Folder Issue 2



Information and knowledge for water governance in the networked society

Belén Pedregal
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Violeta Cabello
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Nuria Hernández-Mora
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Natalia Limones
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Leandro Del Moral
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

ABSTRACT: In the last few years, parallel evolutionary processes in the socio-political, governmental and technological arenas have been providing new pathways for the collaborative generation, coordination and distribution of polycentric information. From a technological perspective, the proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has boosted the availability of information about our planet, along with its storage, processing and dissemination capabilities. The Worldwide Web and satellite and electronic sensors combined with smart phone technologies have also opened new means for social, political and scientific innovation. From a socio-political standpoint, the implementation of policies that encourage the reutilisation of data and protect the right to information of interested parties, together with growing social demands for transparency, have resulted in an increasing number of governments drawing strategies to open up public data. In this context, this paper addresses two main topics that we deem will be key drivers for improved water governance in the near future. First, it discusses new practices of collaborative and distributed generation and disclosure of information for water governance, and the resulting challenges and opportunities afforded by the use of ICTs. Second, it looks at the interplay between the uptake of ICTs and institutional frameworks, social dynamics and technological structures within which they operate to understand the extent to which ICTs affect decision-making processes and contribute to creating alternative spaces for the production of common services or alternative discourses. Despite the advances in open data policies, findings suggest that there remain significant challenges to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by ICTs, mostly derived from the structural conditions of existing models of decision-making, and information generation and management. It seems that the potentialities of ICTs as transformative tools are conditioned by the regeneration of the context within which decisions are made, that is, the democratic process itself.

KEYWORDS: Water data, open data, polycentric information, networked society, technopolitics, water governance




Pockets of participation: Bureaucratic incentives and Participatory Irrigation Management in Thailand

Jacob I. Ricks
School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, Singapore;

ABSTRACT: Despite a history of participatory policies, Thailand’s Royal Irrigation Department (RID) has had little success in developing water user organisations (WUOs) capable of facilitating cooperation between farmers and the irrigation agency. Even so, pockets of participation exist. What can explain these rare successes? What policy lessons can they provide? Comparing nine WUOs, I identify factors that contribute to the emergence of relatively successful groups. Most importantly, I show that successful WUOs are contingent on the actions of local irrigation officials. These findings emphasise the important role of street-level bureaucrats in implementing participatory policies. The incentive structures provided by the RID, though, deter most officials from sincerely collaborating and cooperating with farmers. Thus experts and policy-makers interested in promoting participatory resource management should focus more attention on shaping incentives for local officials to engage meaningfully with farmers.

KEYWORDS: Participatory resource management, irrigation, street-level bureaucrats, public participation, Thailand


Diesel subsidies and Yemen politics: Post-2011 crises and their impact on groundwater use and agriculture

Adel Al-Weshali
Water and Environment Centre, Sana’a University, Sana’a, Yemen;

Omar Bamaga
Center of Excellence in Desalination Technology, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia;

Cecilia Borgia
MetaMeta Research, AJ ‘s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands;

Frank van Steenbergen
MetaMeta Research, AJ ‘s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands;

Nasser Al-Aulaqi >
Water and Environment Centre, Sana’a University, Sana’a, Yemen

Abdullah Babaqi
Water and Environment Centre, Sana’a University, Sana’a, Yemen;

ABSTRACT: Groundwater is the main source of agricultural and municipal water and contributes 70% of total water use in Yemen. All aquifers are depleting at a very high rate owing to combined effects of a host of socioeconomic, institutional and climate-change factors. The government policy on diesel subsidy was largely believed to be one of the significant factors which stimulated large-scale pumping of water for irrigating water-intensive cash crops such as qat, fruits, and vegetables. A rapid field assessment was conducted between June and December 2011 in six different regions of the country to analyse the impacts of the severe diesel crisis that accompanied the political turmoil of 2011 on groundwater use and agriculture. The study highlighted winners and losers in the process of adapting to diesel shortage and high diesel prices. Farmers’ responses differed according to their social status, financial resources, and farming systems. Poorly endowed households partially or completely abandoned agriculture. Others abandoned farming of irrigated cereals and fodder, but practised deficit irrigation of fruits and vegetables, thus halving the consumption of diesel. Crop yields dropped by 40-60% in all surveyed regions. The intra-governorate transport halt due to the sharp increase in transport cost caused prices at the farm gate to drop. Only those farmers who could absorb increases in diesel prices due to high return:cost ratios, higher drought tolerance, stable prices (qat), and access to alternative sources of water could cope with the diesel crisis.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, diesel subsidy, diesel crisis, irrigated agriculture, Yemen


Motor pump revolution in Ethiopia: Promises at a crossroads

Mengistu Dessalegn
International Water Management Institute (IWMI), East Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia;

