections for pilfering by local providers illustrates everyday illegality. Governing logics of the postcolonial state and concessionaires shape these Janus-faced survival practices of urban poor communities. These unwritten shared understandings, or informal institutions, operate within porous spaces of legality and illegality and remain at the mercy of the state, which can criminalise them. Moreover, while living in an informal settlement precludes access to individual piped connections from concessionaires, living on a resettlement site does not ensure access either, indicating that city planning directly impacts water access and supply. These realities suggest a relational reading of informality, linking the state and concessionaires from the top down with negotiated access to water from the bottom up, which may explain persisting inequities.

KEYWORDS: Informality, water, urban poor, governance, Metro Manila, Philippines


Water Back: A review centering rematriation and Indigenous Water research sovereignty

Kelsey Leonard
(Shinnecock Nation)*, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada;

Dominique David-Chavez
(Arawak Taino), Colorado State University, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Deondre Smiles
(Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe), Department of Geography, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Lydia Jennings
(Pascua Yaqui & Wixárika), College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Rosanna ʻAnolani Alegado
(kanaka ʻōiwi), Department of Oceanography and Hawaiʻi Sea Grant Program, University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, USA

Lani Tsinnajinnie
(Diné), Department of Community and Regional Planning, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

Joshua Manitowabi
(Potawatomi) Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation, History Department, Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Rachel Arsenault
(Odawa and Ojibwe) Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Rene L. Begay
(Diné), Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, Colorado, USA

Aurora Kagawa-Viviani
(kanaka ʻōiwi), Water Resources Research Center/Department of Geography & Environment, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Hawaiʻi, USA

Dawn D. Davis
(Newe, Shoshone-Bannock), NativeSci, LLC., Fort Hall, Idaho, USA

Vincent (Billy) van Uitregt
(Ngā Rauru, Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi, Ngai Tūhoe, Nederlander), Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

Hawlii Pichette
(Mushkego Cree, Treaty 9), Visual Artist and Illustrator, London, Ontario, Canada

Max Liboiron
(Red River Métis), Department of Geography, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL, Canada

Bradley Moggridge
(Kamilaroi) Associate Professor in Indigenous Water Science, Centre for Applied Water Science, University of Canberra, ACT Australia

Stephanie Russo Carroll
(Native Village of Kluti-Kaah), College of Public Health and the Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Ranalda L. Tsosie
(Diné), Department of Earth & Environmental Science, New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology, Socorro, NM, USA

Andrea Gomez
(Laguna Pueblo), Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA

ABSTRACT: The recent Land Back movement has catalysed global solidarity towards addressing the oppression and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples’ Lands and territories. Largely absent from the discourse, however, is a discussion of the alienation of Indigenous Peoples from Water by settler-colonial states. Some Indigenous Water Protectors argue that there cannot be Land Back without Water Back. In response to this emergent movement of Water Back, this review of research by Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers traces the discursive patterns of Indigenous Water relationships and rematriation across themes of colonialism, climate change, justice, health, rights, responsibilities, governance and cosmology. It advances a holistic conceptualization of Water Back as a framework for future research sovereignty, focusing mainly on instances in Canada, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and the United States. We present the findings on the current global Waterscape of Indigenous-led research on Indigenous Water issues. Water Back offers an important framework centring Indigenous way of knowing, doing, and being as a foundation for advancing Indigenous Water research.

KEYWORDS: Water Back, Indigenous Peoples, climate change, water governance, water health, water justice



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Troubled waters: The fraught political economy of wastewater reuse in Morocco and Tunisia

Pierre-Louis Mayaux
Researcher in political science, CIRAD, Montpellier, France;

Amal Ennabih
Sciences Po Lyon, France;

ABSTRACT: The dominant discourse on wastewater reuse is heavily depoliticised. This unconventional resource is generally promoted as a 'no regret' solution to water scarcity. When political issues are broached, they take fairly innocuous forms that appear quite easy to resolve in a consensual manner, such as the need to overcome the 'barriers' of social acceptance and intersectoral collaboration. In this paper, we challenge what we see as superficial approaches to the politics of wastewater reuse. We do so by discussing the cases of treated wastewater reuse for irrigation (TWWRI) in Zaouiet Sousse (Tunisia) and Tiznit (Morocco). We argue that in both cases, TWWRI has been plagued by unresolved tensions that are deeply rooted in the specific political economy of how this resource is produced. We particularly highlight three structural political-economic contradictions. These are: 1) the contradictions between the state’s preference for the largest possible schemes and the lack of interest of (many) peri-urban farmers who would rather urbanise their land and/or practise low-intensity farming alongside other occupations; 2) the tension between high operational costs and the poor smallholders who are typically targeted; and 3) the contradiction between the pockets of stringent state monitoring thus created and the surrounding sea of laisser-faire. We show how these contradictions play out somewhat differently in Morocco and Tunisia due to a more robust structuring of the water users association in Tiznit than in Zaouiet Sousse. We also show that these material contradictions are associated with different conceptions of the meaning and worth of TWWRI projects, which argues in favour of a cultural political economy of wastewater reuse. In conclusion, we argue for re-politicising and democratizing TWWRI more decisively instead of striving to depoliticise it.

