Volume 39, Issue 1

January 2023

Research Article

Carrot or stick: what motivates urban water consumption? Evidence from Southern California

Maitreyee Mukherjee

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), National University of Singapore, Singapore; Institute of Water Policy, LKYSPP, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Contact: Maitreyee Mukherjee | Email: maitreyee@u.nus.edu


California has experienced one of the most intense and prolonged droughts in its history in the last decade, prompting the state government to undertake a series of policy responses. This paper compares the impact of the 2015 urban water-use reduction mandate with respect to pre-policy voluntary conservation efforts and post-policy water consumption trends by examining utility-level water demand dynamics of the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California. The findings overall indicate that despite voluntary measures resulting in a gradual decline in urban wateruse, the introduction of the regulatory stick achieved swift reduction targets that remained even after removal of the mandatory policy.

Pages: 1–25


Research Article

Recentralizing state power in decentralized small drinking water system governance in New Mexico, USA

Benjamin P. Warnera, Tucker Colvinb and Ria Mukerjia

aDepartment of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA; bSouthwest Environmental Finance Center, Department of Civil Engineering, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

Contact: Benjamin P. Warner | Email: bpwarner@unm.edu


We study the role of the state in small drinking water system governance in New Mexico, USA. Using interviews and demographic data, we develop a grounded theory of the political economy of public accountability in decentralized water governance. We find that the state decentralizes water governance by enforcing public accountability requirements in poor, non-white communities that do not meet its standards for drinking water provisioning. By doing so, it relieves itself of the burden of safe drinking water provisioning. We challenge the assumption that state authority is abated through decentralization and contribute to understandings of inequality in water governance.

Pages: 26–47


Research Article

Scenarios for public systems transition using learning alliances: the case of water supply in Uganda

Angela Hustona,b, Susan Gaskina, Jane Nabunnyac, Patrick Moriartyb and Martin Watsisic

aDepartment of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada; bIRC, The Hague, the Netherlands; cIRC Uganda, Kampala, Uganda

Contact: Angela Huston | Email: huston@ircwash.org


Uganda’s Vision 2040 aims to modernize rural water supply through a transition from community-managed point sources to professionally managed piped water services. At the start of the transition period, a learning alliance established in Kabarole District participated in action research to develop scenarios predicting possible future development trajectories. The diversity of its membership, whose formal institutional roles spanned national, district and niche levels, increased the robustness of the strategies proposed for the adaptively managed transition of the public water service. The learning alliance has been facilitated by a non-governmental organization providing funding and expert advice; the effectiveness of this approach is demonstrated.

Pages: 48–69

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2021.1969223 (Open Access)

Research Article

Large-scale water development in the United States: TVA and the California State Water Project

Neil S. Grigg

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

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


Assessments of large-scale water resources projects in two regions of the United States provide lessons about long-term outcomes. In the humid East, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) serves multiple objectives and is the largest public power enterprise in the nation. In the West, California’s State Water Project serves nearly 27 million people and some 750,000 acres of farmland with extensive infrastructure. Assessing the outcomes of such large-scale projects requires integrated analysis and involves different value propositions. The major lessons are about government actions in river basin and public power systems development and their impacts on agriculture, urban development, and a vulnerable and changing delta ecosystem.

Pages: 70–88


Research Article

Socio-spatial and seasonal dynamics of small, private water service providers in Khulna district, Bangladesh

Sonia Ferdous Hoque

School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Contact: Sonia Ferdous Hoque | Email: sonia.hoque@ouce.ox.ac.uk


Small water service providers operating in informal markets across the Global South address critical gaps in public investments in the rural water sector. This study analyses the growth and operations of private desalination plants and distributing vendors in Khulna, Bangladesh, within the broader landscape of uncoordinated investments by government, donors and households. Household water choices and payment behaviour vary spatially and seasonally, with observable wealth differences in self-supply investments in rainwater tanks and tubewells. Monitoring and regulating informal private providers can improve sectoral coordination, increase efficiency of service delivery and unlock commercial finances against the backdrop of declining aid-based financing.

Pages: 89–112

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2021.1951179 (Open Access)

Research Article

Conventional and makeshift rainwater harvesting in rural South Africa: exploring determinants for rainwater harvesting mode

Karen Lebek and Tobias Krueger

Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human–Environment Systems (Iri THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Contact: Karen Lebek | Email: karen.lebek@hu-berlin.de


In underserved rural areas, domestic rainwater harvesting has been gaining importance as an alternative water source. In rural South Africa, however, less than 1% of households use conventional rainwater harvesting systems. Instead, a household survey in KwaZulu-Natal reveals that many households harvest rainwater in a makeshift manner, using homemade gutters and drums. Statistical analysis shows that high income, a brick house with straight gutters and good water services facilitate conventional rainwater harvesting, while a household with only round huts is easily trapped into makeshift rainwater harvesting. For upscaling rainwater harvesting in rural areas, housing types need to be considered.

Pages: 113–132

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2021.1983778 (Open Access)

Research Article

Irrigation subsidy policy in Chile: lessons from the allocation, uneven distribution and water resources implications

Cristian Jordana, Guillermo Donosob and Stijn Speelmana

aDepartment of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; bDepartamento de Economía Agraria y Centro de Derecho y Gestión de Aguas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

Contact: Cristian Jordan | Email: cristian.jordandiaz@ugent.be


Globally irrigation subsidies are utilized to boost modernization and increase irrigation efficiency. This paper examines the effects of the irrigation subsidy programme in Chile by reviewing 32 years of allocations and exploring the drivers and consequences of the subsidy programme with a clear market approach based on competition and a state risk-free strategy. Our analysis reveals that, despite the flexibility in targeting, the results indicate an uneven allocation to smallholders’ detriment, a state inability to identify farmers’ needs, market concentration and a bias towards agricultural expansion. As long as the programme remains unaltered, it will threaten agriculture and water resources’ sustainability.

Pages: 133–154


Research Article

Reviewing the causes of Mekong drought before and during 2019–20

Oulavanh Keovilignavonga, Tuong Huy Nguyenb and Philip Hirschc

aIndependent Researcher, Vientiane Capital, Laos; bFaculty of Geography, Hanoi National University of Education, Hanoi, Vietnam; cSchool of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Contact: Oulavanh Keovilignavong | Email: oulavanh.k@gmail.com


The Mekong region experienced severe droughts in 2019–20, generating alternative explanations of whether Chinese dams, climate or other drivers are the main causes. Reviewing academic journals, news outlets and online public discussions, we argue that it is important to address these differences in explanations not only between China and downstream countries but also including nonstate actors, regional and external non-governmental organizations, media, think tanks, and research institutes to reveal the politics that frame the scientific debate on drought in the region. Data-sharing and collaborative research are needed to shift the discourse on drought towards a more systematic approach rather than focusing on politically expedient causal factors.

Pages: 155–175