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Water Science and Collaboration: A Special Collection


Ronlyn Duncan, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, New Zealand

INTRODUCTION: Water is usually discussed in terms of "management" and is often conceived as a technological issue requiring treatment plants, pipes and pumps. While these are undoubtedly important aspects of managing water resources, this special issue of Case Studies in the Environment links water science and collaboration to explore the social and cultural dimensions of the ways we obtain information and establish rules and conventions to protect, distribute and access water. Concerns about the current state of water and the water quality and quantity challenges we are likely to face in the future have been a catalyst for collaboration in many countries. To our delight, the case studies we are assembling capture different types of collaborations and explore different ways of knowing water and the changing ways in which water science is done. Opening up these social and cultural dimensions of water raises important questions about the politics of data collection, the changing role of science and scientists in water management and new delegations of power and authority in managing water resources.


Pluralizing Science for Inclusive Water Governance: An Engaged Ethnographic Approach to WaSH Data Collection in Delhi, India

Heather O’Leary, Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, USA

Abstract: This case study demonstrates how water scientists can shift standard methods for water sampling to include marginalized communities as partners in ethical research. This case argues that water inequities are magnified when participation in scientific inquiry limits the participation of certain groups of people. It used hydrogen sulfide (H2S) testing as part of a larger project tracking water purity practice patterns, responses, and research recommendations of the hydro-socially marginalized people—the people who face not only physical, but also political barriers to water. The methodological innovation draws from engaged ethnography to enable Delhi’s water-poor to sample their own water. In doing so, community members become active partners who can better direct scientific inquiry. Their participation as active partners further empowers them as water stakeholders. It reveals how everyday small-scale cooperative projects became catalysts to inclusive governance. Read more...

Further reading: Engaging Science for Inclusive Water Governance: A Q&A with environmental anthropologist Heather O’Leary

Further reading: Professor O’Leary's article was the top prize winner in the 2018 Case Studies in the Environment Prize Competition. Read more...

Innovation in outcomes-based water quality policy: A case study from the Yahara Watershed, Wisconsin, USA

Chloe Wardropper, Department of Natural Resources and Society, University of Idaho, USA

Sean Gillon, Food Systems & Society, Marylhurst University, USA

Adena Rissman, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Abstract: This case examines the risks and opportunities for stakeholders involved in an experimental water quality management program in Wisconsin, USA. The program pays for pounds of pollution reduced through soil conservation practices on farm fields and other high-runoff areas across the landscape – nonpoint sources of pollution – by redirecting funds from the sewerage plant and municipal point sources of pollution. Uncertain monitoring and modeling of pollution sources used for program payments and accountability create perceived and real risks to program participants and the environment, including the threat of regulatory enforcement, lost revenue, and failure to achieve environmental outcomes. On the other hand, in this case study, regulatory flexibility also opened a space for stakeholder dialogue and programmatic cooperation that could lead to more adaptive and locally acceptable watershed pollution control in the future. Read more...

The changing role of scientists in supporting collaborative land and water policy in Canterbury, New Zealand

Melissa C Robson-Williams, Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research, New Zealand

Ned Norton, LandWaterPeople, New Zealand

Tim Davie, Environment Canterbury, New Zealand

Ken Taylor, Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, New Zealand

Nicholas Kirk, Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research, New Zealand

Abstract: In this case study we examine the role of science and scientists in community-led collaborative policy processes. We outline the shift from science-led linear policy processes through to community-led science-informed policy processes. The case study illustrates how practice evolved to ensure that scientists provided reliable, credible, and salient evidence to help community decision makers. From this experience, a set of principles for scientists working in these environments was created. These principles include scientists recognizing their changing role, scientists sharing the burden of uncertainty, scientists speaking in the communities’ language, and creating fit for purpose assessment frameworks. Read more...

The Cycle of Trust Building, Co-Learning, Capability Development, and Confidence Building: Application of a Co-Innovation Approach in a Multi-Stakeholder Project

M. S. Srinivasan, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Limited, New Zealand

Graham Elley, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Limited, New Zealand

Abstract: Through learnings and reflections from a water-use efficiency (WUE) pilot study, this paper examines the use of co-innovation. Led by hydrologists, this paper tracks the cycle of trust building among stakeholders, co-learning of WUE problem, co-developing of possible solutions and practices, identifying the need for capability development to overcome constraints, and finally enabling confidence among stakeholders in adapting new practices. The hydrologists built the trust among stakeholders by matching and validating stakeholders’ experiential knowledge through on-farm biophysical observations of water use (irrigation) practices. This trust allowed the stakeholder group to identify constraints to improving WUE and helped the hydrologists to devise biophysical solutions and practices that support farmers in better managing their irrigations. Read more...

Returning Water Data to Communities in Ndola, Zambia: A Case Study in Decolonising Environmental Science

Mando Chitondo, Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Kelly Dombroski, Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Abstract: Many scientific research projects carried out in developing countries gather data and fail to return any summary of the findings to the community that provided the data. Residents from communities experiencing water issues are therefore deprived of effective participation in the use of findings, since communities might be seen as only a source of data. Indigenous writers have revealed the injustice of this reality and have suggested that this is typical of colonial or ‘colonising’ research methods. It is concerning because accessing research knowledge encourages communities to examine their issues and empowers them to formulate solutions. Inspired by decolonising methodologies, we explored different ‘decolonising’ approaches to returning research findings to participant communities using the results of a recent water research project conducted in Ndola, Copperbelt Province, Zambia. In this case study, we describe participant communities experience regarding access to research findings and conclude that face-to-face discussion is the preferred approach to returning water research findings in Ndola. Read more...

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