KEYWORDS: Wastewater reuse, cultural political economy, depoliticisation, Tunisia, Morocco


Unequal wastewater rights and claims in Gujarat: Institutional dynamics between urban and rural

Alka Palrecha
People in Centre Consulting, Ahmedabad, India;

Aashini Sheth
People in Centre Consulting, Ahmedabad, India;

ABSTRACT: Compared to long-standing scholarly debates on freshwater rights, wastewater rights discussions are in their infancy. This is because wastewater, until recently, was viewed as a nuisance. Now, wastewater, often referred to as 'used water', is considered a resource, mainly because of its use as a replacement for fresh water. Many states in India are forming policies promoting the reuse of wastewater. However, their policy framework around wastewater does not pay adequate attention to existing users of wastewater. Benefits are gained from a resource through rights granted or claims made. Institutions are authorised to grant rights, and individuals and institutions benefit from these rights at various levels. According to Ostrom and Schlager’s (1992) categorisation, which was later modified by Sikor et al. (2017), this "bundle of rights" specifically includes authoritative, control, and use rights. In this paper, the authors amend this categorisation and then link it to the institutions in India responsible for dispensing each kind of right related to wastewater use. The authors thus derive an analytical framework, which they then apply to a case study examining wastewater produced by the city of Rajkot, Gujarat, India. The case study shows that though urban local bodies have authoritative and executive rights, their rights are subordinated to the union government and state government because they must align with those bodies in order to avail funds for wastewater-related infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the existing users of wastewater are not mentioned amongst the various wastewater uses prioritised in policy instruments. The rural sector thus has limited rights granted in upcoming policies even though they are the largest users of wastewater.

KEYWORDS: Wastewater reuse, rights, claims, informal use, usufructuary rights, Gujarat, India


Wastewater reuse in Lebanon: Shedding light on hydro-social politics at multiple scales

Karim Eid-Sabbagh
Independent researcher, Tyre, Lebanon;

ABSTRACT: Through an analysis of wastewater reuse in Lebanon, this paper investigates the socio-spatial politics of wastewater management. I analyse (some) of the complexities and contradictions at play in the scalar politics of water reuse. Drawing on empirical work in Lebanon, I aim to add a perspective from the Global South to this line of analysis, reading scalar politics through the wider framework of imperialism. The history of water and wastewater resource management in Lebanon is marked by a governance process that has been in permanent crisis, shaped by contestation in various ways and at multiple scales. This governance process is characterised by a structural lack of coherence unfolding in a context of political competition, class conflict, and englobing imperial domination. These pressures have manifested in radically neoliberal policies and recurring war. The scales through which wastewater, and eventually treated wastewater, reuse are managed emerge from the contradictory interventions of international development actors interacting with Lebanese administrations and the concomitant undermining of Lebanese state sovereignty. Two case studies of treated wastewater reuse in the Bekaa Valley will further illustrate these processes.

KEYWORDS: Imperialism, scale, potential, treated wastewater reuse, Lebanon


What’s in a name? Politicising wastewater reuse in irrigated agriculture

Matthijs T. Wessels
Water Resources Management Group; Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; Department of Environmental Engineering, Ardhi University, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania;

ABSTRACT: Wastewater is increasingly being reused as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture. This article combines a literature review with an ethnographic study of water reuse in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to explore the field of wastewater reuse and what it is made to represent. The academic literature largely focuses on the practical challenges of wastewater treatment, while underlying political dynamics that contextualise the planning of, and control over, water flows remain largely unaddressed. Because people seek to take control over water through the manipulation of flows and qualities, wastewater reuse is inherently political. The study of water reuse practices in Dar es Salaam shows how water quality decline is co-produced with processes of urbanisation that cause inequalities in the urban waterscape. Farmers are subject to changes in the physical characteristics and normative understandings of the urban water system, yet do not have the power to reconfigure these to their own ends or challenge the way that their practices are portrayed. This paper shows the importance of politicising wastewater reuse and calls for a more diverse and emancipatory understanding of, and response to, water reuse in agriculture through interdisciplinary research and the collaborative production of knowledge and interventions.

