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Household-level heterogeneity of water resources within common-pool resource systems

Paul McCord, Department of Geography, Indiana University-Bloomington
Jampel Dell'Angelo, VU University Amsterdam - Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)
Drew Gower, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Princeton University
Kelly K Caylor, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara; Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara
Tom Evans, Department of Geography, Indiana University-Bloomington


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Prior work has demonstrated the ability of common property systems to sustain institutional arrangements governing natural resources over long periods of time. Much of this work has focused on irrigation systems where upstream users agree to management arrangements that distribute water resources across both upstream and downstream users. A series of design principles have been identified that tend to lead to long-term sustained water management in these types of irrigation systems. However, this prior work has focused on the aggregate outcomes of the water system, and there has been little work evaluating the heterogeneity of water delivery within irrigation systems in developing countries. Heterogeneity of water resources within these systems has implications for livelihood outcomes because it can be indicative of a social, technological, and/or biophysical element facilitating or detracting from water delivery. We present a multilevel analysis of households nested within 25 smallholder irrigation systems in Kenya. Specifically, we examine household-level water outcomes (i.e., average flow rate and reliability of water provisioning) and the community-level and household-level drivers that affect household water outcomes. These drivers include physical infrastructure, institutional infrastructure, and biophysical variables. Much of the common-pool resource literature addresses the rule clusters responsible for natural resource outcomes, but by considering an array of both institutional and physical features and the water delivery outcomes produced at the household level, we offer new explanations for water disparities within smallholder-operated irrigation systems. We further discuss the ability of user-group members to reshape their water delivery outcomes through information exchange.

Key words

coupled infrastructure systems; governance; Irrigation systems; Kenya

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087