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Universidad de Sevilla (2016)

An integrated assessment of water governance in social-ecological systems. Two case studies : the Andarax basin in Almeria and the Tucson basin in Arizona

Cabello Villarejo, Violeta

Titre : An integrated assessment of water governance in social-ecological systems. Two case studies : the Andarax basin in Almeria and the Tucson basin in Arizona

Auteur : Cabello Villarejo, Violeta

Université de soutenance : Universidad de Sevilla

Grade : Doctoral Tesis 2016

Résumé partiel
The emergence of sustainable development as a mainstream issue in the global political agenda defused voices critical of the limits to growth by embracing the discourse of ecological modernization. According to this narrative, environmental problems can and should be dealt with by the promotion of economic growth within existing economic and institutional arrangements. The field of water governance echoed this discourse in the new integration ideas of integrated water resources management, which has gradually become a dominant water management paradigm over the last decades. In the meantime, the western scientific arena has experienced a drastic epistemological shift from mechanicism to complexity. A theoretical basis of complexity underpins the new field of sustainability science, which strives to respond to the challenges associated with retrieving unsustainable patterns through inter- and transdisciplinary research on social-ecological systems. However, water science for governance is slowly mirroring the epistemological implications of complexity, such as the existence of multiple perceptions of nature, the multi-scale organization of living systems, and circular causality as the main type of relationship maintaining this organization. Some research challenges associated with these issues are the following : integrated analysis involving multiple scales and dimensions ; mechanisms for quality control over the narratives leading problem-solving ; and critical assessments of win-win techno-social fixes. This dissertation attempts to respond to these challenges by offering a complex systems perspective on water resources management that conceptualizes watersheds as social-ecological systems. The research objective is to develop an integrated assessment of the implementation of sustainability objectives in water policies in two semi-arid water basins : the Andarax River basin in Almeria (Spain) and the Tucson basin in Arizona (United States). For this purpose, the dissertation proposes a theoretical framework for the integrated assessment of water governance that combines a series of conceptual devices, such as a complex definition of water use, a holarchic depiction of coupled water-human systems, the water metabolism of social-ecological systems, the semiotic process of water management, and water availability as a boundary object. This conceptual repertoire is operationalized through a methodological framework that bridges quantitative analytical tools, such as a spatial-relational data model and the Multi-Scale Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism, and qualitative discourse analysis and assessment of public policies. The first case study follows the implementation of the first cycle of the Water Framework Directive 2009-2015 in the Andarax River basin. It begins with a thorough characterization of the water metabolism of one sub-basin, linking the analysis of societal and that of ecosystem metabolism on a spatially explicit basis. It is proposed that the analysis of ecosystem metabolism should be carried out through the eco-hydrological processes that control water resource renewability (supply-side sustainability), the impacts caused to ecosystem health (sink-side sustainability), and the boundary concepts of water availability and ecosystem water requirements. The analysis revealed the metabolic pattern of a high mountain rural system with a multi-functional economy striving to deal with exodus and agricultural land abandonment. Centuries of social-ecological evolution shaping waterscapes through traditional water management practices have influenced the eco-hydrological functioning of the basin, enabling the adaptation to aridity.

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