How do you operationalize the water-energy nexus?

By Paul Yillia,  Guest Research Scholar, IIASA Water Program

Sunday March 22 2015, was World Water Day. I woke up on that beautiful spring morning in Vienna to the rising sunshine through a slit in the curtains and the lovely humming of birds returning from their winter hideouts some thousands of kilometers away. It was clear to me: winter has ended and spring is here. But there was another thing on my mind that beautiful Sunday morning: the theme of 2014 World Water Day, the water-energy nexus. How can anyone operationalize this concept?

The Water-Energy Nexus has been a hot topic in the water community this year - but how can this concept be turned to action? Poster courtesy UN Water Program

The Water-Energy Nexus has been a hot topic in the water community this year – but how can this concept be turned to action? Poster courtesy UN Water Program

The nexus refers to the notion that global systems are strongly intertwined and heavily interdependent; that systems thinking and planning is required to address persistent global challenges in an integrated way. It is a beautiful concept, no doubt, but what do we do with it?

I joked in my travels and engagements on nexus issues last year that 2014 in my view was the most nexus year. Much has been achieved in 2014: raising awareness of the linkages between water and energy ; demonstrating  that integrated approaches and solutions to water-energy issues can achieve greater economic and social impacts; identifying policy formulation and capacity development issues through which the international development community, in particular the UN system can contribute; and identifying key stakeholders and actively engaging them in the discussion on the post-2015 development agenda.

But so far, much of the work on the nexus has been on advocacy, to galvanize interests and mobilize support at the global level. As a result, the concept received widespread global attention and acceptance. The real question now is: How can we transform those commitments and interests into operational frameworks for programs and initiatives? I woke up thinking of three areas:

  1. Supporting nexus assessment to understand the interactions between various nexus dimensions as countries review and roll out new policies. The objective will be to inspect the performance of current policies in terms of resource use efficiency and productivity in order to facilitate the technical interventions that will be required.
  2. Strengthening consultations and engagement among relevant sectors for various nexus dimensions. This will help decision makers anticipate, plan, and manage interventions collectively and to re-think policies and strategies to deal effectively with a range of complex interactions that are interlinked and interdependent.
  3. Reinforcing the enabling environment to facilitate the transitions that are required. This will require action to support key institutions, policy transitions and facilitating public/private funding mechanisms and investment frameworks that are required for nexus interventions.

How do we do this? First, we need to understand the interactions for a given unit of management. It could a country, a river basin, a municipality, a region or sub-region. Then we need to get various spheres of interest engaged in constructive dialogue, both in planning and in resource allocation and utilization. And probably even more importantly we need to provide the institutional, financial, and human capacity requirements to turn ideas into actions.

The challenges are huge in some regions but progress can be achieved with significant multiple gains if we get the assessments right, if we can get key sector actors to continuously talk to each other, and if are able to strengthen the enabling environment to facilitate actions. We need to act before the interest we have generated in the last couple of years diminishes.

Water and energy are inextricably linked - the "water-energy nexus." Yillia and other researchers in IIASA's Water program aim to bring a holistic view to the subject. Photo Credit: Kali Gandaki dam, Asian Development Bank

Water and energy are inextricably linked – the “water-energy nexus.” Yillia and other researchers in IIASA’s Water program aim to bring a holistic view to the subject. Photo Credit: Kali Gandaki dam, Asian Development Bank

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

You will miss the river when it runs dry: Water governance at the U.S. – Mexico border

By Luzma Fabiola Nava, Colosio Fellow and Research Scholar, IIASA Water Program

(Spanish version, Bionero.org)

Credit : Luzma Fabiola Nava

Albuquerque, New Mexico. Credit: Luzma Fabiola Nava

The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo River has been considered the most endangered river in North America and one of the most endangered rivers globally for a long time. Problems include drought and water scarcity, the degradation of water quality, loss of river habitats, and over-exploitation of groundwater. The water allocation regime between the US and Mexico is over a hundred years old and not adequate any longer. It consists mainly of allocating transboundary watercourses and facing environmental issues within a fragmented structure.

The challenge of my research is the design of policy directions to adapt water management mechanisms and foster stakeholder involvement across the river basin. Focusing on stakeholder views, I examine their competing perspectives and interests on water management and environmental protection.

Water managers at the state and federal levels, researchers and practitioners, and environmentalists suggest an alternative approach to reverse environmental degradation and preserve water resources. The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo River is a magical desert river. The river flows through primarily arid environments which, over time, have been appropriated for diverting water and meeting water needs and hydraulically developed. Some people argue that developing the desert and making it habitable and productive has accentuated the fragility of the river environment resulting in ecosystem degradation and diminished quality of life. Also, because of intensive dam-building, the river has been fragmented into sub-basins dividing the water management process and increasing the lack of coordination between agencies across the basin. River fragmentation is highly correlated with poor water quality and loss of biodiversity.

The Rio Grande River near Alberquerque, New Mexico. Credit: Luzma Fabiola Nava

The Rio Grande River near Albuquerque, New Mexico. Credit: Luzma Fabiola Nava

Some stakeholders, such as state water management agencies and researchers, suggest that the biggest environmental threats are the longer periods of drought and the overuse of groundwater, but others, such as some environmental NGO’s and state agencies (mainly in the New Mexico Lower Rio Grande) denounce citizens‘ lack of motivation and say that greater public awareness is needed. Poor participatory citizenship in the water resources decision-making process reflects the disconnection between the river and the citizens’ perceptions. Citizens do not perceive that there is a water-environmental problem since they are accustomed to seeing a dry river, yet when they turn on the tap in their houses, there is always water available.  In my interviews, some people described the Rio Grande as a vagabond, an old man; as an outsider, a homeless, as the poorest river. For these stakeholders, the biggest challenge to reverse the current environmental degradation would be to provide education in water and environmental issues in order to build broad citizen awareness across the basin. I personally think that fostering public awareness, in this fragmented area, could have a genuinely important multiplying effect to solve environmental-water related problems across the river basin.

The Rio Grande River near Mesilla, New Mexico. Credit: Luza Fabiola Nava

The Rio Grande River near Mesilla, New Mexico. Credit: Luzma Fabiola Nava

Reference

Nava, Luzma Fabiola and Samuel Sandoval-Solis. 2014. Multi-Tiered Governance of the Rio Grande/Bravo Basin: The Fragmented Water Resources Management Model of the United States and Mexico, International Journal of Water Governance, IJWG, Vol. 2., No. 1, Baltzer Science Publishers, DOI: 10.7564/13-IJWG23.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.