Contribution of the multi-attribute value theory to conflict resolution in groundwater management – application to the Mancha Oriental groundwater system, Spain
Abstract. The implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive demands participatory water resource management approaches. Decision making in groundwater quantity and quality management is complex because of the existence of many independent actors, heterogeneous stakeholder interests, multiple objectives, different potential policies, and uncertain outcomes. Conflicting stakeholder interests have often been identified as an impediment to the realisation and success of water regulations and policies. The management of complex groundwater systems requires the clarification of stakeholders' positions (identifying stakeholder preferences and values), improving transparency with respect to outcomes of alternatives, and moving the discussion from the selection of alternatives towards the definition of fundamental objectives (value-thinking approach), which facilitates negotiation. The aims of the study are to analyse the potential of the multi-attribute value theory for conflict resolution in groundwater management and to evaluate the benefit of stakeholder incorporation into the different stages of the planning process, to find an overall satisfying solution for groundwater management. The research was conducted in the Mancha Oriental groundwater system (Spain), subject to intensive use of groundwater for irrigation. A complex set of objectives and attributes was defined, and the management alternatives were created by a combination of different fundamental actions, considering different implementation stages and future changes in water resource availability. Interviews were conducted with representative stakeholder groups using an interactive platform, showing simultaneously the consequences of changes in preferences to the alternative ranking. Results show that the approval of alternatives depends strongly on the combination of measures and the implementation stages. Uncertainties in the results were notable, but did not influence the alternative ranking heavily. The expected reduction in future groundwater resources by climate change increases the conflict potential. The implementation of the method in a very complex case study, with many conflicting objectives and alternatives and uncertain outcomes, including future scenarios under water limiting conditions, illustrates the potential of the method for supporting management decisions.