98% of global available freshwater resources are stored underground. Groundwater is often trapped in aquifers and when these straddle under the boundaries of two or more countries we have transboundary aquifers (TBAs). Currently 592 TBAs and groundwater bodies have been identified, but less than 10 of these feature a formal legal arrangement of some sort devoted to governing how the countries that share the TBA should manage it. Against this background, this paper will discuss how science and policy need to interact in order to effectively manage TBAs.
One of the key problems that we are faced when we approach the field of TBAs is the lack of information. A second challenge is to transmit such information in a way that policy makers can understand it and make use of it when devising management arrangements. Finally, a third challenge is for science and policy to continue to talk to each other and be mutually supportive in the implementation of any TBA management arrangement.
In this paper we will highlight examples of each of the three above mentioned challenges showing how in each one science or policy alone are not enough to properly manage a TBA. Examples will vary from how the international community developed the United Nations International Law Commission Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, to groundwater governance in the context of TBA management in Southern Africa and in the Middle East, to foreseeable scenarios in the field of offshore aquifers.
In conclusion, while it is self-evident that you cannot manage what you do not know and understand, it is also important to stress that you cannot manage a natural resource without taking into account the wider governance challenges that stem from a misapprehension of the science and policy relationship. This paper, with its multiscale and multidisciplinary examples and discussion, contributes to disentangle the difficult but necessary relationship between science and policy in the field of TBA management.