The Emergence of Alternative Water Policies

January, Friday 11th  ; 11h30 – 13h30

Moderator :  Franck Poupeau, CREDA


What socio-ecological transition for water management in Lima?

Jérémy Robert

This communication is based on the ANR Bluegrass research project on water conflicts and policies in American cities, using an analysis of multi-level coalitions to understand policy changes (Massardier et al., 2015). The policy change in Lima is analyzed through the conflicts around the establishment of a Water Resources Council in the Peruvian capital (on the models of the French Basin Agencies). The analysis highlights the tension between two policy sectors, on the one hand the urban water service, and on the other, water resource management. This configuration is being disrupted by the emergence of an alternative coalition. This alternative produces new modalities of territorial governance to face the crisis of the actual management model in a context of challenging traditional water infrastructure. The emergence of this coalition can be interpreted as an ecological turn in urban water policies, as part of an ongoing socio-ecological transition.
To understand the conditions of emergence of this alternative coalition, we will first examine the process of the Water Resources Council creation and the controversies it has engendered. Second, we will present the characteristics of this coalition, based on alliances between actors with differing profiles and interests, but who share common strategies. Next, we explain how the Council serves as a catalyst to facilitate the emergence of environmentalist causes and to introduce professionals with new skills and trajectories into the water management space. To extend this analysis, we identify the articulations of the Council initiative with a series of technological or institutional innovations (desalination of seawater, aquifer regulation and ecosystem retribution mechanisms) that have been implemented recently in Lima. As with the Council, these innovations can be conceptualized as secondary beliefs in the advocacy coalition framework (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993).
We demonstrate that while some consensus has been acheived, there is great diversity in the process of ecological transition in water management. This highlights both political (power relationships) and territorial (space control and power materialization) issues that play into water management reconfigurations. The hypothesis is that the socio-ecological transition initiated in Lima is part of a logic of ecological modernization (Beal 2016) or sobriety (Lorrain et al. 2018), which does not fundamentally challenge the dominant management model based on large infrastructures and engineering knowledge.


Water bureaucracies challenged by alternative water management in the urban peripheries of Mexico

Amaël Marchand

On the front lines of the water crisis in Mexico, the urban peripheries are also places of experimentation for alternative management models that are supposed to guarantee the human right to water and the protection of the environment more effectively than liberalization or the large hydraulic infrastructure promoted by the federal water bureaucracy. Starting from two case studies, this paper will show that the experts promote alternatives that are sometimes very far from the initial objectives of users and whose effects on the actual modalities of urban water management are limited. Nevertheless, they contribute to making the water crisis, initially produced by the lack of funding and planning, a knowledge crisis of the water bureaucracies and their monopoly on the production of public policies of water. Frequent interruptions of the distribution service at Ramos Arizpe in Saltillo City, as well as floods and land subsidence in Valle de Chalco in Mexico City, highlight two facets of the peri-urban water crisis. This is above all an infrastructure crisis produced by urban expansion and the incapacity of the institutions in charge of water management to cope with it. The lack of financial means is reflected in Ramos Arizpe by a defective extension of the distribution and supply network providing a poor quality service. The unplanned urbanization of Valle de Chalco is occurring since the 1980s on flood-prone land with soft ground, near poorly  maintained or dangerous large hydraulic infrastructure. The problems of water management in Ramos Arizpe as in Valle de Chalco have given rise to the intervention of experts who perceive their commitment to popular users as a form of activism. These experts actively participate in the production of conflicts making alliances with water users who demand access to better service and by promoting alternative water management. In Valle de Chalco a multidisciplinary group of academics is developing participatory planning that aims to establish an urban water ecosystem presented as an alternative to large networked infrastructure. In Ramos Arizpe the remunicipalization of the public-private operator is presented at the global level as an alternative to liberalization measures and as an opportunity to implement the human right to water.  Hindered by water bureaucracies, experts promoting alternatives fail to produce radical changes in water management. However, they succeed in renegotiating their place in the balance of power over urban water management by questioning not only the knowledge of water bureaucracies, but also the very legitimacy of their monopoly over the production of public water policies. They reappropriate the official participative institutions at the local level and seek to give them real decision-making power by intervening in the controversies surrounding the reforms of the federal water laws.