KEYWORDS: Wastewater reuse, irrigated urban agriculture, water quality, urban political ecology, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


Unconventional waters: A critical understanding of desalination and wastewater reuse

Joe Williams
School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom;

Ross Beveridge
School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom;

Pierre-Louis Mayaux
CIRAD, UMR G-EAU, Montpellier, France;

ABSTRACT: The growth of 'unconventional' water resources as a new resource frontier has been much touted over the last two decades and is transforming society’s relationship with water in diverse contexts. Desalination and wastewater reuse, in particular, are increasingly framed together as potentially game-changing technologies for water management and (re)distribution and are carried forward by promises to overcome water scarcity and enhance water security. While there are good reasons to critique the conflation of heterogeneous water resources under the single heading of 'unconventional', we argue that the scale and scope of the transition towards desalination and treated wastewater (which often use similar technologies) merit their inclusion in one Special Issue. The papers presented in this issue advance our understanding of the social, political, economic and cultural dimensions of this water transition. The papers are conceptually and empirically diverse, with case studies across the Global North and Global South. They offer an important counterbalance to the dominant techno-triumphalist narratives that typically surround these technologies, providing unconventional perspectives on unconventional water. In this opening paper, we chart the emergence of unconventional water. We then introduce the papers and highlight the cross-cutting themes of the issue: 1) the (de)politicising discourses that frame desalination and wastewater; 2) the political economies of unconventional water; 3) the materiality and politics of these technologies; and 4) their implications for water justice.

KEYWORDS: Unconventional water, desalination, wastewater reuse, water gap


Desalination and the reproduction of water injustices in the San Andrés island water crisis

Carolina Velásquez
Universidad Nacional de Colombia – Caribbean campus, Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina, Colombia; Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware Newark, DE, USA;

Tricia Wachtendorf
Disaster Research Center and Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware Newark, DE, USA;

ABSTRACT: Caribbean islands are particularly vulnerable to extreme events like droughts, co-occurring with groundwater pollution, water inequalities, and weak governance. Consequently, many island communities that rely on tourism are experiencing ongoing and deepening water crises. Technical solutions like desalination are regularly employed throughout the Caribbean, yet water crises persist despite these mitigation strategies. This research focuses on San Andrés, a Colombian Caribbean Island. Following the 2016 water crisis, residents saw the crisis as social: pre-existing social inequalities led to differential water access, quantity, and distribution during the crisis. In contrast, organisational leaders attributed the water crisis to a natural hazard (drought or, more broadly, climate change), even if they recognised disproportional distribution. Interviews revealed strong support from all participants for the use of desalination to address the crisis, despite the inequities that characterise the implementation of this strategy. We argue that San Andrés is moving towards technological water dependence, disconnected from traditional local forms of collecting water and rendering islanders less able to control the resource. We posit that there is a connection between injustice, desalination, and water crises. When a water crisis occurs, it often reveals pre-existing injustices in the social system. Instead of resolving the injustices, desalination, which is often seen as the main solution to the crisis, perpetuates and reinforces them. The result is a cycle of crises that persist over time.

KEYWORDS: Water justice, desalination, water crisis, San Andrés Island, Caribbean islands, Colombia


Community desalination as new hydrosocial assemblages and scalar politics to satisfy the human right to water in Chile

Robinson Torres
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences & Department of Territorial Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile;

Rodrigo Bórquez
Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile;

Amaya Álvez
Professor, School of Law, Faculty of Legal and Social Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile;

Nicolas Díaz
Researcher, School of Law, Faculty of Legal and Social Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile;

Jorge Félez
Researcher, Department of Territorial Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile;

ABSTRACT: We propose a political-ecological approach to community desalination based on our experience installing small desalination plants in three coastal communities in southern Chile. Conceptually, we frame community desalination plants as new hydrosocial assemblages different from large-scale or extractivist desalination, discussing how social participation is key to the community’s reappropriation of nature through desalination plants. We use the literature of scalar politics in water governance as a device for analysing the ongoing political struggles around water and the role that community desalination can play in satisfying the human right to water. Through a multi-method and participatory approach, we demonstrate the situated nature of community desalination development in Chile. We identify three stages in the configuration of the new hydrosocial assemblages: negotiating the installation of the plants, valuing the drinking water produced by the plants, and negotiating to finance their definitive installation as a complementary source of drinking water for these communities. We also show that the community appropriation of these plants depends mainly on the water quality and the institutional arrangements to sustain these small plants over space and time. We analyse how the community scale interacts with municipal, regional, and national scales differently. Finally, we conclude by evaluating, from a hydrosocial perspective, the pros and cons of using this community desalination process to satisfy the human right to water.

