Production of competing water knowledge in the face of water crises: Revisiting the IWRM success story of the Lerma-Chapala Basin, Mexico

Jonatan Godinez Madrigal, Nora Van Cauwenbergh, Pieter van der Zaag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
62 Downloads (Pure)


Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is an approach that aims to change conventional water management. International agencies and organizations have promoted IWRM across the globe. The Lerma-Chapala Basin in Mexico is an archetypal case study on basin closure, where IWRM principles were said to have been applied in the early 2000s to help solve a serious water crisis. This paper analyses the controversies around socio-hydrological uncertainties that were raised during this and an earlier crisis of Lake Chapala, whose resolution defined the water management policies of the basin. We interviewed key stakeholders, analysed different hydrological models, and reviewed the most important literature assessing the case. Then, we analysed how stakeholders understood the functioning of the socio-hydrological system, and how that determined their perception of what the root causes of the crisis were, and ways to resolve it. We found that the modelling efforts by two stakeholders to understand the root causes of the crisis could not clarify important socio-hydrological uncertainties, which limited the scope of their conclusions. From the proposed responses, only those based on the existing institutional and regulatory framework were implemented. Our results question the assertion that IWRM principles of public participation, sound knowledge, and river basin institutions, actually changed the traditional water management paradigm. We conclude that economic and political interests, more than IWRM principles, influenced the decision-making process to solve the water crisis in the Lerma-Chapala basin.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Epistemic controversies
  • IWRM
  • Public participation
  • Water conflicts
  • Water knowledge
  • Water scarcity
  • Wicked problems


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