Aiding Adaptive Co-management in Irrigation

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"Shared governance of water flows and infrastructure poses a critical challenge for institutional design by water users and state agencies. Programs for participatory irrigation management (PIM) and irrigation management transfer (IMT) are often insufficient to achieve equitable water distribution and adequate infrastructure maintenance. If future responses to local and global challenges such as water scarcity and agricultural transformation only repeat past approaches, then they are likely to result in familiar frustrations and disappointments. Insights into potential solutions can be derived from understanding irrigation waterscapes as complex adaptive systems and from analysis of Samaritan's dilemmas and other social dilemmas affecting aid. "While participatory design and construction have often proved possible and devolution has been feasible under some conditions, continuing cooperation between water users and state agencies is essential to the performance of many irrigation systems. Many systems remain trapped in vicious cycles of deferred maintenance, degradation, poor performance, and inefficient rehabilitation. Perverse incentives discourage timely maintenance and local resource mobilization. Experiences from PIM and IMT programs illustrate some of the difficulties of deliberate social engineering, and suggest the need to focus on improving institutions for joint problem-solving in water distribution and infrastructure maintenance. "Irrigation waterscapes are complex systems, perturbed by variable river flows, rainfall, and gate adjustments. As emphasized in recent work on irrigation modernization, current design doctrines and management methods are often inadequate to deal with unpredictable dynamics and deliver reliable services. Tail-end problems are not simply symptoms of social struggles, but also of the difficulty of adjusting management of complex systems amidst constantly changing conditions. Strategies for improving performance require recognition of technical constraints together with open exploration of how modified structures and rules influence management. "Game theory models such as Samaritan's dilemmas clarify the need to carefully design aid programs so they will encourage rather than discourage local efforts. A polycentric governance perspective helps identify ways to make better use of available institutional capacity. Better analysis and design of cost-sharing rules for irrigation system repair and improvement can align incentives and make commitments more credible. Shifting external investments from single-shot rehabilitation to progressive improvement aids adaptive problem-solving in irrigation co-management."



irrigation, participatory management, co-management, adaptive systems, water resources, modernization