KEYWORDS: Extractivist vs. community desalination, Agua Potable Rural (APR), social participation, small desalination plants, reappropriation of nature, water commons, Chile


Wastewater treatment on Chongming eco-island: The cultural politics of hydrosocial territory-making

Ran Feng
Division of Geography and Tourism, KU Leuven, Belgium;

Maarten Loopmans
Division of Geography and Tourism, KU Leuven, Belgium;

Kim Tondeur
Université Libre de Bruxelles, Faculté d'architecture La Cambre-Horta, laboratoire LoUIsE, Brussels, Belgium;

ABSTRACT: The introduction of rural domestic wastewater treatment (WWT) installations is part of a grand scheme to realise China’s 'ecological civilisation' on Chongming in the Yangtze Delta region. Taking a cultural approach to hydrosocial territoriality, this article examines why this seemingly well-intended welfare intervention is rejected by rural islanders. The introduction of WWT does not only imply an upgrading of rural services, but is also seen as a top-down attempt at reshuffling the hydrosocial territories in which Chongming villages are embedded. Villagers perceive the WWT project as a forerunner of the greater threat of urbanisation and displacement of rural livelihoods, and also express a cultural reaction rooted in alternative rural understandings of landownership and engrained traditions related to water, waste, and soils. Village resistance forces local village cadres to intervene as cultural mediators between the villagers and the state. This moves the village cadres, against their own will, into a prominent position in the hydrosocial network. The article reveals how hydrosocial territories emerge from confrontations between top-down governance reshuffling and bottom-up manoeuvring.

KEYWORDS: Hydrosocial territory, cultural politics, eco-island, wastewater treatment, rural Yangtze Delta, China


From Integration to intersectionality: A review of water ethics

Jeremy J. Schmidt
Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK;

ABSTRACT: The field of water ethics focuses on the judgments affecting water use and decision making, as well as their normative justification. These justifications can take many forms. Consequently, water ethics grapple with philosophical considerations, law, custom, religion, and the practical options available for accessing or distributing water in different contexts. Increasingly, the field also includes active academic support for communities seeking water justice. This review examines these dynamics in three steps. The first section provides a brief history of water ethics as a distinct field of inquiry. It highlights how philosophical approaches to water ethics have been in tension with the use of water ethics to support integrated water resources management. The second section reviews scholarship from multiple disciplines that overlap in their concern regarding ethical relations to water and different ways social norms are justified. This scholarship has pushed the field of water ethics to reflect more critically on what constitutes justification given the diversity and plurality of water norms. The third section examines how the obligations entailed by water ethics are acted upon by scholarly and community initiatives seeking water justice. Here, the article focuses on how the recognition of multiple vectors of inequality has led to a shift towards intersectional ethics. A short conclusion offers no prescriptions but rather encouragement for continued appreciation of how this subfield helps reframe and address urgent water concerns.

KEYWORDS: Water, ethics, values, justice, intersectionality


Multipurpose use of hydropower reservoirs: Imaginaries of Swiss reservoirs in the context of climate change and dam relicensing

Silvia Flaminio
Institute of Geography and Sustainability, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, and Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland;

Emmanuel Reynard
Institute of Geography and Sustainability, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, and Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: In the context of climate change, hydropower dams and reservoirs are being promoted as mitigation and adaptation tools. The reoperation of dam reservoirs is also being considered, particularly in countries where dams are currently undergoing relicensing procedures. In Switzerland, a country that is often considered to be the water tower of Europe, concerns are being expressed about the future of water resources. These concerns are reinforced by the fact that the country’s water system is heavily impounded by hydropower dams whose licenses are about to expire. Discussions are emerging on future hydropower production and on multipurpose projects in the context of hydropower dam reservoir reoperation. Building on previous studies in political ecologies of water and on studies of environmental and sociotechnical imaginaries, and relying on policy documents and interviews with water and energy stakeholders, we investigate the way in which multiple use of hydropower dam reservoirs is envisioned in Switzerland and in the Valais canton. At the moment in Switzerland, the idea of multiple use of dam reservoirs is far from being recognised as a water and energy management paradigm; it is, however, strongly associated with climate-related socio-environmental changes in the water sector and with changes in ideas about water, dam futures, energy and the social structure. We highlight the coexistence of three different environmental and sociotechnical imaginaries and connect these imaginaries with ongoing and future hydrosocial change.

