17 Aug 2021

17 Aug 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

The limits to large scale supply augmentation: Exploring the crossroads of conflicting urban water system development pathways

Jonatan Godinez Madrigal1,2, Nora Van Cauwenbergh1, Jaime Hoogesteger3, Pamela Claure Gutierrez1, and Pieter van der Zaag1,2 Jonatan Godinez Madrigal et al.
  • 1Department of Land and Water Management, IHE Delft, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Water Management Department, TU Delft, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 3Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands

Abstract. Managers of urban water systems constantly make decisions to guarantee water services by overcoming problems related to supply-demand imbalances. A preferred strategy has been supply augmentation through hydraulic infrastructure development. However, despite considerable investments, many systems seem to be trapped in lackluster development pathways making some problems seem like an enduring, almost stubborn, characteristic of the systems: over-exploitation and pollution of water sources, distribution networks overwhelmed by leakages and non-revenue water, and unequal water insecurity. Because of these strategies and persistent problems, water conflicts have emerged, whereby social actors oppose these strategies and propose alternative technologies and strategies. This can create development pathways crossroads of the urban water system. To study this development pathway crossroads, we selected the Zapotillo conflict in Mexico where a large supply augmentation project for two cities experiencing water shortages is at stake. The paper concludes that urban water systems that are engaged in a trajectory characterized by supply-side strategies may experience a temporal relief but neglect equally pressing issues that stymie the human right to water in the medium and long run. However, there is not a straightforward, self-evident development pathway to choose from, only a range of multiple alternatives with multiple trade-offs that need to be thoroughly discussed and negotiated between the stakeholders. We argue that this development pathway crossroads can cross-fertilize technical disciplines such as socio-hydrology, and social disciplines based on hydrosocial studies, which both ambition to make their knowledge actionable and relevant.

Jonatan Godinez Madrigal et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-431', Anonymous Referee #1, 13 Sep 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on hess-2021-431', Elisa Savelli, 25 Sep 2021

Jonatan Godinez Madrigal et al.

Data sets

Multiple infrastructure configurations of Zapotillo project and alternative solutions Godinez Madrigal

Model code and software

SimVerde Godinez Madrigal, Craven & Claure Gutierrez

Jonatan Godinez Madrigal et al.


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Short summary
Cities and water systems are facing an increasing pressure on their water resources to guarantee a safe and sufficient water access. Water managers often use tried-and-tested strategies such as large supply augmentation infrastructure to address water problems. However, some projects cause conflicts and could backfire in the future. We conducted transdisciplinary research to show the potential of alternative development pathways based on alternative solutions in an emblematic case study.