Volume 38, Issue 2

March 2022

Editorial »

Water security, climate change and COP26

Cecilia Tortajada and Asit K. Biswas

Research Article

Addressing aquifer overexploitation with desalinated seawater: an economic assessment of alternatives in south-eastern Spain

Javier Calatrava , Victoriano Martínez-Alvarez and David Martínez-Granados

Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería Agronómica, Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Cartagena, Spain

Contact: Javier Calatrava | Email: j.calatrava@upct.es


Spanish authorities have proposed providing external resources to substitute for non-renewable groundwater withdrawals in the south-eastern Murcia Plateau, which would require building new water infrastructure. This article assesses the supply costs and the economic impact of two alternatives, one based on supplying desalinated seawater and the other based on supplying water from the Tagus–Segura Transfer, with an innovative scheme to exchange it for desalinated seawater. It is found that farmers cannot afford the cost of either alternative. Authorities face the dilemma of either strongly subsidizing the external water supply, beyond what seems reasonable, or facing a disproportionate impact on the local economy.

Pages: 199–216

Research Article

Approaching obsolescence? A multi-criteria analysis of high-risk dams in the United States Pacific Northwest

Alexander C. Nagel and Thomas Ptak

Department of Geography & Geological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA

Contact: Alexander C. Nagel | Email: nagel@uidaho.edu


This research uses a multi-criteria analysis tool and field site observation to critically analyse a network of dams across a single watershed in the US Pacific Northwest. The analysis offers a template to better understand some nuances and complexities involved in decision-making leading to relicensing, retrofitting or decommissioning of both powered and non-powered structures. The study focuses on 13 dams in Oregon’s Willamette River Basin Reservoir System, where the average age of structures is 62 years, exceeding a national mean of 57 years. Research outcomes can inform stakeholders who make decisions regarding America’s high-risk dam network as it rapidly approaches obsolescence.

Pages: 217–241

Research Article

Flood protection by embankments in the Brahmani–Baitarani river basin, India: a risk-based approach

Marcel Marchanda, Ruben Dahma, Joost Buurmanb, Subbiah Sethurathinamc and Chris Sprengersd

aDeltares, Delft, the Netherlands; bInstitute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore; cRMSI, India; dC. J. Sprengers Consultancy, the Netherlands

Contact: Joost Buurman | Email: joost.iwp@gmail.com


Determining optimum flood protection levels is challenging in data-poor environments typical of developing countries. This study develops a risk-modelling approach to calculate current flood risks for a predominantly agricultural area in the Brahmani–Baitarani river basin in India. A combined hydrological–hydraulic model is developed together with a damage model to analyse the economic efficiency of different safety levels of embankments. The results show that more than 90% of the total flood risk would be controlled with embankments giving a protection level of once in 25 years. The study illustrates the feasibility of a relatively basic flood-risk analysis that can be applied at pre-feasibility level in a data-poor environment.

Pages: 242–261

Research Article

Which farms drill during drought? The influence of farm size and crop type

Emily Reismana and Luke Macaulayb,c

aDepartment of Environment and Sustainability, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA; bEnvironmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California – Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA; cUniversity of Maryland Extension, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

Contact: Emily Reisman | Email: ereisman@buffalo.edu


Excessive groundwater extraction is exacerbated by worsening droughts under climate change. Among agricultural users, welldrilling activity is not evenly distributed. The number, diameter and depth of new agricultural wells were analysed in this study in relation to farm size and land cover class during California’s 2012–16 extreme drought. The results show smaller farms drilled at higher rates, whereas larger farms drilled at comparatively greater depths and with wider wellbores. Sections dominated by permanent crops drilled at 2.4 times the rate of those dominated by annual crops, and at 24.7 times the rate of forest and rangeland dominated sections.

