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Are River Basin Councils the Right Model of Water and Wastewater Governance in Mexico?

This is the abstract for my water policy talk. I’ve submitted it to the School of Public Administration at University of Victoria to see if they’re interested, although I’m happy to tailor it for other audiences.

Are River Basin Councils the Right Model of Water and Wastewater Governance in Mexico? Lessons from a Case Study in the Lerma-Chapala Watershed.


The integrated water resource management (IWRM) literature privileges the watershed (river basin) as the appropriate unit for analysis. The paradigm is predicated on the assumption that all stakeholders within a river basin will be able and willing to cooperate in appropriate adequate water management across political and geographical boundaries.

From a geographical scale (and bio-physical) standpoint, the watershed is the right scale of analysis. A basin/watershed is the unit of analysis that encompasses all the elements (bio-physical, communities, government). From the political boundaries’ perspective, the watershed council crosses political borders. Therefore, using watersheds as units of analysis presents substantial implementation challenges to policy-makers. From a governance perspective, the watershed council offers an interesting yet complex model of shared authority. In this multi-stakeholder, round-table process, the final authority for water allocation does not reside within the watershed council but within the government. Thus, the degree to which the Mexican government shares responsibilities (and authority) is substantially limited.

in this talk, I discuss the results of my research on water and wastewater policy in Mexico. Driven by a theoretical interest in institutional analysis, and drawing on two years of in-depth field research in the Lerma-Chapala watershed, I conducted a cross-state comparative examination of wastewater policies in the five states that share territory with(the Lerma-Chapala watershed: State of Mexico, Queretaro, Jalisco, Guanajuato and Michoacan.

Using the Lerma-Chapala river basin as a case study, I analyze the formal and informal rules of the river basin council, finding that informal rules are substantially more important than formal rules, thus causing institutional instability. I also demonstrate that there is a chasm between Mexican environmental and wastewater policies. This chasm is caused primarily by differences between target actors, lack of institutional coordination between environmental and water-focused agencies, and an increasing jurisdictional overlap.Findings from this project offer sound evidence in favour of the criticisms that watershed councils have faced.

My water governance research has led me to explore two distinct but inter-related emerging research streams . The first one focuses on wastewater policy itself; the second one examines the effectiveness of watershed councils as appropriate models for water governance. In this talk I summarize the challenges I see in implementation of river basin councils as institutional innovations for integrated water management I also make a case that social science research on water management has focused largely on access and distribution of water, given its common-pool-resource nature, to the relative neglect of sanitation and wastewater. My goal in the near future is to bring both of these agendas together to create a holistic, integrated model of governance of water and wastewater.

Posted in wastewater, water policy.

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3 Responses

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  1. Christopher Parsons says

    I don’t like those first two sections – if you could make one sentence from the first section and integrate it into #3, and maybe drop section two entirely it would be snappier and more to the point. You can get into specifics in the talk itself.

    Christopher Parsons’s last blog post..Privacy, Dignity, Copyright and Twitter

  2. water management says

    The misuse of water leads to the problems of water-logging, salt-imbalance, etc

Continuing the Discussion

  1. In search of the right scale of governance: Cross-jurisdictional planning and policy issues in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on August 26, 2009

    [...] basin councils (given that watersheds transcend jurisdictional and political borders) However, as I have indicated before, effective cross-jurisdictional governance requires strong cooperative intergovernmental relations [...]



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