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Reconfiguring Water Governance for Resilient Social-Ecological Systems in South America

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Water Resilience

Abstract

The Global South is usually underrepresented in comparative water governance studies. Latin America has abundant water resources but is the most unequal region in terms of access to water. Water governance in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay has been gradually moving from a conventional-centralized mode towards a decentralized, participatory and potentially adaptive approach. The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the main institutional changes in water governance during the past few decades in these three neighbouring South American countries, and how these changes have generated attributes which confer resilience to watersheds as social-ecological systems. A comparative case study approach was used to analyze the three countries, with document analysis as the key method. The findings show that the water governance reform started with changes or incorporations in the countries’ constitutions (Brazil – 1988, Argentina – 1994, Uruguay – 2004). Another common trend is the government interest to adopt integrated water resources management (IWRM) principles, such as the river basin approach and the formation of river basin organizations, including participatory forums or boards involving government institutions, users and civil society. Brazil shows clear signs of polycentric governance, while polycentricity is more limited in Argentina and Uruguay, although there exists some enabling legislation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We opted to use the polycentric concept since it was among the findings of the global Delphi study which identified attributes of aquatic system governance indicating specified and/or general resilience (Plummer et al., 2014). We recognize, however, that polycentricity is related to other concepts such as multilevel governance and network governance.

  2. 2.

    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, water stress conditions occur whenever renewable water resources within a region are at betweeen 500 and 1000 cubic meters per capita (Steduto, Hoogeveen, Winpenny, & Burke, 2017).

  3. 3.

    This plan is a continuation of a 2002 plan mandated by Law 25.688, focusing on access to water and sanitation, climate change adaptation, water for rural and industrial production, and integrated water management (through the development of new infrastructure) (SSRH, 2017).

  4. 4.

    At the local level, multistakeholder and advisory “Irrigation boards” (Juntas de riego) were created by the Law 16.858 (1997). In 2016, there were 17 in the country (Deci Agua, 2016a).

  5. 5.

    Also, we are currently developing a comparative research project on adaptive and anticipatory water governance (GovernAgua) which involves the collection/analysis of primary (interviews, participant observation) and secondary data in six watersheds (two in each country – Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay).

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Acknowledgements

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), SGP-HW 056, to the project “Transforming water governance in South America: from reaction to adaptation and anticipation”, of which M. Trimble is PI and P. R. Jacobi and M. Pascual are Co-PIs. P. R. Jacobi acknowledges Fapesp Thematic Project (2015-03804-9) on Environmental Governance in São Paulo Macrometropolis facing Climate Change, of which he is Coordinator. N. Mazzeo acknowledges the “Programa Grupos de Investigación” of CSIC-UDELAR. M. Trimble, C. Zurbriggen and N. Mazzeo acknowledge the support of the National Research and Innovation Agency through the National System of Researchers of Uruguay (SNI-ANII). The authors thank Isabel Gadino for her assistance with the figure.

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Trimble, M. et al. (2021). Reconfiguring Water Governance for Resilient Social-Ecological Systems in South America. In: Baird, J., Plummer, R. (eds) Water Resilience. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48110-0_6

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