Douglas J. Merrey
Independent Consultant, Natural Resources Policy and Institutions Specialist, Pittsboro, NC, USA;

ABSTRACT: In sub-Saharan Africa, motor pump irrigation is at an earlier stage than in Asia but is growing rapidly in many countries. The focus of both policy and research in Africa to date has been on facilitating supply chains to make pumps available at a reasonable price. In Africa, pump irrigation is mainly based on two sources: shallow groundwater aquifers and small streams and rivers. Both usually have limited and variable yields. We present a case study from Ethiopia where pump irrigation based on small rivers and streams is expanding rapidly, and draw parallels to experiences in Asia and other African countries. We show that while farmers understand the social nature of community-managed irrigation, they share with policymakers a narrow understanding of pump irrigation as being primarily 'technical'. They perceive pumps as liberating them from the 'social' limitations of traditional communal irrigation. However, the rapid expansion of pump irrigation is leading to increasing competition and conflict over the limited water resource. We analyse the wider implications for Africa of this blindness to the social dimension of pump irrigation and offer suggestions on future policy and applied research to address the problem before it becomes a widespread crisis.

KEYWORDS: Community-managed irrigation, motor pump irrigation, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Fogera, Ethiopia



Misrepresenting the Jordan River Basin

Clemens Messerschmid
Hydrogeologist, Free Lance Consultant, Ramallah, Palestine;

Jan Selby
Department of International Relations, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK;

ABSTRACT: This article advances a critique of the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia’s (ESCWA’s) representation of the Jordan River Basin, as contained in its recently published Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia. We argue that ESCWA’s representation of the Jordan Basin is marked by serious technical errors and a systematic bias in favour of one riparian, Israel, and against the Jordan River’s four Arab riparians. We demonstrate this in relation to ESCWA’s account of the political geography of the Jordan River Basin, which foregrounds Israel and its perspectives and narratives; in relation to hydrology, where Israel’s contribution to the basin is overstated, whilst that of Arab riparians is understated; and in relation to development and abstraction, where Israel’s transformation and use of the basin are underplayed, while Arab impacts are exaggerated. Taken together, this bundle of misrepresentations conveys the impression that it is Israel which is the main contributor to the Jordan River Basin, Arab riparians its chief exploiters. This impression is, we argue, not just false but also surprising, given that the Inventory is in the name of an organisation of Arab states. The evidence discussed here provides a striking illustration of how hegemonic hydro-political narratives are reproduced, including by actors other than basin hegemons themselves.

KEYWORDS: Jordan River, hydrology, bias, political geography, hegemony



Exploring sustainability through stakeholders’ perspectives and hybrid water in the Swiss Alps

Flurina Schneider
Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Bern;

ABSTRACT: Can the concept of water as a socio-natural hybrid and the analysis of different users’ perceptions of water advance the study of water sustainability? In this article, I explore this question by empirically studying sustainability values and challenges, as well as distinct types of water as identified by members of five water user groups in a case study region in the Swiss Alps.Linking the concept of water as a socio-natural hybrid with the different water users’ perspectives provided valuable insights into the complex relations between material, cultural, and discursive practices. In particular, it provided a clearer picture of existing water sustainability challenges and the factors and processes that hinder more sustainable outcomes. However, by focusing on relational processes and individual stakeholder perspectives, only a limited knowledge could be created regarding a) what a more sustainable water future would look like and b) how current unsustainable practices can be effectively transformed into more sustainable ones.I conclude by arguing that the concept of water as a socio-natural hybrid provides an interesting analytical tool for investigating sustainability questions; however, if it is to contribute to water sustainability, it needs to be integrated into a broader transdisciplinary research perspective that understands science as part of a deliberative and reflective process of knowledge co-production and social learning between all actor groups involved.

KEYWORDS: Hybrid water, stakeholder perceptions, water sustainability, Switzerland



Water and climate data in the ganges Basin: Assessing access to information regimes and implications for cooperation on transboundary rivers

Sagar Prasai
The Asia Foundation, New Delhi, India;

Mandakini Devasher Surie
The Asia Foundation, New Delhi, India;

ABSTRACT: Public access to government-maintained water and climate data in the three major co-riparian countries of the Ganges Basin – Nepal, India and Bangladesh – has been either inadequately granted or formally restricted. This paper examines the effects of newly enacted Right to Information (RTI) laws in these three countries to assess changes in the information access regimes as they relate to hydrological data. We find that neither the RTI laws nor the internal and external demand for increased transparency in governments have affected access to information regimes on water at a fundamental level. In India, the RTI laws have not eased public access to data on its transboundary rivers including in the Ganges Basin and in Nepal and Bangladesh, while data can be legally accessed using RTI laws, the administrative procedures for such an access are not developed enough to make a tangible difference on the ground. We then discuss the implications of our findings on the continuing impasse on regional collaboration on water in South Asia and point to rapid advancements in technology as an emerging pathway to greater data democracy.

