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Trends in Local Groundwater Management Institutions

Authors: Marcus Moench; Himanshu Kulkarni; Jacob Burke

The formation of local institutions around groundwater sources has a long legacy, rooted in common groundwater development around shared springs, hand-dug wells, adits and falaj systems. Today, many of the local institutions and related customary habits are still active and relevant where groundwater use is relatively ‘light’ and still conditioned by traditional or non-energized groundwater abstraction. But, the advent of the mechanized pump has changed many of these presumptions. Whether natural resource policy and administration, water law and specific groundwater legislation (the institutional environment) has caught up is one question. A more important question to ask is whether customary practices amongst groundwater users (i.e. the specific institutional arrangements) have also caught up.

This report describes trends in the evolution of local groundwater management institutions and their effectiveness in sustaining the practice of groundwater use. It looks at the scope for securing benefits through improved governance within institutional arrangements and examines the prospects for implementing such improvement. Key findings include:
1. Private use has been strong driver of demand for groundwater and aquifer services despite the common property nature of the resources. While therehave been successes in managing groundwater at local levels, these are scattered and appear to depend heavily on location specific institutional, technical and economic settings.
2. Even if a system of governance is in place, many groundwater management responses are difficult to take to scale given the ‘granularity’ of aquifer settings.
3. There are few unequivocal ‘ best practices’ for groundwater management. Instead it is more effective to focus on strategies that fit the local aquifer context and patterns of use. To move up a level will necessarily involve entry into the governance arena invoking legislation and institutions (rules of the game), not just organizations.
4. Rather than managing the groundwater resource base per se, it may often be more effective and viable to address or mitigate the impacts of changes in groundwater conditions through courses of action that fall outside the arena of direct water management

Citation: Moench, M., Kulkarni, H., & Burke, J. (2013). Trends in local groundwater management institutions. Global Environment Facility. Refer to

Funded By: Global Environment Facility (GEF)