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Sustainability Appraisal of Water Governance Regimes: The Case of Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Abstract

Sustainability appraisals produce evidence for how well water governance regimes operate and where problems exist. This evidence is particularly relevant for regions that face water scarcity and conflicts. In this study, we present a criteria-based and participatory sustainability appraisal of water governance in a region with such characteristics—the dry tropics of NW Costa Rica. Data collection included 47 interviews and three stakeholder workshops. The appraisal was conducted through a collaborative and iterative process between researchers and stakeholders. Out of the 25 sustainability criteria used, seven posed a significant challenge for the governance regime. We found challenges faced by the governance regime primarily clustered around and were re-enforced by failing coordination related to the use, management, and protection of groundwater resources; and inadequate leadership to identify collective goals and to constructively deliberate alternative ways of governing water with diverse groups. The appraisal yielded some positive impact in the study area, yet we found its application provided only limited strategic information to support broader problem-solving efforts. Insights from this study suggest key starting points for sustainable water governance in the Central American dry tropics, including investing in increasingly influential collective organizations that are already active in water governance; and leveraging policy windows that can be used to build confidence and disperse more governing authority to regional and local governing actors that are in-tune with the challenges faced in the dry tropics. We conclude the article with reflections on how to produce research results that are actionable for sustainable water governance.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to members of the PC Commission. Their partnership, insights, and enthusiasm were instrumental in this work. The authors are very appreciative for the support with regard to interviews provided by Heiner Rosales and Gabriela Morera. Mariel Yglesias provided outstanding support and helped coordinate many efforts related to this project. Comments from George Basile, Hallie Eakin, and three reviewers improved this article. Work presented here was financially supported by research grants from the Organization for Tropical Studies, Arizona State University, and the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza.

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Correspondence to Christopher Kuzdas.

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Kuzdas, C., Wiek, A., Warner, B. et al. Sustainability Appraisal of Water Governance Regimes: The Case of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Environmental Management 54, 205–222 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-014-0292-0

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Keywords

  • Water governance
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Impact evaluation
  • Solution oriented
  • Costa Rica