KEYWORDS: Transboundary water governance, Ganges Basin, right to information, regional cooperation, policy contestation, data-sharing, data democracy



Spatialising agricultural water governance data in polycentric regimes

Faith Sternlieb
Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA;

Melinda Laituri
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA;

ABSTRACT: Water governance in the Colorado River Basin (CRB) is based on a historical and complex set of policies, legal decisions, and operational guidelines called the Law of the River. Behind the complex institutional structure lies an intricate web of data on water, most of which are hydrogeological in nature. However, we posit that in order to realise sustainable water governance, management efforts must also address data on water governance. Therefore, our central research question is: what is the role of water governance data in water governance, as it pertains to agriculture? First, we lay out the digital landscape and theoretical framework that justify the development of the Colorado River Basin Water Governance Relational Database. Then, we conduct an analysis of water-sharing policies within Law of the River to identify and categorise boundaries. By operationalising a boundary typology in a geographic information system, we found that data on agricultural water governance have little to no current role in water governance due to scale discrepancies, insufficient availability and collection of data, and lack of standardisation. In addition, agricultural water governance in the CRB was found to exhibit polycentric patterns. However, unlike the flexible and adaptive nature of some polycentric systems, polycentric data sets may pose challenges to water governance due to limited information regarding organisational changes, policy developments, and special interests. This study advances the science-policy dialogue in four ways: 1) by emphasising the salience of the data on water governance, 2) by incorporating water governance data in water governance and policy decisions, 3) by demonstrating the value of integrating data types, and 4) by engaging users through geo-visualisation.

KEYWORDS: Colorado River Basin, boundary, Geographic Information Science, relational database, science-policy discourse



Not just a tool. Taking context into account in the development of a mobile App for rural water supply in Tanzania

Anna Wesselink
University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands;

Robert Hoppe
University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands;

Rob Lemmens
University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: The 'eGovernance' hype around the potential of mobile phone and geoweb technologies for enhancing 'good governance' is soaring. In East Africa, the extensive use of mobile telephony adds to the imagined promises of ICT. We reflect on the assumptions made by the proponents of such tools, using our own action research project as an example. We took great care to consider context in the development of software for enhancing empowerment and accountability in rural water supply in Tanzania. However, we found that the rural water supply context in Tanzania is much more complex than the contexts for which successful mApps have been developed previously. Institutional analysis and public administration theory help to understand why. Rural water supply shows institutional hybridity, with water being at the same time a private, public and common-pool good. In addition, in accountability relations, many informal mechanisms prevail where explicit reporting is not relevant. Finally, our proposal sat uneasily with other ongoing iGovernment initiatives. We conclude that we need to consider eGovernance tools as political Apps that can be expected to trigger political responses.

KEYWORDS: mApp, eGovernance, iGovernment, institutional analysis, informal accountability



Community knowledge sharing and co-production of water services: Two cases of community aqueduct associations in Colombia

Valeria Llano-Arias
University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland;

ABSTRACT: Local-level participatory communication practices have enabled the opening of new democratic spaces in which decisions on water policies are taken. Through their resistance to water privatisation policies, many Colombian community aqueducts have made use of a transformed political and social role. Citizens from community aqueduct associations are generating new forms of political participation and citizenship, capable of challenging the widespread political apathy in the country.

This article presents two case studies of community aqueduct associations in Colombia; exploring the scope of their communication and mobilisation actions in challenging power relations concerning water governance and in enhancing citizen participation in democratic actions. The article also explores how local water governance initiatives such as the development of a water management computer software with particular communitarian characteristics, can support local initiatives for political transformation and more sustainable water governance.

These new forms of citizenship based on claims of sovereignty over natural, common goods are gradually transforming Colombian democratic space. The article draws on debates around active citizenship, deepening democracy, and participatory communication approaches to explain the aims of community organisations and the mechanisms by which they are self-organising and managing water at the local level.

