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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Coping with Water Scarcity: The Governance Challenge

  • Author(s): Richards, Alan
  • et al.

Improving demand management or enhancing water conservation is a complex and difficult governance problem, involving a complicated mixture of decentralization in some areas and instances (e.g., to promote greater on-farm efficiency via water-users associations) and re-centralization in others (e.g., to cope with pervasive third-party effects). Both the infrastructural and institutional changes are likely to be significant. Further, significant interest groups in society and within the state apparatus stand to lose important rents and/or privileges. In some cases, these interests may be able to stall or to block reforms. Given the lags involved and the possibilities of significant unexpected negative shocks, the consequences of "business as usual" could be severe. That is, failure to reform systems, and, therefore, failure to deliver adequate water supplies to increasing numbers of people, has destabilizing potential for some governments. Yet the process of decentralizing decision making can itself be destabilizing, depending upon the specific context. The dynamics of political reform of water allocation policies have important potential to add to social and political conflict within increasingly water-scarce societies. By the same token, however, there are significant opportunities to smooth the transition to more water efficient allocation systems.

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