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Commoning Water: Co creating Knowledge and Institutions for Conjunctive Use of Water: A Case from India

IWRA 2020 Online Conference - Addressing Groundwater Resilience under Climate Change
THEME 5. Groundwater Education and Capacity Development
Author(s): Subrata Singh, Pratiti Priyadarshini, Ruth Meinzen Dick, Ranjit Mohanty, Thomas Falk

Subrata Singh1, Pratiti Priyadarshini1 , Ruth Meinzen Dick2, Ranjit Mohanty2, Thomas Falk3

1. Foundation for Ecological Security
2. International Food Policy Research Institute
3. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

Keyword(s): Commoning water, Experiential learning, Conjunctive use, Institutions, Typology of Rules, India


Climate change and variability are critical factors contributing to South Asia’s water crisis, posing increasing threats to farm-based livelihoods. Watershed development contributes to perceptible changes in water levels and provides an opportunity for discussions on the improved water levels. But in the absence of effective coordination among water users, many communities fail to sustain the benefits over time. There are multiple structural challenges related to groundwater governance in India - the ‘invisible’ nature of groundwater, poor coordination among water users and challenges of scaling methods and tools that can influence behavior at scales. This paper addresses research questions whether local water governance can be a critical entry point for sustainable water governance in India. It takes stock of current practices and better understand the potential. This understanding can then be the starting point for developing appropriate interventions.

This paper presents learning from working with community based institutions managing water commons, evolving practices around conjunctive use of water and commoning data and information for better decision making. The paper draws insights from experiences of working with rural communities to examine institutional dimensions for commoning groundwater and understand the use of experiential learning methods and tools in co-creating knowledge and stimulating behavioral change for equitable and sustainable water use. Data have been collected in semi-structured surveys and unstructured continuous interactions with community leaders and farmers across Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan in India. Ostrom’s rule classification framework has been used to code and analyze the status and evolution of different types of rules around water.

Our results confirm multiple local water management challenges including dropping groundwater tables, preference of water-consumptive crops and poor maintenance of water harvesting infrastructure. We find local rules especially related to infrastructure management but also related to water use.

The paper delves into the study of rules and aspects that help in commoning and making institutions adaptive. The paper underscores the need to delink land rights from water rights and provides a framework for commoning in the context of conjunctive use of water. Our results underpin the need to improve water demand management for addressing issues of water crisis and improving adaptation and resilience to climate change. Community based institutions can foster coordination, more responsible behavior of water users and improve community’s adaptive management capacity.

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