Framing ‘green’ water reforms: Who will be the winners and losers? Reflections from Lima, Peru.

Increasing demand for water in cities and uncertain future climatic conditions, present major water governance challenges for expanding urban areas such as the Peruvian capital Lima. Governments and policy makers are increasingly turning towards ‘greener’ approaches to address the urban water crisis. However, who will be the winners and who will be the losers in these reforms? How do we ensure that marginalised perspectives are given equal consideration?
Lima, Peru photo taken by Anderson S. Vieira@flickr, CC BY 2.0

Lima’s water problem

Lima covers nearly 3000 km2 and represents a third of Peru’s total population. The city is receiving on average less than 10 mm of rain per year, and is a coastal desert city relying on seasonal Andean flows from the wetter Andean highlands of central Peru. With the backdrop of population growth, increasing climate variability and land use change in the Andes, there are concerns over Lima’s continued reliance on Andean water sources.

Historically, Lima’s water authority response to these threats has been to invest in large-scale ‘grey’ infrastructure, such as dams and reservoirs. However, the national water regulator SUNASS has now turned towards nature-based or ‘green’ approaches to water supply management. As part of this change in policy direction, SEDAPAL, Lima’s state-owned water and sewage company, is now also legally required to carry out watershed conservation projects in the highlands in order to preserve critical water resources in the interest of Lima but also in the interests of Andean communities that rely on the same resources.

The importance of scale framing

In a recent study published in in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning titled “The development and intersection of highland- coastal scale frames: a case study of water governance in central Peruwe have used the concepts of framing and policy storylines to understand exactly how this shift in policy reform has unfolded during the reform period of 2004-2015. We set out to explore, who were the enabling actors and how did they promote a particular view of Lima’s solution to the water crisis when interacting with others?  How did that view matured in policy? Who are likely to be the winners and losers associated with these policy reforms?

Three prominent policy storylines

We have found three prominent policy storylines each of which is linked to different framings on how to achieve water security in Lima. Crucially, we find that the shift in water policy involves different players, potential winners and losers, and yet it has been thus far largely regarded as a zero sum game.

The relationship between the frame dimensions and the policy storylines (dashed lines indicate frame dimensions of secondary importance). Source, Grainger et al. 2019.

In the first policy storyline, ‘water scarcity in Lima’ is presented as an exclusively urban problem from Lima’s perspective. Depicting the city’s water supply as vulnerable. In this sense, any quest for a ‘green’ solution largely centred on water availability for Lima and the urban water users but largely missing important connections with rural water users and Andean highland ecosystems and communities.

Another storyline was formed around the ‘Compensation for Ecosystem Services mechanisms in Peruvian watersheds’. This storyline emphasised the need to consider highland-lowland relations, but nevertheless mostly for the purposes of securing lowland (urban) water challenges. Highland agricultural communities are recognised as key custodians of ecosystem services in the lowlands but other important frame dimensions such as those related to water for community agriculture are not recognised.

The ‘restoring ancestral water systems for agricultural production in Huamantanga’ policy storyline presented highland water problems caused by intensive cattle grazing. This storyline described the recent restoration of a pre-Incan infiltration canal in a highland agricultural community that has strong ties with Lima (Huamantanga). Clear references are made to the Huamantanga community not only rediscovering cultural links with ancestral practices and infrastructure, but also improving local agricultural production and livelihoods. Any potential benefits to Lima’s water supply are not at all, or only secondarily, mentioned.

Elements of all three storylines converged within NGO publications and press releases around the time SUNASS changed policy direction. As discussed in our paper:

“While not viewed as a silver bullet, combined watershed and canal restoration is presented in these articles as a low risk strategy and win-win scenario for all parties, even though the exact distribution and size of the ‘wins’ is yet to be evaluated and discussed with stakeholders in both upstream rural communities and Lima.”

View of water spring upstream of Huamantanga in the  Andean highlands close to Lima, photo by Sam Grainger

Accepting frame diversity within water governance

What we found in the Lima case is that these different policy storylines imply that water issues are framed from rather different perspectives and a range of different scales. However, often those involved in shaping these storylines, such as the water authorities, urban and rural water users, water NGOs and the media are often not aware of the types of framings and assumptions they bring into the conversation. Also not all these actors can influence policy in the same way. Some have a stronger voice than others.

