Contemporary societies are increasingly exposed to common threats such as pollution, climate change, or market crises that are the result of the socioeconomic development process itself and manifest at global, regional, and local scales. This situation has generated a new interest in understanding the manner in which communities organize in response to threats in different contexts. Research in natural resource management has been particularly productive in that regard. In that vein, this research uses a large set of irrigation communities located in northeastern Spain to understand how characteristics of threats, the ways the local communities are organized, and the physical environment may enhance the robustness of those communities.
There is a growing concern among ecologists and political scientists about the need to study robustness from an interdisciplinary perspective. This project contributes to theory building in that direction by testing the impact of both social and environmental variables. The research also helps improve decision-support computer programs that are increasingly used for water management in Spain and other countries. Finally, the research provides an inventory of sustainability threats and responses that represents the reality of many irrigation communities around the world. The inventory is useful for risk management in other natural resource sectors, so the research team is sharing the inventory with communities and public authorities.
Contemporary societies are increasingly exposed to common threats such as pollution, climate change, or market crises that are the results of the socioeconomic development process itself and manifest at global, regional, and local scales. This situation has generated a new interest in understanding the manner in which communities organize in response to threats in different contexts. This research project aims to add to the understanding of how institutions may enhance robust responses to disturbances by studying a large set of irrigation communities located along the Gállego River Watershed, in northeastern Spain (see Figure 1): How do different institutions and community attributes affect the ability of Spanish irrigation communities to cope with different disturbances? Spain is well recognized for the long tradition and autonomy of its irrigation communities, the persistence of which constitutes evidence of their ability to manage particular threats over time. In recent decades, however, many of those communities have been struggling with a new wave of threats related to climate change, the economic development of Spain, and demographic change. The contrast between the new situation and the historical persistence of Spanish irrigation communities constitutes an important case for the study of risk management. The research is articulated through two studies: a statistical study of the robustness of 34 irrigation communities to droughts, and a qualitative comparative study of the different responses that five additional irrigation communities have developed to cope with different disturbances over the last two decades. According to preliminary results from the statistical study, irrigation communities that enjoy the presence of a guard to assist and monitor the water allocation in the field and communities that count on experienced leaders are more likely to be robust to droughts than irrigation communities that do not have those attributes (see Table 1). Other contributing variables are the characteristics of the soils and whether the communities can receive water transfers from other communities. According to preliminary results from the comparative study, some of the most common disturbances affecting the performance of the communities under study include droughts, depopulation of rural areas, different forms of urbanization, the emergence of algae in the irrigation infrastructure due to over-nitrogenized water, or the arrival of new water users. In many cases, the communities have developed different responses (see Figures 2 and 3), either simultaneously or sequentially. The responses can be classified into four types: institutional developments, infrastructure investments, ad-hoc mitigation strategies, delegation on external organizations, and monitoring and bargaining with external organizations. Different types of responses are related to factors of collective action differently. Community leadership has a strong presence in all types of responses; community collective choice has an important role on monitoring and bargaining, infrastructure investments, and rule development; and government support plays a central role on monitoring and bargaining, and infrastructure investments. Finally, very preliminary observations point to the importance of community leaders as well as government support to understand the ability of the communities to cope with the disturbances.