KEYWORDS: Community aqueducts, participatory communication, water governance, Colombia



Networked water citizen organisations in Spain: Potential for transformation of existing power structures in water management

Nuria Hernández-Mora
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Violeta Cabello
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Lucia de Stefano
Department of Geodynamics, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain;

Leandro del Moral
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain;

Abstract: The shift from hierarchical-administrative water management toward more transparent, multi-level and participated governance approaches has brought about a shifting geography of players, scales of action, and means of influencing decisions and outcomes. In Spain, where the hydraulic paradigm has dominated since the early 1920s, participation in decisions over water has traditionally been limited to a closed water policy community, made up of economic water users, primarily irrigator associations and hydropower generators, civil engineering corps and large public works companies. The river basin planning process under the Water Framework Directive of the European Union presented a promise of transformation, giving access to non-economic water users, environmental concerns and the wider public to water-related information on planning and decision-making. This process coincided with the consolidation of the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by the water administration, with the associated potential for information and data generation and dissemination. ICTs are also increasingly used by citizen groups and other interested parties as a way to communicate, network and challenge existing paradigms and official discourses over water, in the broader context of the emergence of “technopolitics”. This paper investigates if and in what way ICTs may be providing new avenues for participated water resources management and contributing to alter the dominating power balance. We critically analyse several examples where networking possibilities provided by ICTs have enabled the articulation of interest groups and social agents that have, with different degrees of success, questioned the existing hegemonic view over water. The critical review of these cases sheds light on the opportunities and limitations of ICTs, and their relation with traditional modes of social mobilisation in creating new means of societal involvement in water governance.

Keywords: ICTs, water governance, social networks, public participation, power, Spain



Does social media benefit dominant or alternative water discourses?

María Mancilla-García
Department of Financial Law, Political Economy and Philosophy of Law at the University of Malaga, Malaga, Spain;

ABSTRACT: Political ecology and cognate fields have highlighted the social constructedness of different water discourses, exposing them as the product of a particular view of nature with underpinning interests and political consequences. Integrated Water Resources Management, technical approaches, or the privatisation of drinking water services have enjoyed dominant positions, being able to determine what constitutes common sense. This has excluded numerous other alternative approaches, such as those championed by indigenous peoples. Social media, through its easy accessibility and its emphasis on visual, interactive, and short communication forms, bears the promise to challenge dominant discourses. Whether social media benefits dominant or alternative discourses has not yet been explored by the political ecology literature to which this article contributes. The article conducts a qualitative analysis of the use of two of the main social networking services (Facebook and Twitter) by nine organisations working on water. Organisations were selected considering their likelihood to champion different water discourses. The article analyses the formats used, the place of communities, and the kind of language employed. It argues that while social media presents an interesting potential for alternative discourses, it also offers important tools for dominant discourses to consolidate themselves. The article concludes that social media does not structurally challenge the status quo and suggests avenues for future research.

KEYWORDS: Social media, discourse, hegemony, counter-hegemony, water organisations



Water conflicts and entrenched governance problems in Chile’s market model

Carl J. Bauer
School of Geography & Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA;

ABSTRACT: The Chilean system of tradable water rights and water markets has been well known and controversial in international water policy circles since the 1990s. Chile’s 1981 Water Code is a textbook example of neo-liberalism, with strong private property rights and weak government regulation, and the market in water rights has been the dominant theme in debates about Chilean water policy, both nationally and internationally. The Water Code was somewhat reformed in 2005 after over 13 years of political debate. In this paper I review the issues in water policy and politics in Chile during the decade since that reform. What does the ongoing Chilean experience tell us about water privatisation, markets, and commoditisation? Water conflicts have become the essential issue in Chile, rather than water markets. In the past decade conflicts among multiple water users have deepened and widened in many parts of the country, involving river basins and groundwater aquifers. The institutional framework for governing these water conflicts has worked poorly, for a variety of reasons, and the conflicts have become a serious national political problem. I review the evolving political and policy debates in Chile, including the current government’s proposal in 2014 for a new and stronger reform of the Water Code. In short, the critical problem of the Chilean water model is the lack of institutional capacity for governance or integrated water resources management, and the problem has worsened as water conflicts have become closely linked to conflicts in the energy and environmental sectors.

KEYWORDS: Water conflicts, water governance, water politics, water markets, Chile



Discourses of deflection: The politics of framing China’s South-North Water Transfer Project

Britt Crow-Miller
Department of Geography, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon;

ABSTRACT: Despite significant financial, ecological and social trade-offs, China has moved forward with constructing and operationalising the world’s largest interbasin water transfer project to date, the South-North Water Transfer Project (SNWTP). While it is fundamentally linked to broader political-economic goals within the context of China’s post-Mao development agenda, the SNWTP is frequently discussed in apolitical terms. Based on extensive discourse analysis and interviews with government officials across North China, I argue that the Chinese government is using "discourses of deflection" to present the project as politically neutral in order to serve its ultimate goal of maintaining the high economic growth rates that underpin its continued legitimacy. These discourses, which replace concerns with human-exacerbated water stress with naturalised narratives about water scarcity and the ecological benefits of water transfer, serve to deflect attention away from anthropogenic sources of water stress in the North China Plain and serve as apolitical justifications for pursuing a short-term supply-side approach rather than the more politically challenging and longer-term course of dealing with the underlying drivers of water stress in the region.

KEYWORDS: Discourse, interbasin water transfer, water politics, China