collated by Kate Lonsdale based on the work of Chiara Sorisi
Legislative reforms over the last thirty years have created a legal framework and institutional structure favourable to good water management. The recognition of water as a public good in the 1985 Water Law gives government the authority to manage and regulate socially just and environmentally equitable private water use; the 1978 Constitution recognises the right of citizens to participate in public affairs directly, as well as through elected representatives; and the 2001 and 2003 Water Laws created formal institutional spaces for the participation of water users in water management. The EU's WFD supports continued efforts to build upon these legislative foundations and incorporate public participation in water governance.
The stakeholders interviewed stated that they were well aware of the need to clarify the water rights system, to deal with the issue of illegally-drilled wells, and to enforce controls on water use. This implies an understanding of the finite nature of water resources and the need for water conservation in the UGB ecosystem, and acceptance of the need to change practices among users, particularly those involved in the overexploitation of groundwater resources.
There was strong interest among the stakeholders in the use of computer software to model the local hydrological system and provide information to support water governance decisions. The representatives of farmers' organisations and NGOs expressed their willingness to support the development of a local model with qualified scientists; they recognised the uses to which such models could be put within their organisations - for educational and awareness-raising purposes, for the integration of information about, for example, climate predictions, water availability, and agricultural policy impacts, and to offer advisory services over issues like the choice of crops to cultivate under certain conditions.
The potential of software applications to promote public participation and collaboration in water management was not immediately apparent to stakeholders. After further discussion, they were able to recognise how the process of creating a model specific to local conditions could help to foster public participation, by bringing together people from different sectors - government, water users, and scientists - to interact, share information, discuss future scenarios, and propose appropriate policies and practices. Stakeholders' appreciation of the full potential of the WEAP model to promote stakeholder engagement may have been impaired by the lack of opportunity for them to interact with the model during the research process (they only had access to printouts from the model). It was also limited by the current atmosphere of mistrust among stakeholders of the UGB water authorities, given the latter's inept handling of water rights and failure to resolve the problem of illegal wells.
There is scope then, in this context, for science to play a new role in policy-making, as a facilitator of participatory processes, by conveying knowledge to stakeholders, creating the conditions for 'social learning' across stakeholders, and creating common ground for negotiations. In this way, the groundwork may be laid to break with traditional, non-transparent decision-making processes whereby decisions are made 'behind closed doors' by highly-specialised agencies that monopolise and control techno-scientific information.