Transforming water governance in South America: from reaction to adaptation and anticipation (SGP-HW 056)

Project information

Micaela Trimble, Investigadora Asociada, Instituto Sudamericano para Estudios sobre Resiliencia y Sostenibilidad – SARAS, Uruguay.
Los Teros esq. Cardenales, Bella Vista, CP 20200, Maldonado, Uruguay.
Contact: Phone: (+598) 4432 5476, E-mail:
(June 2019 – 2022). USD 200,000
Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay



Executive summary Results Outreach Investigators Students

Executive Summary

Water as an ecosystem service interconnects spaces (territories, river systemas, towns), scales (ecosystemic and administrative), uses (domestic, productive, recreational), temporalities (past, present and future), actors (with their visions, interests and powers) and knowledge (different ways of spreading knowledge). Crises in the provision of water services arise in a context of global and local changes and offer windows of opportunity for learning and transformation governance systems through collaboration of public property, co-creation of knowledge and construction of shared meaning or agreements. Nevertheless, most of these crises only translate into reactive and ephemeral actions that do not foster challenge, anticipation and resilience.

The general objective of this project is to contribute to the supply of ecosystem services and human well-being associated with water, through an improvement in the anticipatory governance of water in South America, based on the strengthening of capacity-building of adaptation, anticipation and co-creation of knowledge. Specifically, the project aims to: (1) systematize the process of learning through a comparative analysis of water governance in six basins in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay (two in each country), especially in relation to water supply / shortage crises as opportunities for transformations in management and knowledge creation, contributing to prevent and/or manage future crises in better ways; (2) strengthen the ability to anticipate changes and consequences of decisions in individuals, groups and institutions, for adaptive and anticipatory water governance, having as a case study in depth a basin in each country (Río Chubut in Argentina; rivers Piracicaba-Capivari-Jundiaí, PCJ, in Brazil; and Laguna del Sauce in Uruguay); and (3) in these three basins, lay the foundations for an anticipatory experimental governance system with the participation of the various actors capable to anticipate and transform serious problems in the basins, operating as a collective intelligence system that informs local, national and regional policies. These objectives are in line with international frameworks (Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development Goals, Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020) and national (eg., Water Plans).

The project adopts a transdisciplinary research approach (with articulation of local, technical knowledge and several scientific disciplines) with the premise that the involvement of different sectors and actors is crucial to understand and solve the problems of global and local change, which affects the quality, quantity and temporality of water available for human use and ecosystems. Project partners include governmental and non-governmental institutions. Transdisciplinary integration will be achieved through workshops in order to co-construct the conceptual-analytical framework of the project and to exchange reflections throughout it, which can verify and adapt the proposed methodologies as necessary in each case. Qualitative and quantitative methodologies are combined, using both a mixed methods approach. The comparative analysis of multiple case studies, with different socioecological contexts, will provide extrapolated lessons to other basins and the approach will be replicable in other countries. Furthermore, the products of the project (for example, the pilot protocol or guide for governance and anticipatory action) will be specific to be useful in other countries of the continent.


Keywords: water governance, adaptation, anticipating water crisis  
The GovernAgua project set out to promote an improvement in water governance in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, by strengthening capacities for adaptation, anticipation and co-creation of knowledge from the initial work in the hydrographic basins chosen for the six case studies.  
The improvement of water governance is expected to contribute to the provision of hydrological ecosystem services and human well-being associated with water. The developing project sought to work with governmental and non-governmental actors involved in water governance in the three countries, understood as the direct beneficiaries, as they will be the ones who will participate in the adaptation and anticipation learning process foreseen for the next stages of the project.
Some results so far indicate that:
The basins studied face different crises (erosion and flooding, loss of water quality, water scarcity). Changes in land use are important context factors in all cases, while climate variability has also played a role.
All three countries went through constitutional reforms (Argentina - 2002; Brazil - 1988; Uruguay - 2004) that impacted water governance in consecutive years. These reforms promoted the transition from hierarchical governance models (command and control model) to a more integrated governance model, with some level of decentralization and broader participation of other actors and sectors of public policy.
The legislation facilitated participatory governance with an expansion of actors in water governance. But, it was observed that, in Argentina, the legislation compared to Brazil and Uruguay is less developed, and some provinces do not have participatory arenas such as basin committees.
A combination of the hierarchical and network governance models occurs in the case studies in Brazil and Uruguay (where the predominance of vertical and horizontal coordination was observed); and hierarchical governance in the Argentinian cases (with a predominance of vertical coordination and less participation of non-governmental actors). The market governance model was not observed in the 6 case studies.
Book chapter
Trimble, M., Jacobi, P., Olivier, T., Pascual, M., Zurbriggen, C., Garrido, L., & Mazzeo, N. (2020). Reconfiguring water governance for resilient social-ecological systems in South America. In J. Baird & R. Plummer (Eds.), Water Resilience: Management and Governance in Times of Change. Springer.


Principal Investigator


Micaela Trimble, Instituto Sudamericano para Estudios sobre Resiliencia y Sostenibilidad – SARAS, Uruguay

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PI)


Esteban Jobbágy, Instituto de Matemática Aplicada San Luis, U. Nacional San Luis (IMASL - UNSL), Argentina

Miguel Pascual, Instituto Patagónico para el Estudio de los Ecosistemas Continentales (IPEEC-CONICET-CENPAT), Argentina


Pedro R. Jacobi, Instituto de Energia e Ambiente, U. de São Paulo (IEE/USP), Brazil