Participation and Conflicting Objectives in The Era of Integrated Water Resources Management: A Case Study of São Paulo, Brazil
Falconi, Stefanie M.
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The metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil experienced an unprecedented drought between 2013-2015, putting millions of people at risk of water shortages. The impending water crisis brought into question both the reliability of water supplies and the adaptive management capacity of the institutions in charge of the region’s water. The problem is not unique to São Paulo. The Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) framework is an international effort to promote adaptive governance in water policy, and Brazil is one of the proponents of IWRM’s principles of decentralized, integrated, and participatory management capacities to deal with water conflicts. This work examines the technical and non-technical challenges in São Paulo and explores how combining computer models with stakeholder engagement can build water governance. A mixed-method approach is used including interviews, meeting attendance, analysis of technical documents, and quantitative methods with the construction of a mock collaborative model. The objectives are: 1) Examine computer models used for stakeholder engagement in water resources management and characterize the mechanisms that make them effective participatory decision tools; 2) Chronicle and critically examine drought response and water management in São Paulo; 3) Develop a collaborative modeling framework of São Paulo’s water system to analyze system performance and propose contingency plans for improved response. To structure the analysis, Chapter 2 explores the five dimensions of participation and the complexity of creating models that are timely, flexible, transparent, and relevant to the stakeholder engagement process. Chapters 3 and 4 provide different perspectives on São Paulo’s water crisis: Chapter 3 explores the institutional challenges, which were exacerbated by a history of increasing water demands in the region, while Chapter 4 is a technical analysis of system performance and alternative drought plans. São Paulo’s drought and the ensuing water allocation process expose the conflicting objectives of the IWRM framework. Furthermore, the analysis of system performance identifies inconsistencies between public statements concerning risks and system vulnerabilities and the actual situation during the drought. Despite existing plans and technical know-how, the drought revealed a stressed water system whose reliability has been diminished by 20 years of increasing demand. The São Paulo case study demonstrates the need for a more collaborative approach that brings transparent and open dialogue to water resources management.