Operational Approaches and Social Sciences

January, Friday 11th ;  14 h 30 – 16 h 30

Moderator : Sébastien Velut, CREDA



Provision of ecosystem services in water supply catchment perimeters for integrated environmental management of water resources
Nilo Nascimiento et Vanessa Cancado

This work focuses on the use of integrated natural resource management tools. The focus is on watersheds in metropolitan areas equipped with reservoirs that are strategic sources for drinking water supply. These catchments and their receiving bodies are subject to various anthropic pressures that stem from the social complexity and dynamics of economic activities that characterize large urban areas, institutionalized as metropolitan areas. Climate change, associated with changes in land use and impacts on natural resources, are aggravating factors.
Constructing and simulating future land-use scenarios using a business as usual approach or soil and water conservation strategies is one way to clarify threats to water security in those metropolitan areas, as well as to assess the potential of the economic, social and environmental benefits of protecting water sources, with additional benefits such as flood control, the promotion of biodiversity in urban and peri-urban areas, the creation of opportunities for social exchanges and recreation, ….
Once the scenarios have been identified, the economic, political and institutional approaches to implement policies leading to water protection are to be developed. Taking into account the legal instruments (eg: metropolitan land use zoning in areas of public interest) and economic instruments (eg: pricing of water consumption, payment for ecosystem services, coverage of opportunity costs to migrate towards environmental protection practices or for the promotion of uses with less impact on natural resources) are pertinent scientific and operational questions.
In this paper, we discuss the use of economic instruments for environmental management, and more specifically the Payment for Ecosystem Services – PES: transactions between two or more parties by means of compensation (monetary or otherwise) to those who promote water and soil conservation practices, such as the recovery of degraded areas, the protection of forests, the changes on agricultural practices that tend to compromise ecosystem services provision, such as inefficient irrigation services, field burning, the use of agrochemicals (Muradian, 2010, Seppelt et al. 2011) and others. In a context of restricted public sector budgets, the PES can be considered as a lower cost alternative for environmental recovery actions, in addition to stimulating behavioural changes in the relationship between society and the environment (Bobbio, 2011, Tejeiro, 2013). This study is part of a research project about metropolitan water supply protection strategies funded by the Agência Nacional de Águas (National Water Agency), Brazilian regulator of water resources, and Capes, a Brazilian research funding agency.
The implementation of a PES program is here discussed through the construction of land use and land use scenarios and the introduction of protective practices and environmental recovery. Costs of setting up and handling the measures, as well as transaction costs are evaluated, in addition to the possible sources of financing, considering their relevance in the viability and acceptance of the program.
The case study area is Serra Azul catchment which is equipped with a reservoir for drinking water supply, part of the Belo Horizonte Metropolitan Region drinking water system. The Belo Horizonte Metropolitan Area, located in Southeast Brazil, gathers 34 municipalities and approximately 5.8 million inhabitants. Livestock activities, mining activities, urban expansion areas, residential farms form a mosaic of human uses in the basin, which even has a significant percentage of areas covered with native vegetation. These features reinforce the need for management approaches that harmonizes the different land and water uses in the catchment, ensuring long-term sustainability.

Diagnostic methodology studies in urban basin areas: The analysis of landscape units in the neighborhoods of Pompeya (City of Buenos Aires) and Valentin Alsina (Buenos Aires Province) in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires. The Riachuelo as a place of interaction between its inhabitants.
Mitchell de Sousa

The Riachuelo (Matanza-Riachuelo River) has been historically associated in the image of the citizens of Buenos Aires as an urban edge. It is conventionally recognized as a interjurisdictional limit that divides the Main city of Buenos Aires with the rest of the Metropolitan Area of ​​Buenos Aires. Being an interstice space, with the exception of some few accesses by bridges, and of strong concentration of infrastructures at the end of the 19th century that It supplied the old port, today it is one of the most neglected areas in the region. Its banks are strongly marked by the neglect or circulation of motorized transport industrial and old infrastructures were many usurped by the informal room (villas of emergency and settlements). Also, the Riachuelo, being an ambiguous space jurisdictionally and therefore lacking intervention by public agencies, became a river of both industrial waste stream and informal settlement and far from taking advantage of the quality of its watershed, it is associated as a place of social marginality.

The aims to show some of the strategies that different actions from the history of how the present was achieved up to the current intervention policies of different management and practices of the inhabitants, mainly those that inhabit the basin. The approach methodology to this work is the detection of “landscape units” and the collective construction, by a landscape perspective, with neighbors based on interviews and audiovisual productions for construction of perceptual maps. These mappings show how the inhabitants of the landscape units who lives the Riachuelo routinely, despite the difference in banks, have in common that they observe the Riachuelo as a potential place to win, in particular, as a source of livelihood and, in general, to convert it into a place that allows these inhabitants to recognize their right to the city and the right to water.


The hydrosocial approach and its cycles in Latin America: use, abuse and a possible way through the maze
Robin Larsimont and Facundo Martin