Water conservation in Arizona desert cities : «fixing» the water supply issue or questionning the oasis lifestyle?
Anne-Lise Boyer and Brian O’Neill

Many recent publications question the sustainability of the major metropoles of Arizona.  The impacts of climatic change and water wars are the most cited examples of the need to turn away from water management practices that serve economic growth, and towards a more conservation oriented model. Since the 1980s, Arizona cities have been praising themselves for being the avant garde of water conservation to sustain urban attractiveness. The exemplars of this oasis city model, Phoenix and Tucson, are the fastest growing cities in the U.S. We question therefore water conservation policies and practices as a “hydrosocial fix”[1], whereby cities, water professionals and others bind together to form a heterogeneous assemblage to alter the norms of past water management so that these metropoles can maintain and in fact reassure urban growth.
This presentation focuses on the meeting of two different qualitative social surveys, one made by B. O’Neill who studies water professionals as a category composed of engineers, lawyers, planners, scientists and politicians. Another survey has been conducted by A-L. Boyer, who examines water conservation strategies at the city and neighborhood levels and how they are spawned from grassroots efforts. This study shows that, on the one hand, the risks of water shortages from the Colorado River in Arizona are a technical and environmental concern and that professionals have become dedicated to the promotion of water conservation. With this context, planning, legal and political capacities have become merged with experts and knowledge in hydrology, geology and statistical modeling to try to “fix” the dysfunction of the hydro-social cycle[2]. On the other hand, the research has found that environmental organizations have raised a critical approach to the “hydraulic bureaucracy”[3] at the core of the region’s historical construction in that they are defending alternative and local water supplies to promote a low water-use desert lifestyle and gain power over the water agencies managing mega infrastructures.

[1] Swyngedouw, E. “Into the sea: desalination as hydro-social fix in Spain.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103.2 (2013): 261-270.

[2] Linton, J., and Budds.J. “The hydrosocial cycle: Defining and mobilizing a relational-dialectical approach to water.” Geoforum 57 (2014): 170-180.

[3] Worster, D. (1985). Rivers of empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West, New York: Pantheon

The Social Determinants of Water Conflicts
Joan Cortinas and Lala Razafimahefa

It is generally admitted that, in “a world of inequality”, the poor are the ones who suffer the most from environmental degradations, and in particular from the effects of the “ecological transition”. From this finding follows the idea that the uneven distribution of environmental costs explains, just as obviously, the multiplication of conflicts in which the most disadvantaged populations express their anger and their frustrations, for lack of access to decision-making bodies. A social science research on this conflictuality, however, can’t be limited to the simple finding of inequalities, linked mechanically as well as implicitly to the protest movements they would provoke, in a context of “global water crisis”; Nor can it be content with the (neo)institutional analyzes of the “governance of the commons”, which place local negotiations (conducted at the local level) at the center of the analysis, while it is about grasping the plurality of factors likely to impact the practices of the “water protagonists”. The conflicts are effectively of various kinds: between the resident populations (more or less organized, more or less discriminated) and the institutions in charge of supervising them of course, but also between the different professional bodies (civil engineers, biologists, etc.) who intervene in the implementation of water policies or in the management of urban networks; these conflicts are played at the level of representations but also of uses (agricultural, industrial, urban and particularly energy, etc.).
This presentation is based on an international comparative research conducted on water conflicts in several countries of the Americas (Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, United States). The elaboration of an analytical framework that could link the various cases of studies was based on the “Advocacy coalition framework” approach, which proposes to analyze the networks of protagonists involved in the implementation of public policies. On the one hand, this framework has the advantage of being relatively flexible and adaptable to a wide variety of empirical situations and, on the other hand, the possibility of implementing methods, qualitative or quantitative, which can also be transposed to different terrains. A questionnaire was thus established to give each team common variables.
The originality of this research is to have incorporated variables often forgotten by the mainstream of approaches in terms of coalitions, which focus on shared beliefs: the impact of the network structure and the perception of the influence of the main protagonists (network resources), but also the academic, professional and militant trajectories of the protagonists of the water (personal resources).
The results of the research lead to shifting the analysis, initially focused on the claims addressed to a government by the protest of the resident populations, often caused by contaminated waters, unequal access to the service or refusal of privatization of the company, towards an understanding of water management models, which involve complex administrative structures, both dedicated to urban services and interlinked with power issues that transcend them – structures that will be referred to here as “hydrocracies”. In the local narrative of extremely polarized situations, the sociological analysis sheds light on the formation of water policies by taking into account the educational and professional characteristics of those who compose hydrocracies.