Water scarcity in England and Wales as a failure of (meta)governance

Gareth Walker
School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom; garethlwalker@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: The water crisis is often said to be a crisis of governance failure rather than of availability per se; yet the sources of this failure are poorly understood. This paper examines contemporary water scarcity in England and Wales as a failure of ecological modernity, in which technical and institutional innovation is promoted as a means of increasing economic efficiency in the allocation and use of water resources. The role of the state in fostering this innovation is explored through exploring a shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’. The paper employs Jessop’s theory of meta-governance to examine governance failure. Meta-governance represents the capacity of the state to flank or support the emergence of specific forms of governance through mobilising material or symbolic resources. Three sources of governance failure are explored: (1) the nature of capitalist exchange and its resulting production of nature, (2) the political dimensions implicit in meta-governance, and (3) the nature of governance as a task of self-organisation. The model is then applied to the rise of water scarcity in England and Wales from the 1970s to the present day. The utility of the model in analysing governance failure is discussed.

KEYWORDS: Water scarcity, water governance, meta-governance, water privatisation, England and Wales