As international policy shifts into new directions and we see a stronger emphasis on nature-based solutions, it is important not to lose sight of the frame diversity (the variety of views and interests) which exists within water governance. In the case of Lima, we found strong evidence for this type of frame diversity at a time when Peruvian water policy institutions are turning towards new solutions and perhaps even trying to reshape their own organisational identities. We also find missing connections between urban and rural water users and challenges in terms of how water policy can best align their different needs. Furthermore, the relationship between highland communities, urban (coastal) water supply actors and the influence of international organisations is not always straightforward even if green approaches are often presented as conclusive and uncontested amongst these various groups of actors.

It is also evident that unequal power relations between the different groups are not always considered and this entails risks because some ideas and frames may ultimately get accepted more easily in policy while others become left behind. In particular, highland Andean communities have been put at the centre of the turn towards green water infrastructures. However, we do not always find strong evidence that their framings and the realities that these represent are part of efforts to make water for Lima both greener and more secure.

Hence any policy reform needs to be connected with active dialogue that will ensure that all the actors that are actually involved in these processes are aware of how they are positioned in a complex puzzle of water governance. This is particularly important as water challenges become increasingly interconnected across scales and regions.

Sam Grainger

Researcher, Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds.

Timos Kaprouzoglou
Researcher, Division of History, Science, Technology and Environment, KTH.
Research coordinator of the WaterCentre@KTH.

Measuring water in bits and bytes

One of the workshops at the recent Water Scarcity conference at KTH was dedicated to the topic ICT for Water. ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology, and actually encompasses many engineering technologies. Most of us interpret ICT as the integration of technologies that makes it possible to store, transmit, access and process information. The main question of the workshop was how ICT could help today — to achieve sustainable use of water tomorrow?

Short keynote speeches from two large projects helped us to set the state. First, Annika Malm from RISE introduced the Mistra InfraMaint project, with the focus of smart maintenance of infrastructures in general and water infrastructure in particular. Then, Bin Xiao from Ericsson talked about Vinnova iWater, a technology project that aims at demonstrating the use of ICT to build water quality monitoring and early warning systems. The two keynotes already showed that there is a large spectrum of possible challenges and possible technologies that can fall under the umbrella of ICT for Water.

iWater. Photo: Ericsson

Workshop participants from municipalities and water authorities expressed though their doubts towards the technology push that they experience today, which showed there is a need for knowledge transfer from academia to industry and institutions– to understand the most pressing challenges towards a sustainable use of water, as well as the solutions ICT may provide. Discovering that the term pipeline means something for both communities, helped us on the way.

Privacy preserving data processing – notes from the workshop

We dedicated the rest of the time towards a small backcasting exercise. Backcasting is a planning method that first defines the desirable future, and then progresses backwards to find the first action we need to take to get there. The results of the exercise were indeed surprising for us from the ICT community. While we all can imagine that more measurements, more data analysis and digitalized control of water distribution would help to reach a more sustainable use of water in the future, it turned out that the major role of ICT today would be to establish the conditions for new investments and the availability of data.

As we learned, investments in the water sector in Sweden are sluggish because of the general belief that water comes for free.  Even if we ourselves rarely experience it, we still believe and behave as if unlimited amount of clean water would be available in a well just outside our door.  Therefore, the first task of ICT is to make the public as well as the policymakers understand the cost of clear water today and in the future, with the help of data driven modeling, prediction and visualization.

Data about water quality and availability however is highly protected, as water is a very important national resource. This may hinder the use of aggregated data from many sources, a necessity of accurate water availability modeling. ICT here can come with an important contribution. Privacy preserving communication, storage, and data analytics techniques were originally designed with individuals as users in mind, who would like to avoid sharing personal information, but still learn from common experiences of a community. The very same solutions could allow the sharing of water quality information, without revealing the location, the time and the exact nature of the measurements.

Even this short workshop demonstrated that pressing need of more discussions between the communities of water experts, and the ICT sector. To facilitate these discussions will be our foremost goal with the digitalization activities of the Water Center.

