Clean water for human consumption in rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean is usually provided by community-based water supply organizations (CBWSOs). Collaborative partnerships with community-based water supply organizations (CBWSOPs) are established to tackle technical and institutional challenges concerning safe water supply. This article analyses some features of the CBWSOs and their partnerships, based on the experience of ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas, two CBWSOs located in Valle del Cauca – Colombia, following their participation at the local, municipal (ASOOCSAS Tuluá), subnational (Asociación de Organizaciones Comunitarias Prestadoras de Servicios Públicos de Agua y Saneamiento de Colombia (AQUACOL)), national (COCSASCOL), and transnational levels (CLOCSAS). The main findings of this work, after using a participatory approach, are that initial partnerships between CBWSOs emerge from informal agreements built on the neighbourhood logic typical of rurality; however, as moving towards higher scales, agreements become more formal to allow for dialogue and discussion with governmental organizations in the water and sanitation sector. This is also a strategy for the recognition of community water management. Thus, CBWSOPs are construed under a collaborative and non-profit approach, in the manner of water operator partnerships.

  • Community-based water supply organizations that supply water to rural areas have partnerships with community-based water supply organizations (CBWSOPs) with characteristics of neighbourhood relations typical of rurality.

  • CBWSOPs at different levels seek to improve the capacities of water providers and pursue political advocacy.

  • The level of formalization of the CBWSOP structure is related to the possibility of dialogue at an institutional level rather than to the loss of trust typical of neighbourhood relations.

Community-based water supply organizations (CBWSOs) are the main providers of drinking water in rural and peri-urban areas in the Global South (Romano 2017). Approximately 80,000 CBWSOs supply water to more than 40 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) of which around 12,000 CBWSOs supply water to more than 11 million people in Colombia (Moncada et al. 2013).

Although organizations such as the United Nations (UN) have identified the CBWSOs' contribution to the human right to water in rural and peri-urban populations (Heller 2020; Arrojo 2022), CBWSOs face difficulties such as an inadequate regulatory framework, limited investment, government support and recognition, levels of informality of organizations, and low availability of resources for operation and maintenance tasks (De la Peña & Álvarez 2018; Acosta et al. 2019; Lasso 2021). These difficulties increase the gap in providing access to clean water and sanitation (IDB 2023).

CBWSOs that serve rural areas collaborate between themselves to build partnerships with community-based water supply organizations (CBWSOPs). These partnerships are constituted under different structures, objectives, and territorial scope (municipal, subnational, national, or translational level) depending on their agreements, relationships, and degree of commitment (Red Nacional de Acueductos Comunitarios de Colombia 2020; UNESCO 2022).

CBWSOPs could be conceived as an expression of Water Operators' Partnerships (WOPs) because they are mutually supportive alliances between providers of water and sanitation services. WOPs work by leveraging the skills, knowledge, and goodwill of one provider to build capacities and improve the performance of another water supplier that needs guidance or assistance (UN-Habitat 2020). International agencies support the effectiveness of water operator partnership (WOP) and recently recognized their contribution to achieving Goal 6 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (IWA & UN-Habitat 2021; UNESCO IHE & GWOPA – UNHABITAT 2021; Stephens et al. 2022).

Academic literature presents descriptive case studies focused on collaborations between water utilities for urban populations, contributing to a greater understanding of their features and how collaboration between water suppliers occurs (Coppel & Schwartz 2011; Kaitane 2015; Tutusaus & Schwartz 2016; Carolini et al. 2018; Wright-Contreras et al. 2020).

Collaboration between water suppliers in rural areas is described by different authors (Boelens 2011; Romano 2012, 2016; Dupuits 2014, 2018; Zwarteveen & Boelens 2014; Dupuits & Bernal 2015; Hoogesteger & Verzijl 2015; Dupuits et al. 2020; Blanco-Moreno & