Groundwater resource management: a sustainability analysis for the Purapurani Aquifer, Bolivia
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Groundwater is a finite resource that is an essential component of life on Earth and vital services. Due to the increase in consumption by agricultural activities and for economic purposes, exploitation of groundwater has been increasing over the last decades. This has raised international concern, leading to a promotion of sustainable management for groundwater sources. Even though efforts in sustainable groundwater management are occurring in some countries, there is currently limited understanding of groundwater occurrence and use in Bolivia.
The Bolivian government faces the challenge of developing and disseminating information about groundwater, and promoting a sustainable use of this resource in the country. Under those circumstances, this study develops a Sustainability Analysis for the sustainable management of the Purapurani Aquifer in Bolivia and provides groundwater management suggestions and recommendations based on international groundwater management experiences.
The Sustainability Analysis framework considers resilience as a key property to achieve sustainability by analysing the capacity of a system, in this case the Purapurani Aquifer, to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure. The framework considers interactions over different time scales and interactions over different spatial scales through the evaluation of adaptive cycles and nested systems. For the Purapurani Aquifer, the connections to the Basin, Region and the Aquifer itself were considered. The adaptive cycles help to describe the biophysical (environmental) and socio-economic cycles of the Aquifer, and identify processes that operate at those spatial scales.
The adaptive cycle comprises four phases: exploitation of resources, the accumulation of material resulting from resource use, the disturbance and release of material that can potentially change the system, and the reorganisation phase, which is the system response to the disturbance. The system response can be the recovery of the original system or a shift to an alternative degraded state. In order to develop this analysis, it was necessary to gather scattered information about the Purapurani Aquifer, including environmental, legal and socio-economic characteristics that are relevant for its management and that influence the sustainability of the system. The analysis also contemplated the identification of failure pathways that create vulnerability in the system, and critical variables and thresholds which represent parameters that change the state of the system. Finally, management interventions and institutional arrangements required to guarantee sustainability in the system were identified.
Information gathered regarding hydrogeological characteristics were found to be interrelated and complementary to each other; although some issues in regard to methodology and gaps in information were also identified. These issues were based mainly on a lack of updated information for the formulation of results: the data used do not correctly reflect the current situation of the Aquifer.
Regarding legal and socio-economic information, it was possible to identify that this type of information is managed separately from hydrogeological reports, failing to provide a complete overview and understanding of the groundwater system. Under those circumstances, it is essential to promote a new integrated view of management of water resources in Bolivia, where we recognise the importance and influence of legal and socio-economic information in the maintenance and management of a natural resource.
The information collected through interviews helped in understanding and considering current management perceptions and approaches with regard to the Purapurani Aquifer. This process provided new knowledge significant to this study, introducing stakeholders and the community views and suggestions in the recommendations for management interventions. Main outcomes from this process were the necessity to develop communication spaces with the community and stakeholders, and promote educational activities and capacity building for the purpose of introducing the concept of sustainable management of groundwater.
As a result of the development of the cycles for each scale and the nested system, it became clear that the current exploitation and contamination in the Purapurani Aquifer has led to a degradation of the cycle, which also affects other scales. It was also recognised that these effects were mainly a consequence of activities developed at Basin and Regional scales. Such is the case of the contamination of surface water due to lack of sewage treatment, and inefficient management of wastewater in the Region of La Paz, which are the main sources for recharge in the Aquifer. Socio- economic activities such as an increase in water demand, unsustainable use of groundwater, and a lack of appropriate management and regulation, influence the degradation of the system leading it to an unsustainable stage.
There are two main failure pathways that cause the system to shift to a degraded state: local environmental degradation through water contamination, and local natural resource depletion through the identification of an overexploitation of the Aquifer. Other failure pathways identified were climate change, and collapse of trade networks, at the Regional Scale; and water availability, impact of water use, natural disasters, and institutional arrangements at Basin Scale.
As for the identification of critical variables and thresholds, it was easy to corroborate what was concluded in early stages: the system lacks a regulation mechanism for groundwater management. Current enforced legislation only addresses water quality parameters and discharge limits, but there is no evidence of approaches to regulate exploitation rates of either surface or groundwater sources. Despite current government approaches ensuring quality of life to their inhabitants being nationally promoted, they lack sustainability concepts. It was found that current legislation and regulation is focused on covering current water demand without considering future demands.
Based on all the observations, there are management interventions needed to address these failure pathways and critical variables, with the intention of implementing the concept of sustainability in the Purapurani Aquifer. The main management interventions can be summarised in four groups: (a) groundwater availability and protection; (b) social participation, capacity building and education; (c) institutional arrangements and legal instruments; (d) developing information and monitoring mechanisms.
The assessment provides a new perspective on the information related to current groundwater resources management in the country. Management suggestions and policy options suggested above aim to guide Bolivian decision makers to promote a sustainable management of groundwater resources in the country.