/Viktoria Fodor and Carlo Fischione

Om haven och möjligheten att utveckla hållbara havsnäringar

Förenta nationerna har förklarat perioden 2021 till 2030 som ”The decade of ocean science for sustainable development” Anledningen till det är att utan friska hav så kommer vi inte att få en hållbar framtid för mänskligheten. Våra hav förorenas av plaster, organiska miljögifter och stora mängder näring från land. Våra hav har tagit hand om över 50 % av all den koldioxid som mänsklighet frigjort. Våra hav blir uppvärmda och försurade pga. klimatförändringen och koldioxidutsläppen. Havsekosystemen rubbas pga. miljöproblemen och lokalt av främmande arter som människan flyttar runt med ballastvatten över hela jorden. Samtidigt så finns framtiden och de nya jobben i havsrelaterad verksamhet. Våra landekosystem har nått vad man inom ekologin brukar kalla ”The carrying capacity” det finns väldigt lite bördig jordbruksmark att uppodla eller skogar att hugga ner framöver, bara en art Homo sapiens använder nästan 45 % av landekosystemens primär produktion för att mätta sig själva direkt eller indirekt via våra husdjur. Resten får alla andra landlevande djur leva på, rätt ohållbart eller hur?

KTH:s egen “havsbonde” Fredrik Gröndahl i sitt rätta element (foto: F. Gröndahl)

Våra världshav täcker 70 % av jordens yta och har ett medeldjup på nästan 4000 m. Denna enorma havskropp vet vi fortfarande väldigt lite om. Vi vet mer om planeten Mars än våra djuphav. Om havet skulle vara ett land så skulle det utgöra världens sjunde största ekonomi. Intäkterna är kopplade till exempelvis fiske, vattenbruk, transporter och inte minst kustnära turism. Vi människor älskar att vara nära havet, titta på det och färdas över det. Men det finns så mycket mer vi kan använda våra hav till i framtiden om vi lär oss att utnyttja dem på ett skonsamt vis utan att förstöra dess livsystem. Jag skulle vilja hävda att en förutsättning för människans överlevnad i framtiden är att vi tar vara på vad haven kan ge. Fisk har sedan länge varit väldigt viktigt som näringskälla för fattiga människor runt vår planet. Tyvärr så har fisk i allt större utsträckning blivit väldigt dyr och fisk kan idag betraktas som lyxvara. Detta är resultatet av ett rovfiske på några få arter av rovfiskar som vi människor uppskattar väldigt mycket som t.ex. tonfisk, torskfiskar, makrill och hajar. En del rovfiskar har vi börjat odla som laxfiskar i Norge och Chile, men för att föda den odlade fisken så har vildfisket gett sig på mindre arter som sillfiskar som mals ner till fiskmjöl och sedan ges till odlingar av lax och på land till kycklingar. Resultatet kraftigt minskade bestånd av fisk i våra hav, nya arter tar över som hummer eller maneter.

Vi blir fler och fler på vår jord och inom en snar framtid måste vi fördubbla vår matproduktion och för att klara detta räcker inte vårt jordbruk, fiske eller odling av rovfiskar till. Vi behöver bli bättre på att få vår näring längre ner i näringskedjan och då hamnar vi i odling av musslor och alger.  Att odla i havet är dessutom både klimatsmart och kräver ingen bevattning. Algodlingar kan dessutom bidra till ökad biologisk mångfald och upptag av koldioxid vilket faktiskt förbättrar havsmiljön. I Kina, Korea och Japan har man ägnat sig åt vattenbruk i tusentals år men i europeiska och svenska vatten så har vi bara precis börjat. Det finns en stor möjlighet att skapa hållbara jobb inom vattenbruket under de närmast åren exempelvis på svenska västkusten men möjligen också i Östersjön.  Förutom som mat kan alger också användas som foder, energigröda, gödsel och som bas för biobaserat material som plaster, limmer och textiler. Tillsammans utgör våra skogar och våra havsskogar basen för den biobaserade värld som vi måste skapa för att förhindra den klimatpåverkan som drabbar oss pga. det fossilbaserade samhälle som vi lever i idag.

Odling av alger i våra kustvatten kommer att bli väldigt viktiga i framtiden för att leverera stora mängder biomassa till den nya biobaserade industrin som nu är i sin gryning. Algodlingen är också väldigt hållbart och ett gott exempel på cirkulär ekonomi som dessutom kan vara gynnsamt för miljön.

Samtidigt som vi nu börjar bli havsbönder så måste vi också börja värna haven och se till att de mår bra och är friska. Ännu finns det hopp om detta och speciellt haven har en stor förmåga att återhämta sig när en påverkan upphör även om det ibland tar tid. Positiva tecken finns i skyddade havsområden där de stora rovfiskarna börjar återvända efter årtionden av fiskeförbud. En viktig del i detta arbete skulle kunna vara att skapa stora marina reservat i våra världshav. Ett sådant finns redan ner i Antarktis men fler behövs och haven är stora det finns plats både för odling och att skapa internationella marina reservat.