KEYWORDS: Environmental and sociotechnical imaginaries, dam futures, multiple use of dam reservoirs, dam relicensing, hydropower, reservoir reoperation, Switzerland


Redrawing the hydrosocial cycle through treated wastewater reuse in the metropolitan area of Barcelona

Hug March
Estudis d'Economia i Empresa & Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain;

Santiago Gorostiza
Departament de Geografia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain; & Center for History at Sciences Po (CHSP), Paris, France;

David Saurí
Departament de Geografia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain;

ABSTRACT: Increasing economic, social and environmental limits to the development of conventional water supply sources have shifted water resource frontiers to alternative sources, most notably desalination and wastewater reuse. In the past few years, critical scholarship has been prolific in its exploration of how desalination may redraw the hydrosocial cycle in different geographies; wastewater reuse, however, has received much less attention. In this article, we aim to contribute to a critical exploration of the implications of different types of wastewater reuse for urban purposes. We do so through an examination of the case of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB), an area with a fragile water supply system that has been undergoing a harsh drought in 2022/2023. We examine two examples of how treated wastewater may enter the residential sphere. The first involves the reuse of greywater for toilet flushing in residential buildings. The second is linked to the possibilities that advanced treatment of wastewater open up in terms of making urban water systems more robust and more resilient to recurring droughts; this advanced strategy enables both the bolstering of indirect reuse of reclaimed water for potable purposes and direct reuse through the development of dual networks of supply in new urban areas. In this paper, we attempt to unravel the different economic, social, environmental and political implications of those interventions through the lens of the hydrosocial cycle and resource frontiers. We triangulate a critical review of policy documents with informal conversations with policymakers and, in one of the case studies, previous research.

KEYWORDS: Greywater recycling, indirect potable water reuse, hydrosocial cycle, resource frontiers, Metropolitan Area of Barcelona, Spain


Contested socio-environmental imaginaries of water and rivers in times of hydropower expansion in Costa Rica

Francesc Rodríguez
The Chair of Technoscience Studies, Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany;

ABSTRACT: A wave of applications for private concessions to build run-of-the-river dams swept Costa Rica during the 2010s. These hydroelectric project plans caused concern among residents adjacent to the targeted rivers to the extent that a water conflict erupted in several communities of the southern Pacific side of the country. In this article, I use a multi-sited ethnographic approach, including a visual analysis, to explore the resistance of local people to these plans. My focus is on the contestation over the assumptions about water that are present in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of a hydroelectric project plan. By showing the underlying socio-environmental imaginaries that underpin the conflict over dam development, my article reveals ontological differences between institutionalised and non-institutionalised ways of knowing (and relating to) water. Reflecting on what I consider to be ontological disjunctions, I conclude that some of the technical aspects of the EIA report – such as the here-employed notion of environmental flow, which is estimated using only a hydrological approach – have constituted a technical orthodoxy, or dogma, that requires a rethinking of the institutionally dominant assumptions about the understanding and being of water and rivers in southern Costa Rica.

KEYWORDS: Socio-environmental imaginaries, environmental flow, environmental impact assessment, technical orthodoxy, water ontology, Costa Rica


The logics and politics of environmental flows - A review

Jason Alexandra
Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia;

Lauren Rickards
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Melbourne, Australia;

Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Institute of Geography, Institute of Environmental Systems Research University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany;

ABSTRACT: Environmental flows (or Eflows) refer to water that is allocated to the environment through the deliberate release of stored water or planned allocations. Since the late 20th century, Eflows have become increasingly influential in water policy. Over several decades, the research, policy and practice of Eflows has broadened from addressing flow requirements of specific river reaches or the needs of significant species such as salmon, to a broader focus on integrated strategies that aim to sustain rivers’ diverse values. Eflow research has generated an extensive literature that is focused on the scientific and sociopolitical dimensions of managing river flows. We examine this literature critically, tracing the development, application and expansion of Eflows and exploring the shifting norms, framings and assumptions that underpin their theory and practice, including contestations about policy decisions. Our analysis indicates that the politics of environmental flows refracts socially constructed and contested views about nature and river systems and raises fundamental questions about how decisions are made and who decides. While there is a tendency to try to depoliticise Eflows by rendering decisions technical, we argue that, like all water allocation decisions and all water science, Eflows involve sociopolitical contestations about the control of rivers. These contestations are fundamentally about who has the power to make decisions on allocating water and what beliefs, worldviews and frameworks guide these decisions. We conclude that recognising the value-laden character of Eflows research and practice is an essential step towards recognising the value-laden character of river science and management. To achieve more equitable negotiations on deciding how rivers are managed, we argue for an explicit recognition of the political dimensions of Eflows, including a greater awareness of the cultural and ontological politics involved.

