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Investing upstream: Watershed protection in Piura, Peru

Ostovar, Abby Lindsay
Environmental science & policy 2019 v.96 pp. 9-17
anthropology, basins, cities, climate change, coasts, ecosystems, environmental science, interviews, issues and policy, leadership, stakeholders, uncertainty, water management, water supply, watershed management, watersheds, Andes region, Peru
As the world is increasingly urbanized and climate change presents new uncertainties, urban water supply management needs to be flexible and adaptable. This includes reaching beyond city limits to include water supply and watershed management, as well as working with stakeholders outside the boundaries of the city, across the urban/rural divide. Bringing together diverse stakeholders to collaborate on management strategies entails bringing together multiple knowledge systems that interact, compete, and reshape water systems. Large cities located within Peru’s arid coast provide important opportunities to examine these knowledge dynamics, as urban water supplies depend on actions within the rural watersheds. These watersheds, which originate high in the Andes mountains, are populated primarily by campesino communities, who have been marginalized from state-led water governance for centuries. With Peru’s adoption of the 2009 Water Resources Law, campesino communities were brought into management through multi-stakeholder river basin councils. These councils ideally provide a space for stakeholders to deliberate and reach agreements on sustainable water management. Yet, despite the critical importance of upper watershed protection for ensuring water supplies for the large coastal cities, few efforts have resulted in watershed protection.Here, I examine one successful case, where the stakeholders in Piura agreed on a program to protect critical upper basin ecosystems. This study uses a process tracing approach to analyze the knowledge dynamics that led to the agreement and initial implementation. Based on ethnographic research including 112 interviews between 2015 and 2017, I argue that the interaction between knowledge and belief systems needs to be taken into account. I find that stakeholders’ seemingly incongruent worldviews and epistemologies were bridged, enabling them to reach agreement on an ecosystem-based technique for watershed protection. Further, strong leadership and active support of the knowledge and preferences of the historically-marginalized campesino communities was critical for the inclusion of their views and agreement upon watershed protection. Where urban water supplies rest on actions of non-state actors, such as is the case with watershed protection, the ability of stakeholders to voluntarily reach and implement agreements is critical, especially given increased variability and uncertainties associated with climate change.