Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability: joint learnings from human-groundwater interactions

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre


Billions of people around the world rely for their everyday existence on groundwater. Its invisibility, however, makes groundwater notoriously difficult
to govern, also complicating efforts to avoid depletion or pollution. This project sets out to comparatively study promising grass-roots initiatives of
people organizing around groundwater in places where pressures on the resource are particularly acute (India, Algeria, Morocco, USA, Chile, Peru,
Tanzania). As these often defy or challenge conventional wisdom, the project's hypothesis is that these initiatives contain creative insights about ways
of dealing with the intrinsic tensions that characterize groundwater governance: between individual and collective interests and between short-term
gains and longer-term sustainability. Focusing on groundwater practices - of knowing, accessing and sharing - we combine qualitative ethnographic
methods with hydrogeological and engineering insights to explore the knowledges, technologies and institutions that characterize these initiatives. Our
aim is to enunciate and normatively assess their logic and functioning in view of tracing overlaps or patterns that allow them to serve as more generic
models for transformations to groundwater sustainability. This effort is inspired by theorizations of water as simultaneously social and natural, builds
on recent critical scholarship on institutions, and has a particular sensitivity to how the distribution and use of groundwater is mediated by
technologies. Our overall aim is to create global action-research collaborations to generate new inspirations for thinking about and dealing with
interconnections and interdependencies between humans and groundwater

Planned Impact

In most regions of the world, information relevant to groundwater exploitation is fragmentary and not easily accessible. Besides this epistemic
fragmentation, public awareness regarding sustainable development has focused primarily on global warming issues, such as rising ocean levels or the
condition of glaciers, without making explicit the crucial impact of groundwater overexploitation on rises in sea level (Taylor et al. 2013). Hence we
respond to the urgent need to develop public awareness of the social significance of groundwater practices for human development.
The consortium will organize open workshops in India and the Netherlands and it will promote the project among students and relevant stakeholders
in each country. It will also produce two types of output beyond conventional academic publications in order to reach a broader audience interested
in sustainable development:
1) A 15-to-20-minute educational TED Talk summarizing the main findings of the project by the leader of the project (TED2019).
2) A multilingual website that consolidates the fragmentary information about groundwater provided by relevant stakeholders, an online discussion
forum for cooperation partners and partner projects in different parts of the world, a professional documentary, and a joint book.

We expect these dissemination activities to have not only an educational effect on public audiences regarding the development of a more sustainable
use of groundwater but also a policy impact among stakeholders. This knowledge dissemination is particularly relevant as groundwater governance
failures are often attributed to weak or even non-existent knowledge of local contexts. As the project is based on an innovative focus on
groundwater practices, the new knowledge produced will contribute to the reshaping of policies concerning groundwater governance. Research
findings will be disseminated through existing knowledge and policy networks within each country, which stem from previous and ongoing research
of the different team members. Dissemination is also being planned through a series of policy briefs and popular articles in Spanish, Arabic, French
and Swahili that will contribute to the ongoing (local) debates about the depletion of aquifers.

We will present our research findings to transdisciplinary audiences at various academic conferences (Science and Technology Studies 4S, American
Anthropological Association, Royal Geographical Society, WaterNet Conference) and will prioritize the following top-ranked journals for
publication: 1) Water International, 2) Cultural Anthropology, 3) Science, Technology and Human Values, and 4) Geoforum. The articles will be
drafted to feed into a collective monograph provisionally titled: Transformations to groundwater sustainability: Practical lessons on the social life of
Academically, the project will offer a new conceptual repertoire for theorizing the relevance that local practices play in groundwater governance. In
accordance with Horizon 2020, the potential for knowledge dissemination will be maximized by making the data available online through the project
website. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) will not be protected: project results will be made publicly available to ensure that its impact extends
beyond the duration of the project.


10 25 50
Description Non academic partners in the project are constantly using insights and approaches generated by the project to inform their field based and advocacy work
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

Description AFWA 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Afrcian Water association - Largest water conference in Africa - academics, practitioners, policy makers and business. This year in Kampala under the theme 'breaking new ground: accelerating access to water and sanitation for all'. UPGRO basically had its own stream one of the conference venues, and Hidden Crisis well represented in a number of sessions.
Bring together a diverse range of practitioners, scientists, development partners and industry representatives, working across different areas of water and sanitation sector across the world.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Schools talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Talk to schools in association with GeographicAsscoiation on Transformations to Sustainability
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Seminar - Feminist perspectives on political ecology/T2GS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact In this seminar, Seema Kulkarni (SOPPECOM), Margreet Zwarteveen (IHE-Delft) both PI's on the T2GS project drew on their respective academic and advocacy experiences to reflect on how a Feminist Political Ecology lens furthers understanding of people-environment relations. In conversation they address both the potential and the challenges of applying a feminist political ecology approach to promoting progressive change. Frances cleaver chaired, Muna Dajani facilitated.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Seminars for MA Political Ecology Students November 2022, March 2023 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop sessions held in November 2021 and March 2022 for MA Political Ecology students - presentations by project colleagues of their work and how they go about it, workshop exercises to exlpore the dynamics of sustainable water governance more deeply.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
Description T2GS Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Every month, we will share narratives of knowing, accessing and sharing groundwater from different perspectives and places
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
Description Website and website content 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Website constructed to present ongoing work of the project and particularly to highlight cross learning learning about transformations to sustainability
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020