Key science findings or outputs

  1. Drought knowledge generated by computer modelling tends to support different socio-political approaches to drought than drought knowledge based on field observations.
  2. Drought expertise developed in relation to water resources differ from that evolving in relation to river management.
  3. In drought management discourses people’s relationship with water is mainly understood as – ‘consumer demand’ which contrasts with local communities’ approaches to encourage residents to ‘care for the river’

Introduction

Human Geography research in the MaRIUS project has approached drought as one phenomenon subject to environmental governance exercised through a proliferation of expert professionals and technologies which poses challenges for public engagement in policy and management processes. Our mapping and analysis of drought knowledge and expertise builds on scholarship at the intersection of science and technology studies and political theory, and on work that treats vernacular environmental knowledge as a resource in environmental science and public policy. Informed by these critical social science trajectories we mapped drought knowledge and expertise aiming to find out which knowledge generating practices were used by social actors in support of different ways to address droughts. We also formed an understanding of which knowledge and expertise was marginalised and if there were alternative approaches to drought.

Research methods

The mapping of drought knowledge has relied on qualitative social science methods. We have undertaken in-depth interviews with key informants, including scientists, expert practitioners, organizational managers, policy-makers and officers in public and private sector agencies involved with water resources and drought management. Local case study ethnography has included archival research on the local incidence and nature of droughts and in-depth interviews with key local informants.

Result 1

Drought knowledge generated by computer modelling tends to support different socio-political approaches to drought than drought knowledge based on field observations.

Computer modelling of natural processes affecting water quantity on a variety of scales is widely used in academic science and among social actors with formal duties in relation to drought. Focussing on drought as ‘events’ that need to be managed the Environment Agency, water utility companies, energy producers, and others find the knowledge generated through computer modelling very useful. On the other hand, actors involved with local river management addressing water quality, ecological status and long-term environmental sustainability rely more on field observation science. In long-term river management drought is viewed as one extreme that needs to be understood also in relation to processes other than water quantity. Many actors involved with long-term river management find computer modelling too constrained for their needs.

Result 2

Drought expertise developed in relation to water resources differ from that evolving in relation to river management.

One site for the development of drought expertise is the science-based practice of managing water supply systems. This type of expertise resides within institutions and organisations which act and are regulated in the drought governance space described on the web page ‘Mapping drought governance’. A different type of expertise evolves among the actors focussing on environmentally sustainable river management. This expertise is associated with organisations focussing on the Water Framework Directive aiming to improve water quality and ecology. The second type of expertise engages with drought as it affects local aquatic and terrestrial river environments. The expertise developed in relation to river management does not travel into drought management and vice versa.

Result 3

In drought management discourses people’s relationship with water is mainly understood as – ‘consumer demand’ which contrasts with local communities’ approaches to encourage residents to ‘care for the river’.

Actors involved with water resource management tend to conceptualise people as water consumers and company customers. This perspective leads to specific ways of addressing water demand and ideas of how it could be controlled. Societal actors involved with local river management tend to understand people as potentially able to care for their environment and change behaviour in order to improve environmental quality.

These two contrasting meet in collaborations between the water industry and local rivers trusts. Water companies sponsor and support local environmental non-governmental organisations’ work with water conservation in households and small businesses.

 

Research Team

Dr Catharina Landström Dr Catharina Landström Dr Eric Sarmiento Dr Eric Sarmiento Professor Sarah Whatmore Prof Sarah Whatmore