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The Paper Aims To Study Values Around Water Governance Covering Two Dimensions: On The One Hand, It Is Important To Understand How Different Stakeholder Groups Assign Values To Water Resources In The Area

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Christopher Schulz (Edinburgh, UK)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 7: Global challenges for water governance,


The Cuiabá River Basin is located in the state of Mato Grosso, in the Central-West Region of Brazil. It supplies water to the regional capital city of Cuiabá, cattle ranchers and large-scale soybean farmers in the surrounding uplands, as well as to the Pantanal, the world's largest continental freshwater wetland and host to an extraordinary biodiversity. The paper to be presented outlines the values that different local stakeholder groups attach to water resources and examines how these are inserted into water governance in the area. It builds on previous work carried out in the framework of the Pantanal International Network (Martin-Ortega et al., 2011), which was carried out in partnership between Scottish and Brazilian researchers. However, it is the first to explicitly focus on the value of water resources in the Cuiabá River Basin.

Values have been studied in a variety of disciplines, including economics, philosophy, psychology, and geography. While environmental economists have developed a toolkit to quantify values of the environment in monetary terms, which can be incorporated for example in cost-benefit analyses and other governance instruments, scholars from other disciplines are consistently calling for alternative approaches to take non-monetary dimensions of value into account. A prominent example are Joan Martinez-Alier's 'languages of valuation' (2002) which contrast economic, aesthetic, cultural, spiritual and livelihood values of natural resources, among others. Environmental philosophers have laid out the theoretical bases for value pluralism, arguing that there is a variety of basic values that cannot be converted into each other using a single measurement unit (O'Neill et al., 2008). In the policy arena, the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (Watson & Albon et al., 2011) have tried to capture different values of the environment, using the ecosystem service paradigm as a starting point.

Given the diversity of water uses in the area, the Cuiabá River Basin presents itself as an ideal location to study different dimensions of the value of water resources. While the Pantanal is home to a large number of species and sustains traditional farming and fishing lifestyles, the upstream parts of the Cuiabá River witness the rapid expansion of a modern soybean producing sector that is well connected to the world markets (Ioris, 2013). There are also a significant number of hydroelectric power stations on the tributaries of the Cuiabá River, including the Manso Dam, which have impacted on the natural flow regime (Zeilhofer & Moura, 2009).

The paper aims to study values around water governance covering two dimensions: On the one hand, it is important to understand how different stakeholder groups assign values to water resources in the area. This approach to values is commonly applied in human geography (see e.g. Ioris, 2011). On the other hand, the paper also investigates which values serve as guiding principles to actors in the water sector. This perspective has been adopted from social and environmental psychology (see e.g. Glenk & Fischer, 2010), thus contributing to an interdisciplinary perspective on values and governance.


The research is based on semi-structured interviews to representatives of different stakeholder groups in the Cuiabá River Basin, including government representatives at state and municipal levels, farmers, fishermen, industry, domestic water users, tourism agencies, and others. These interviews are being conducted between October and December 2014 and serve to provide an in-depth understanding of values of water and how these are inserted into governance.

Results and Discussion

While the research has not been concluded at the time of writing this abstract, it is hypothesised that certain values of water are disproportionately represented in water governance, given the different levels of political influence that different stakeholder groups have. The Cuiabá River Basin displays a highly polarised water user landscape in which subsistence farmers coexist with modern large-scale soybean producers, traditional fishing with sports fishing and tourism from Brazil's highly developed South-East, electricity production with environmental protection. This diversity produces an often equally polarised evaluation of a range of water governance issues, such as uneven access to water and sanitation, changes to water flows, decline in fish, water pollution, and the potential introduction of water charges. The evaluation of such governance issues in turn can be traced back to different values as guiding principles and different values assigned to water resources.

Water has been valued as a source of economic development, of livelihoods, of biodiversity, and of cultural traditions, to name just a few examples of fundamental approaches towards water valuation in the Cuiabá River Basin. Stakeholder's guiding principles equally vary, ranging from the desire to conserve the region's biodiversity by keeping traditional farming techniques alive, to a strong desire for change, to be achieved by a substantial modernisation of the local economy.


Across disciplines there is general agreement that water values matter for water governance. The paper to be presented demonstrates how perspectives of different stakeholder groups in the Brazilian Cuiabá River Basin on water values differ and how these differences are reflected in the evaluation of water governance issues in the area. Using an interdisciplinary approach, it covers the values that stakeholders assign to water resources, as well as the guiding principles that they employ or would like to employ in water governance. The Cuiabá River Basin is an area experiencing strong economic development, and several instruments of water governance (such as river basin committees, water charges, and payments for ecosystem services), that have been implemented in other river basins of Brazil, are yet to be introduced to the area. Investigating water values at the current point of time thus not only helps to understand current water governance issues, but will be crucial to predict the success and acceptance of potential future water reforms. References

Glenk, K. & Fischer, A. (2010): Insurance, prevention or just wait and see? Public preferences for water management strategies in the context of climate change, in: Ecological Economics, vol. 69: 2279-2291.

Ioris, A.A.R. (2011): Values, meanings, and positionalities: the controversial valuation of water in Rio de Janeiro, in: Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, vol. 29(5): 872-888.

Ioris, A.A.R. (2013): Rethinking Brazil’s Pantanal Wetland: Beyond Narrow Development and Conservation Debates, in: Journal of Environment & Development, vol. 22(3): 239-260.

Martinez-Alier, J. (2002): The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation, Cheltenham, UK/Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Martin-Ortega, J., Ioris, A., & Glenk, K. (2011): Preliminary exploration of stakeholders’ perception of the environmental state and changes in the Pantanal wetland, Pantanal International Network,

MA = Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005): Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment, Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

O’Neill, J., Holland, A., & Light, A. (2008): Environmental Values, London/New York: Routledge.

Watson, R. & Albon, S. et al. (2011): UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Understanding nature's value to society. Synthesis of the Key Findings, Cambridge: UNEP-WCMC.

Zeilhofer, P. & Moura, R.M. (2009): Hydrological changes in the northern Pantanal caused by the Manso dam: Impact analysis and suggestions for mitigation, in: Ecological Engineering, vol. 35(1): 105-117.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin