Unravelling Stakeholder Perceptions to Enable Adaptive Water Governance in Dryland Systems


Adaptive water governance seeks to increase a social-ecological system’s adaptive capacity in the face of uncertainty and change. This is especially important in non-linear dryland systems that are already exposed to water scarcity and increasing degradation. Conservation of water ecosystem services is key for increasing adaptive capacity in drylands, however, how stakeholders perceive water ecosystem services greatly affects how they are managed, as well as the potential for adaptive water governance. This paper focuses on identifying the system’s potential for enabling adaptive water governance by analysing different stakeholder perceptions on water ecosystem services. It takes the Rio del Carmen watershed as a case study, offering important insights for an increasing number of water-scarce regions. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key stakeholders in the watershed in order to unravel their perceptions and understand the governance context. We found disparities in how stakeholders perceive water ecosystem services have led to water overexploitation and several conflicts over water access. Our results indicate that stakeholder perceptions have a major influence on the system’s adaptability, as they shape the acquisition of water ecosystem services. Divergent stakeholder perceptions act as an important barrier to collaboration. Generating and sharing knowledge could facilitate the development of a common vision, allowing all actors to co-create information about water ecosystem services and the system state, engaging them in a participatory process, suitable for their context, and that will better support adaptive water governance.

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Fig. 1


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    The character that acquires a public good when it is fundamental for the Government to satisfy collective social and economic needs.

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    SEMARNAT the acronym in Spanish for the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

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    Ejido members; ejidos are agricultural communities that manage their land collectively.

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    This is the year in which the General Law of Sustainable Forest Development was issued, which establishes the requirements for changing the use of land.

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    Mexican official standard which states the determination method for water availability, which includes the natural discharge compromised to secure ecosystem functions.


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The first author acknowledges financial support from CONACYT-SECRETARIA DE ENERGIA-SUSTENTABILIDAD ENERGETICA Grant No. 439115.

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Correspondence to Gabriel Lopez Porras.

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Lopez Porras, G., Stringer, L.C. & Quinn, C.H. Unravelling Stakeholder Perceptions to Enable Adaptive Water Governance in Dryland Systems. Water Resour Manage 32, 3285–3301 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-018-1991-8

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  • Social-ecological resilience
  • Water scarcity
  • Agricultural systems
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Conflicts
  • Mexico