Fredrik Gröndahl
Professor, Institutionen för Hållbar utveckling, miljövetenskap och teknik, KTH

World Water (Scarcity) Day

Zansukwe, Southern Zimbabwe. Photo: David Nilsson

An average woman in rural India travels 14,000 km every year just to get water. At the same time clever solutions to manage water more sustainably have found their way from India to Gotland, in the face of increased water scarcity in Sweden. These were some of the interesting things discussed at the full-day conference on water scarcity arranged by KTH and IVL yesterday, as a run-up to World Water Day, March 22.

Almost half of the world’s population live in areas under water stress today and it is not expected to diminish in the decades to come. Water scarcity has been a reality in large parts of the world for a long time, but in recent years it has become a real threat also in a place like Sweden. Water is truly a global challenge, but it manifests itself in local settings and typically must be dealt with by local actors.

On the largest island in Sweden, Gotland, the local authorities have issued a total irrigation ban already from 1 april this year – much earlier than any year before. As Patrik Ramberg, the technical director for Gotland region, explains, the island naturally has very low water storage capacity because of its geology. But the massive drainage programmes implemented in the 19th century made things much worse; most of the wetlands are gone and with them, important buffering capacity. Now a project is going on with IVL and KTH to restore storage capacity and also to promote re-use of wastewater.

Over 100 people from research, industry, local and national agencies gathered

Re-use of wastewater came up in several of the examples and presentation. As Christian Baresel from IVL put it; why not just clean the water once, and then keep on using it within the same loop? Alexandra Lazic from Xylem showed that many different solutions for wastewater re-use already have been implemented throughout the world, not least in the USA. Technologies like ozonation, membranes, UV, advanced oxidation, bio-filters etc can be combined in an endless way to match the conditions and needs in different places.

Some large industries have already understood this and are trying ways of re-using not just the water, but also recoving some of the products in the wastewater, like phosphorous. Andreas Rosberg from the metallurgy and tools company Sandvik, pointed out that they think a more circular production would in the end also be good business.

Sweden’s scarcity problem of course pales in comparison with the Indian case presented by Rupali Deshmuk, IVL. ”We don’t even really have water scarcity in Sweden!” proclaimed Bosse Olofsson, geo-hydrology guru and KTH professor. The annual run-off  by far exceeds the withdrawals in our country and the amount of freshwater available per capita is still very high. The problem is that the water is not available where it is needed and when it is needed – such as during the growth season – and therefore water scarcity is a temporal and local phenomenon.

The largest consumer of water is by far agriculture, accounting for around 70% of the water withdrawals globally. And with rising demand from energy production, industry and food production there are bound to be conflicts. The Director General of Swedish Agency for marine and water management, Dr. Jakob Granit, cautioned that we are ill prepared for handling these kinds of conflicts. Responsibility for the many aspects of water management have been portioned out to a plethora of institutions at central, regional and local levels, and the overall picture is one of serious fragmentation.

Fredrik Gröndahl from KTH pointed to the oceans as a solution. Much more of the primary production of food, energy and raw materials could be done through sustainably farming the seas, thus relieving the terrestrial eco-systems and the limited fresh water on land. A good thing about farming the seas is that they don’t need irrigation. Fredrik, calling himself a ”sea farmer”, argued that we can live well off our polluted seas; we don’t need to add nutrients either!

Farming the seas. Photo: F Gröndahl

Despite the ominous conference title ”Vattenbristen” (Water Scarcity) the speakers were optimistic about our ability to face up to the challenge. It is obvious that a range of solutions already exist, and that they include technical, organisational and behavioural changes that are within reach. What is needed is closer collaboration between a multitude of actors; politics, finance, academia, industry and citizens. ”Collaboration”, said Jakob Granit, ”cannot just be a word, it must also happen.” In the concluding discussion, Katarina Luhr, Stockholm City councillor invited more collaboration around water, with the view to using the city as a testbed.

Workshop participants discussing how digitalisation can help in managing water

If we can get the collaboration right and show a viable business model around sustainable water use, we might be able to not just avoid future problems in Sweden, but also contribute to more just and sustainable water practices globally. Not a bad message for World Water Day!

Video from the conference here


Water and Sanitation is Rock ‘n Roll!