During the past few years, the conceptual framework of the Political ecology of water has gained a growing promotion and acceptance in Latin America. The proliferation of hybrid concepts used to address hydrological related issues – or hydrosocial approach – has provided fertile ground for research to many social and environmental scientists of the region. The hydrosocial approach made it possible the acknowledgement of processes that regulate the access and control of water, considering the many and diverse agents as well as the spatial and temporal scales involved in those processes. This academic increasing production corresponds to – and is partially explained by – the “leading” role of water in the large number of looting experiences and rapine economy that Latin America has endured during the “boom” cycle of commodities which seems to be present nowadays. In this respect, the hydrosocial approach was introduced as a valuable tool with many heuristic possibilities making it possible to reconsider the relations of power which has been historically shaped by the use and appropriation of water.
In this paper, we seek to promote a theoretical and methodological balance process in accordance with the large number of studies which have been carried out within this framework. Due to the massive amount of empirical studies, the purpose of this paper is to provide a thoughtful and exploratory exercise – which does not pretend, in any manner, to be exhausted – encouraging a climate of open dialogue on this widespread phenomenon. From this position, we intend to focus our attention to the lack of criticism and repetitive argumentation in current literature. Two interrelated observations support our arguments:
1) Instead of being interpreted on the grounds of complex ontological and epistemological imbrications, the hydrosocial approach has been construed as “rhetorical” or “jargon”. Thus, the explanations tend to be court-circuitées and study cases always and/or simply tend to reinforce the sophisticated –though flexible – theoretical diagram.
2) Academic papers showing a dynamic and receptive argumentative structure in accordance with the complexity of the studied phenomenon generally tend to present significant voids,omissions, and obscurity as regards the operating procedures or techniques for data production.
Based on that observation, our work has been organized into four steps. Firstly, we indicated the origins of the hydrosocial approach and highlighted its significant milestones and influence. Secondly, we provided an account of the proliferation of the hydrosocial perspective in the region as well as the main theses that have contributed to the organization of research and field explanations. Thirdly, and as an overall assessment, we made a critical analysis of some examples of “appropriation” and frequent use of this theoretical framework to analyze cases from/about Latin America. To this end, we narrowed down the analysis of literature – appropriation, use and abuse –and focused on the introduction of the concept “hydrosocial approach” to rural areas of Latin America, especially in Andean and Southern Cone countries. In this respect, we identified problems related to the conceptual im(precision), rhetoric im(potence), and obscurity in the field of work. Finally, and as a conclusion, we pondered on some possible paths based on precision and conceptual operationalization, historization and open access to cycles, and clarity in the field of work. All those aspects would be applied to Latin American areas in which the limited access to information and the need to monitor the construction and interpretation of data are commonplace.
This essay encourages constructive debate and critical thought among those researchers involved in this area or that just value the heuristic potential of the hydrosocial approach. We may conclude that this perspective can be presented as a useful tool for the social study of water as long as it considers the complex theoretical and methodological imbrications facing the reality which is intended to tackle.

 

Reconnecting through Water or the One with the Longest Straw Takes it All. Groundwater Self-Management in a Green Californian Desert 
Birgit Müller and Elise Boutie 

Surrounded by steep bare slopes and dry canyons with juniper, sagebrush and manzanillas the flat valley bottom of Cuyama Valley startles with lush green and gushing sprinklers that turn in the hot midday sun. Here grow 17% of all carrots produced in the United States thanks to the incessant pumping of fossil waters from 1500 feet deep wells. Between 7 to 15 inches of rain fall annually on the valley floor, making it the driest place in coastal Central California. Two agricultural corporations worth billions of dollars manage production, pump the water, hire migrant labour and sell carrots to the major US supermarket chains. The fossil water of the valley aquifer currently gets depleted at three times the renewal rate (8,000 safe annual withdrawal, overdraft 28,526) and leaves deposits of heavy metals and radioactive substances on the soil boosted by irrigation. When the pumps are switched off the sandy soil starts blowing uninhibited by cover crop vegetation or treed shelterbelts.
In the midst of these lands where millions of dollars are made every year by depleting the aquifers, the inhabitants of the decaying townsite New Cuyama seek to restore some environmental justice by invoking their share of rights over groundwater as a common good, and the fact that they are the only users who actually administrate the access and the use of groundwater collectively. Up a side canyon a permaculture community cares for a catchment of a one-foot wide brook that takes 4 to 10 gallons of water per minute to bring it down to the vegetable gardens. On the opposite side of the valley an ecology-professor trains his wine stocks to lengthen their roots and grow without irrigation and further North the daughters of the biggest landowner pasture herds of cattle on sparse vegetation of un-irrigated land. Between full-time residents collaborating to administrate water becoming increasingly scarce and absentee agricultural corporations squandering it the relationship to the territory and its waters is the same.
These different realities are brought together by a set of laws passed in 2014, by Jerry Brown, then governor of California. Local agencies with authority over water were to form a new institution, a GSA – Groundwater Sustainability Agency, by July 1, 2017, with the aim of establishing between users of the same water table, a sustainable management plan for this hydraulic resource. The agency had to be self-financing through the contributions of the water users. A basin management plan aligned with climate cycles, land use, and planning policies has to be developed to reduce groundwater deficits and extend the life of the basin. How do these different interests play out when they have to come up with a common project?
Through an ethnography of agricultural and political practices in the valley we will interrogate the concept of sustainability as it is defined in the legislative text. How is the empty signifier “sustainability” filled by the actors maintaining different relationships with the landscape / territory? While for some water is an integral element of the landscape inscribed in the longterm and necessary to preserve, for others it is a free resource subject to immediate human needs and desires and historically appropriated through intensive extraction. Can the milestones of a new governance institution put in place by the text of the law lay the foundations of a common language?
In this paper we explore the political struggles and strategies involved with creating this new governance structure. The struggles not only bring contrasting engagements with the valley landscape and conflicting temporalities in perspective, they also allow to examine how citizens, property owners and private corporations use the legal structures of local water self-management. How was it possible that the manager of one of the two big corporations extracting the major part of the groundwater became the president of the Groundwater Sustainability Agency? Through a fine grained observation of the meetings founding the GSA, we analyze how the different actors mobilize, undercut and manipulate inside the various committees the democratic tools put at the service of the local actors. We show how the imperative of community harmony and the assumption of a shared idea of the common good effectively silence critical disourses, disempower local actors and create a veil that dissimulates the raw fact that water resources accumulated over thousands of year are extracted for the benefit of a few at a phenomenal pace.