Pages: 262–282

Research Article

Developing a socio-psychological model explaining farmers’ income diversification in response to groundwater scarcity in Iran

Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemia, Ann Kinziga, Hallie Eakinb, Joshua K. Abbottb and Reza Sedaghatc

aSchool of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA; bSchool of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA; cHorticultural Sciences Research Institute, Pistachio Research Center, Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization (AREEO), Rafsanjan, Iran

Contact: Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi | Email: shashem9@asu.edu


Income diversification is an essential livelihood strategy for farmers facing unsustainable groundwater withdrawals. This paper develops a general structural equation model that analyses socio-psychological factors that affect the intentions to adopt and the actual adoption of income diversification in response to groundwater scarcity. The developed model includes affective attitudes, instrumental attitudes and self-efficacy. This model explains 55% and 36% of the variance in intentions to pursue and the actual pursuit of income diversification among farmers in the Rafsanjan Plain, Iran, respectively. These results can inform policies for promoting income diversification, and have implications for sustaining farmers’ livelihoods and groundwater resources.

Pages: 283–305

Research Article

Direct delivery of electricity subsidy to farmers in Punjab: will it help conserve groundwater?

M. Dinesh Kumara, Nitin Bassib and Mahendra Singh Vermaa

aHead Office, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP), Hyderabad, India; bLiaison Office, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP), New Delhi, India

Contact: M. Dinesh Kumar | Email: dinesh@irapindia.org; dineshcgiar@gmail.com


The article argues that the recently introduced model for the direct delivery of an energy subsidy to well-irrigators in Indian Punjab aimed at incentivizing them to conserve electricity and groundwater is on a weak conceptual footing. Energy quota based on connected load will only lead to the resource-rich appropriating the subsidy benefits. Reduced use of well water to irrigate paddy will not arrest depletion as a large proportion of that water returns to the aquifer. The article suggests some institutional alternatives for bringing about long-term changes in the groundwater balance of Punjab based on sound water-use hydrology and the use of technology and market forces.

Pages: 306–321

Research Article

Thayer Scudder’s Four Stage Framework, water resources dispossession and appropriation: the Kariba case

Joshua Matanzima

La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC 3086, Australia

Contact: Joshua Matanzima | Email: matanzimajosh@gmail.com


This article considers how the colonial British government’s appropriation of the Kariba Dam historically excluded the BaTonga people from accessing the dam’s resources. Dispossession and appropriation of the Kariba Dam resulted in the impoverishment of the BaTonga of north-western Zimbabwe. In this study, impoverishment of the BaTonga is understood in relation to their failure to adequately reach Thayer ‘Ted’ Scudder’s stages 3 and 4 of the Four Stages Framework (FSF) of successful resettlement. The article argues that when people are denied access to reservoirs and their resources for both religious and socioeconomic reasons, they hardly pass through the four stages adequately. The article is based on ethnographic research and extensive document analysis conducted among the BaTonga between April and October 2017.

Pages: 322–345


President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan: Does it address needs of water systems in the United States?

Neil S. Grigg

Department of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

Contact: Neil S. Grigg | Email: neilg@engr.colostate.edu


President Joe Biden’s US$2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal in 2021 includes physical and social investments, but water systems would receive only about 5% of the total. Drinking water and wastewater systems would see a modest increase, but the US$45 billion to replace lead service lines is new. No new investments in dams and waterways were proposed. Negotiations illustrate the politicized unified budget system of the United States with differing philosophies of political parties. Ultimately, the message for water infrastructure in the United States is about the need to persevere in messaging to the public and policymakers about the continuing need for investments.

Pages: 346–350


Adequate, resilient and sustainable: how to run a water utility in a pandemic

Peter Joo Hee Ng

PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency

Contact: Peter Joo Hee Ng | Email: ng_joo_hee@pub.gov.sg


Water utilities, be they public companies, state owned or departments inside city halls, are famously stolid businesses. Processing tap water or treating wastewater is just not very exciting stuff. The still raging Covid global pandemic, though, has cast a spotlight on water utilities all over the world. As producers of a commodity and purveyors of a service essential to the upkeep of public health, water utilities large and small are suddenly the centre of attention. The smooth running and assured continuation of their operations, usually taken for granted, is also under extra scrutiny.

Pages: 351–354