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Sustainability assessment of water governance alternatives: the case of Guanacaste Costa Rica

Abstract

Many new forms of water governance are emerging in response to economic and social needs and wants, as well as water-related problems such as scarcity, injustice, and conflict. However, there is little evidence on how sustainable these governance regimes are, which would be critical for making progress toward sustainable and just water governance. In this article, we present the results of a transdisciplinary multi-criteria sustainability assessment of alternative governance regimes for Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. The assessment specifies differences between sustainable and unsustainable governance regimes, while also pinpointing how the current water governance regime performs in comparison to those alternatives. The findings indicate that those governance regimes with just and deliberative stakeholder involvement, secure groundwater reserves, and healthy dry tropical ecosystems were considered sustainable and just. In contrast, the current state of water governance was found to be at high risk of digressing toward unsustainable systems where rural communities lack rights and influence, where economies favor agro-industry and high impact tourism at the expense of rural livelihoods, and where water scarcity overwhelms weak governance. This assessment study clarifies water sustainability goals, asserts the need for transformational change, and offers a pragmatic foundation for actions toward sustainable water governance.

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Acknowledgments

We are thankful for our many partners and collaborators in Guanacaste. The comments from two anonymous reviewers improved this article. The U.S. National Science Foundation (Award #1227305) and a U.S. Fulbright fellowship (awarded to Christopher Kuzdas) supported research presented here. Raffaele Vignola acknowledges support from the International G8 Belmont Forum Initiative on Freshwater (FuturAgua Project, G8MUREFU3FP-2200-139). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the U.S. National Science Foundation or other sponsors.

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Correspondence to Christopher Kuzdas.

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Handled by Zafar Adeel, UNU-International Network on Water, Environment and Health (INWEH), Canada.

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Kuzdas, C., Warner, B., Wiek, A. et al. Sustainability assessment of water governance alternatives: the case of Guanacaste Costa Rica. Sustain Sci 11, 231–247 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-015-0324-6

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Keywords

  • Sustainability assessment
  • Multi-criteria decision analysis
  • Scenarios
  • Community planning
  • Water justice
  • Central America