Groundwater Management Organizations Participation Information and Awareness Raising

As has become clear from the earlier discussions, a number of instruments exist to introduce more efficient groundwater use and allocation. These range from effective monitoring to defining groundwater use rights and to pricing the resource.

At the same time, the effectiveness of any of the instruments employed in a given situation will depend on the organizational set-up for groundwater management. Groundwater is distinct from surface water in that many different users are involved in abstracting the resource, and monitoring their individual behaviour is very costly. Users, of course, are very well aware of this fact, and therefore their incentive to comply with metering regulations and with prohibitions against sale/lease of water or tariff payments is typically very low.

Experience from many countries has shown that actively involving stakeholders, and providing them with information and with a say in the management of their resource, is essential to create incentives for compliance, be it in regard to groundwater or to surface water management. As previously mentioned, the COTAS in Mexico have had a very important role in raising awareness and providing information to groundwater users. As pointed out by Foster et al. (2004b):

[The] fundamental goal of the COTAS (as conceived) is to provide the social foundation to promote measures to slow down, and eventually eliminate, aquifer depletion. It is clear from the experience to date that the COTAS cannot achieve this goal alone - but neither could the 'water administration' achieve it without the COTAS.

The Government of Jordan came to the same conclusion when well abstraction limits were not followed by users, and it started implementing a promising, stakeholder-based approach (Chebaane et al., 2004). The experience of river basin organizations worldwide (although not focused on groundwater) has shown the power of information and of stakeholder involvement in achieving better water resource management performance (Dinar et al., 2005).

The reasoning is simple: (ground)water users who do not know what the conditions of their resource are will be less willing to sacrifice their current income than those who are aware that overexploitation is going to hurt them in the foreseeable future. For this, they need comprehensible and reliable information and a voice in shaping the institutional framework.

Blomquist (1992) provides a comprehensive description and analysis of the development of local management structures in eight Californian groundwater basins. Interestingly, each development started with (i) the recognition that the groundwater resource was under increasing stress (as noticed by sinking water levels and sometimes saltwater intrusion) and (ii) the collection of data about the aquifer, its recharge and potential safe yield. Once the data were obtained and confirmed on the ongoing overdraft, water users were able to forecast the potential consequences of non-action and started to organize for more sustainable use and management of their aquifers.

These examples illustrate that groundwater users need to be recognized as true stakeholders who are entitled to information about the resource they are so dependent on. For many water agencies, this implies a significant shift, not only in technology, from being centralized agencies that keep the information about water availability to themselves and take decisions without the participation of other stakeholders. Obviously, the trend towards definition and official allocation of (ground)water use rights (such as in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and South Africa) contributes to a move towards transparency. Information is essential for decision making among all levels of stakeholders to determine what planning horizon to consider, which savings measures to propose and accept, what investments to make as well as what service to require from water agencies and government authorities. With a better-defined basis of groundwater use rights - and responsibilities - information becomes more valuable and more crucial to the different stakeholders.

A number of countries, including the USA, Mexico and India are thus moving towards the management of aquifers by groundwater user associations of various types, in an attempt to involve users in decision making and increase compliance with decisions that have been taken collectively. In those cases, these developments are accompanied by a range of other demand management instruments discussed in this chapter. In the USA, this shift has been taking place over the last five decades and is showing good results (Blomquist, 1992; Jacobs and Holway, 2004; Sandoval, 2004). This topic is presented in depth by Schlager (Chapter 7, this volume) on community participation and communal approaches.

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