Folder Issue1

February 2011



The watershed approach: Challenges, antecedents, and the transition from technical tool to governance unit

Alice Cohen
Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada;
Seanna Davidson
Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada;

ABSTRACT: Watersheds are a widely accepted scale for water governance activities. This paper makes three contributions to current understandings of watersheds as governance units. First, the paper collects recent research identifying some of the challenges associated with the policy framework understood as the watershed approach. These challenges are boundary choice, accountability, public participation, and watersheds'€™ asymmetries with 'problem-sheds' and 'policy-sheds'. Second, the paper draws upon this synthesis and on a review of the development and evolution of the concept of watersheds to suggest that the challenges associated with the watershed approach are symptoms of a broader issue: that the concept of watersheds was developed as a technical tool but has been taken up as a policy framework. The result of this transition from tool to framework, the paper argues, has been the conflation of governance tools, hydrologic boundaries, and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). Third, the paper calls for an analysis of watersheds as separate from the governance tools with which they have been conflated, and presents three entry points into such an analysis.



Sharing water with nature: Insights on environmental water allocation from a case study of the Murrumbidgee catchment, Australia

Becky Swainson
Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada;
Rob de Loë
Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada;
Reid Kreutzwiser
Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada;

ABSTRACT: Human use of freshwater resources has placed enormous stress on aquatic ecosystems in many regions of the world. At one time, this was considered an acceptable price to pay for economic growth and development. Nowadays, however, many societies are seeking a better balance between healthy aquatic ecosystems and viable economies. Unfortunately, historically, water allocation systems have privileged human uses over the environment. Thus, jurisdictions seeking to ensure that adequate water is available for the environment must typically deal with the fact that economies and communities have become dependent on water. Additionally, they must often layer institutions for environmental water allocation (EWA) on top of already complex institutional systems. This paper explores EWA in a jurisdiction - New South Wales (NSW), Australia -€“ where water scarcity has become a priority. Using an in-depth case study of EWA in the Murrumbidgee catchment, NSW, we characterise the NSW approach to EWA with the goal of highlighting the myriad challenges encountered in EWA planning and implementation. Sharing water between people and the environment, we conclude, is much more than just a scientific and technical challenge. EWA in water-scarce regions involves reshaping regional economies and societies. Thus, political and socio-economic considerations must be identified and accounted for from the outset of planning and decision-making processes.


Deluges of grandeur: Water, territory, and power on Northwest Mexico'€™s Rio Mayo, 1880-1910

Jeffrey M. Banister
Southwest Center and School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA;

ABSTRACT: Northwest Mexico'€™s irrigation landscape, known today as El Distrito de Riego 038, or El Valle del Mayo, issues from historical struggles to build an official order out of a diverse world of signs, symbols, processes, places, and peoples. It is the ancestral home of the Yoreme (Mayo), an indigenous group for whom colonisation and agricultural development have meant the loss of autonomy and of the seasonal mobility required to subsist in an arid land. It is also the birthplace of President Álvaro Obregón, a one-time chickpea farmer who transformed late-19th century irrigation praxis into the laws and institutions of 20th century water management. Reshaping territory for the ends of centralising ('federalising') water resources has always proved exceedingly difficult in the Mayo. But this was particularly so in the beginning of the federalisation process, a time of aggressive modernisation under the direction of President Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910). Research on Mexican hydraulic politics and policy, with some important exceptions, has tended to focus on the scale and scope of centralisation. Scholars have paid less attention to the moments and places where water escapes officials'€™ otherwise ironclad grasp. This paper explores water governance (and state formation more broadly) in the late 19th century, on the eve of Mexico'€™s 1910 Revolution, as an ongoing, ever-inchoate series of territorial claims and projects. Understanding the weaknesses and incompleteness of such projects offers critical insight into post-revolutionary and/or contemporary hydraulic politics.


Participation as citizenship or payment? A case study of rural drinking water governance in Mali

Stephen Jones
Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK;

ABSTRACT: Community participation in water governance in developing countries is considered important for increasing sustainable access to drinking water and improving broader local governance. The promotion of participation has therefore become a key aim of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This paper explores community participation in water governance in the rural municipality of Yélékébougou, Mali, and how it is influenced by 'capacity-development' initiatives of the international NGO WaterAid. WaterAid supports communities by helping to set up new institutions intended to manage water supplies and to promote 'participation as citizenship', the idea that community members are empowered to take part in decisions made on water access. However, the paper finds that the institutions created to promote 'participation as citizenship' focus more on promoting paying for water i.e. 'participation as payment', because lack of payment for maintenance of handpumps appears to be the critical obstacle to sustainable water access. However, 'participation as payment' as a means of pursuing cost recovery from communities is not working, and also detracts from the possibility of promoting 'participation as citizenship' and the associated potential longer-term benefits to water access and democratisation. The immediate outcome is that access to drinking water is neither sustainable nor equitable.


Indus basin floods of 2010: Souring of a Faustian bargain?

Daanish Mustafa
Department of Geography, King'€™s College, London;
David Wrathall
Department of Geography, King'€™s College, London;

ABSTRACT: The great flood of 2010 in Pakistan was not an accidental, unpredictable and random episode in the hydrologic development of the Indus basin, but rather a by-product of national decisions on water use, integrally linked, as well, to the design of the social landscape. In immediate and mid terms, acute impacts are expected to be concentrated among households with fragile and sensitive livelihoods. To attenuate an evolving low-level humanitarian, social and political crisis, and to prevent backsliding to Pakistan'€™s development progress, attention should focus on water drainage and rapid rehabilitation of farmland. Local government structures can be engaged in the distribution and implementation of recovery programs. In Pakistan, the hydrological priorities have always been irrigation and power generation, but in the interest of preventing a costly recurrence, Pakistani flood management and early alert systems require structural revision.


Perceived power resources in situations of collective action

Insa Theesfeld
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO), Halle;

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses various concepts of power. Its goal is to shed light on a better method for implementing the power concept. The case of Bulgaria'€™s water user associations'€™ failure shows the abuse of power by local actors who fear they will lose their influence and the private benefits that they have enjoyed under the former system. The paper provides an empirical study of power resources verified by actors' perceptions rather than having resource endowments quantified. It also illustrates the contrast between empirically revealed perceived power resources in a local context and their theoretical examination in the Distributional Theory of Institutional Change. Studies that set power resources in relation to one another are scarce. Therefore, in this study an innovative, interactive method is used that leads to a ranking of perceived power resources, which is robust against the impact of belonging to different territorial, social, and agricultural producer groups: 1) unrestricted access to information, 2) personal relationships, 3) trustworthiness, 4) cash resources for bribing, 5) menace, and 6) physical power and violence. The implication of this gradation of power resources on collective action solutions addresses complementary measures to disseminate information and compensation measures for those who fear losing their benefits and may therefore oppose the new institutions.


Power and water in the Middle East: The hidden politics of the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict (Zeitoun, M.; 2008).
Larry Swatuk


Water ethics. Foundational readings for students and professionals (Brown, P. and Schmidt, J., Eds, 2010).
David Groenfeldt