KEYWORDS: Environmental flows, ecological flows, adaptive governance, nature-culture ontologies, rivers


'Locking in' desalination in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands: Path dependency, techno-optimism and climate adaptation

Brian F. O’Neill
College of Global Futures, School of Ocean Futures, Arizona State University; Walton Center for Planetary Health - Global Futures Laboratory, University Drive, Tempe, AZ, USA;

Anne-Lise Boyer
LabEx DRIIHM (Pima County Observatory), CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) – University of Arizona, Interdisciplinary Institute for Global Environmental Studies, Tucson, Arizona, USA;

ABSTRACT: Desalination (producing potable water from saline sources) has gained notoriety globally as climate change threatens water supplies. Strikingly, Arizona – a territory lacking coastal boundaries – has developed desalination proposals to augment water supplies, which imply leveraging relations with Mexico and/or expanding inland desalting. Utilising original data collected from interviews, participant observation, and archival sources, this research exposes the historical dynamics and discourses shaping Arizona’s ambitions. The article reveals how Arizona’s desalting pursuits are constructed around limited access to distant water sources and guided by the flaws in the Colorado River system. Case studies examined include the historically uneven trajectories of desalination proposals for the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, brackish water in Yuma, Arizona, and urban aquifer desalination in the Phoenix area. Following from the insights of political ecology, path dependency theory, and critiques of technologically optimistic ideology, the evidence points to how Arizona remains 'locked in' to this infrastructural commitment because of past policies, decisions, and tendencies. However, the Arizona case is not of interest only because it concerns largely unsuccessful, if consistent, attempts to diversify a supply portfolio, but also because desalination is marketed as a strategy aimed at avoiding dependence on large water transfers and centralised decision-making. Therefore, the evidence illustrates that desalination, in whatever form it takes, has been unable to alter deeply rooted institutional and political challenges; the Groundwater Management Act (a legal structure) and the Central Arizona Project (a mega-canal) are prime examples. The article’s theoretical and empirical connections are useful for scholars, decision-makers, policy analysts, NGOs, and activists concerned about the possibilities for a sustainable society, because the historical analysis illuminates the flaws in managing resources with an overly optimistic orientation to technology that limits the vision for alternative infrastructure paradigms under the conditions of climate change. In other words, even when desalination is "just another tool in the toolbox", we argue it takes an outsized place in water planning discussions due to the significant financial and political commitments the technology requires. In so doing, desalination locks in new and sometimes long-standing path dependencies, based upon attempts to evade old ones.

KEYWORDS: Climate change adaptation technology, path dependency, political ecology of water, seawater and brackish water desalination, Southwestern United States and Mexican Borderlands


Debating desalination: Stakeholder participation and decision-making in southern California

Ekta J. Patel
Duke University, Durham, USA;

ABSTRACT: As desalination gains rapid traction worldwide, it is instructive to investigate how various stakeholders debate this water supply infrastructure and how decision-making processes incorporate stakeholder input. This paper conducts a discourse analysis of public comments and official deliberations tied to the permitting of Poseidon Water’s proposed $1.4 billion seawater desalination facility in Huntington Beach, California, which state regulators ultimately denied in May 2022. The facility was the first and largest desalination project to undergo permitting since the state passed desalination-specific legislation in 2015. This paper analyses public hearings between 2020 and 2022 at two key permitting agencies to detail the main storylines that proponents and opponents of this desalination facility used to justify their positions for, or against, the facility. Seven key themes are identified within the storylines. The paper shows that discursive tactics can create temporary openings for desalination debates to be depoliticised or (re)politicised in ways that influence permitting decisions on the margins, but that the decision-making process remains largely rigid to stakeholder participation. The results have implications for understanding desalination-specific issue areas for stakeholders and motivating decision-making processes to be more collaborative and engaging with stakeholders on newer water policy issues.

KEYWORDS: Desalination, stakeholder participation, decision-making, storylines, California