Alignment of social and ecological structures increased the ability of river management


Shuai Wang, Bojie Fu, Örjan Bodin, Jianguo Liu, Mengmeng Zhang, Xiaoyan Li

Journal or Book Title: Science Bulletin

Keywords: River management Heihe river Social ecological system Institutional fit

Year Published: 2019


Large hydrologic basins involve multiple stakeholders, and coupled dynamic social and ecological pro- cesses. Managing such basins has long been a challenge. Balancing the demand for water from nature against that from humans is always difficult, particularly in arid watersheds. Here, we analyze potential institutional causes of ecological degradation and how it can be reversed by introducing new forms of governance. The framework and assumptions are illustrated using China’s second-largest endorheic basin, where empirical evidence shows that the introduction of a new governing authority connecting midstream and downstream actors facilitated the establishment of a new governance regime that is bet- ter aligned with the biophysical scales of the watershed. A trans-regional water allocation project initi- ated by the new higher-level authority successfully rescued downstream oases and restored a dried terminal lake. These outcomes suggest that when social and ecological structures are better aligned our ability to manage the interplay between social and ecological processes increases. However, the lack of direct connection between the actors of the middle and lower reaches resulted in the paradox of an increase in water demand. We therefore suggest that measures to stimulate the emergence of horizontal social ties linking different critical groups of actors across the watershed could further the alignment of the institutional and biophysical structures—without these changes sustainable management of river basins and other common pool resources will remain problematic.

DOI: 10.1016/j.scib.2019.07.016

Type of Publication: Journal Article

Publisher: Science China Press - Elsevier