A packed room with 500 people cheering and clapping hands in front of the stage. Walls covered with photos of rock icons like Bowie, Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell. Am I really at a conference on small scale water and sanitation?

Yes – the conference organisers had the good taste of staging the VAK2019 conference on circular water and sanitation solutions in the Tylösand hotel whose proprietor Per Gessle (Roxette) has turned the establishment into a permanent rock and pop art collection. For two days, these rock and pop culture giants look down at us from their passe-partouts, peeking out from behind the sales materials and pop-up stores of mini-sewage treatment plants, filters, tanks and toilet seats. And it feels… just right.

David Bowie, photographed by Mick Rock. Rebel rebel!
Rock icons peeking out behind sales screens.

Come on. Why should there the be even the faintest connection between rock ’n roll and something as unsexy as water and sanitation, you ask?

Because there’s a revolution coming in water and sanitation. The emerging shift to a circular water economy is an outright revolt against age-old principles and norms. A new generation of professionals and consumers are taking up a fight against the burden of history, breaking out of traditions, and charting a new and independent path. If that isn’t Rock ’n Roll, then nothing is.

Maybe I’m getting carried away by the atmosphere in the company of like-minded. So let’s do a recap.

Essentially, most of our so called ”modern” water systems are based on principles of linear transport, which hail from the Middle East and Meditteranean great cultures. The flush toilet is more than 3000 years old. Although the Roman Empire went down their technology, organization and water legislation lived on and was picked up as an ideal in Europe’s 19th century modernisation processes. ”I will turn Paris into a Rome of today” said Baron von Haussmann, as he led the cleaning up of the city and built an extensive sewer network (Reid 1991). The ”Modern Infrastructure Ideal” of networked water and sewerage systems that still dominate the cities of the world are not modern. Essentially, they are antique.

“Les Egouts” of the Parisian sewers. Photo in the US public domain.

But the global water regime is now under pressure of a magnitude it has not seen since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Why? Due to its inherent logic requiring unrestrained and stable supply of raw water. But worldwide, water scarcity and climate change are now very real.

This transformative pressure has already led to change. Waste water is reused in Spain, Portugal, Israel, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, the United States and China. Especially for irrigation purposes in agriculture. At 60% of all irrigated agricultural land in Israel, recycled wastewater is used. Also so-called “urban re-use” is on the rise, e.g. flushing, cleaning, golf courses etc. And it is economically beneficial. A study in Hong Kong showed that investment in treatment and reuse of gray water for toilet flushing at property level is profitable already after five years of operation.

But Australia and Hong Kong is very far away. Is re-use of wastewater realistic in Sweden? Two things are clearly pushing us in this direction: the hunt for water and the hunt for energy.

Water is already in short supply in parts of Sweden. We are repeatedly affected by drought, especially during the summer months. More than half of Sweden’s municipalities reported water shortages 2018 and 85 of them issued irrigation bans or other restrictions. Last year Värmdö municipality terminated the service agreement with one of the golf clubs in the municipality. No more tap water for the fairways and greens.

So why not look for opportunities to use the freshwater once more? A number of researchers and students from KTH now investigate precisely this on seven islands in the Swedish, Finnish and Åland archipelago. Within the Circular Water Challenge, as the project is called, we work with the local people, the business community, the municipalities and county councils, and with other experts. Lessons learned on these micro-systems will benefit many others. Together with IVL, KTH also runs Hammarby Sjöstadsverk where we investigate how we can improve costs and performance of circular technology.

Secondly, new requirements for energy efficiency in buildings drive property owners to recover the heat in the wastewater. Some property owners are now thinking about the next step. They investigate the possibilities of reusing the actual hot water. Why not spin around the hot water for showers and basins? This is already happening and in a FORMAS-funded project we investigate what this can mean in the long run.

Yes, but this is only marginal, you might say, what would a few islands or isolated properties matter? The thing is that this is always how technology shifts begin. They start in the margin, in so-called “niches”. We already see municipalities that are planning for entire districts based on a circular principle, such as in Helsingborg. And then things start to happen with the large systems.

So when is the revolution coming? It might come sooner than we think. As I wrote in a blog over a year ago we could face a future where network consumers use both less water and energy. And this may trigger a spiral that make the systems change unexpectedly fast. Surely, we are just in the beginning of the revolution and much work remains.

But I say like Bob Dylan: ”I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”


PS – don’t miss our conference 21st of March on the same topic: ”Vattenbristen”.