Core Arguments

Groundwater level decline, pollution and quality degradation are widely recognized as major emerging problems in many parts of the world. This recognition has not, however, translated into equally wide management responses. The reverse has, in fact, often proved true. In parts of India, groundwater over-extraction and quality decline have been recognized since the 1970s (United Nations Development Program, 1976; Bandara, 1977). With a few possible exceptions, little has been done to regulate groundwater extraction or control degradation of the resource base. This is also the case across Latin America and Africa and in countries as diverse as China, Spain and the western USA (Ballester et a/., Chapter 6; Masiyandima and Giordano, Chapter 5; Wang et a/., Chapter 3; Llamas and Garrido, Chapter 13; and Schlager, Chapter 7, this volume, respectively). This situation is, in fact, mirrored across much of the globe.

This chapter argues that the lack of progress in implementing conventional management responses to groundwater problems reflects a combination of technical, social, behavioural and organizational limitations that are inherent features in most contexts. Such limitations are often compounded by the growth of competing demands and social 'conflict' over access to the resource and the manner in which it is used. In some cases, such conflicts are fundamental, i.e. one set of objectives or uses cannot be satisfied unless other sets of objectives and uses are modified in fundamental ways. Recognizing the importance of an emerging problem or the 'need' for management does not change the fundamental nature of the limitations or reduce the inherent nature of some conflicts. As a result, whatever the 'need' for management, alternative

©CAB International 2007. The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution:

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or complementary approaches that are adapted to the inherent limitations present in a given context are often essential. In many cases, such adaptive approaches will involve courses of action that fall outside the limits of conventional groundwater management. Furthermore, at least in some cases, adaptive approaches may be more effective in addressing the societal impacts of groundwater problems than even the best-implemented forms of conventional 'water-focused' management.

What is an adaptive approach? Research conducted by the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET) and our partners in India and other locations (Moench, 1994; Moench et al., 1999, 2003) suggests that adaptation is a continuous process and adaptive approaches need to be designed in ways that:

• Encourage evolution of strategies as conditions change over time or, to put it another way, have in-built mechanisms to respond to ongoing change processes;

• Reflect the social, political, economic and technical context in which groundwater problems are occurring and the types of response - including or excluding conventional management - that are likely viable within that context;

• Respond to inherent limitations on scientific knowledge;

• Build off the incentives and courses of action households, communities and regions are already undertaking or have a strong incentive to undertake in response to a given problem;

• Are strategic in that they focus on core objectives (livelihood and environmental values as opposed to specific groundwater parameters) and respond to the spatial and temporal factors that influence the probable effectiveness of response strategies rather than attempting to be 'comprehensive' or 'fully integrated'.

The above criteria indicate that adaptive responses do not exclude conventional water management techniques. Instead, they identify such conventional techniques as one among many avenues for responding to groundwater problems. Conventional 'water-focused' techniques are, in essence, one subset of a much larger set of techniques, each of which may be more or less effective in any given context for addressing core social objectives that are threatened by groundwater problems. Strategic 'adaptive' approaches can be viewed as including the full array of conventional water-focused management techniques while also moving beyond them to encompass a potentially very wide range of interventions designed to reduce or eliminate the negative impact of groundwater conditions on livelihoods and environmental values. This can involve fundamental shifts in livelihoods (e.g. changing from agricultural to non-farm systems) or it can involve shifts within livelihoods (e.g. crop choice or technology shifting within agriculture). Furthermore, the element of change or 'process' is central. Strategies need to recognize and be able to respond as economic, social, hydrological and other conditions change over time. The core difference between the approaches suggested here and most conventional management is the explicit focus on: (i) core livelihood and environmental objectives rather than groundwater per se; (ii) the inclusion of response strategies that do not attempt to influence groundwater resource conditions directly; (iii) the 'strategic' element - tailoring water- and non-water-related responses to a given moment and socio-ecological context rather than attempting to develop 'comprehensive' 'integrated' strategies; and (iv) the concept and role of adaptation - the manner in which strategies can continuously be shaped to reflect ongoing change processes. This last element - a tautology at present (adaptive approaches are defined as approaches that focus on adaptation) - is explored in detail later.

This chapter begins with a section that briefly outlines a series of key factors that limit the viability of conventional approaches to groundwater management in many, if not most, contexts. Following this, the conceptual foundations for alternative, more adaptive approaches to groundwater management and the mitigation of impacts from emerging groundwater problems are discussed. Illustrative examples of adaptation drawn from specific field areas in India, Mexico and western USA are presented next. A diverse selection of examples has been utilized to highlight both the similarity of many key issues and the fact that solutions appropriate in one region usually cannot be generalized to other areas. The final section outlines strategic implications for organizations seeking to catalyse effective responses to groundwater problems.

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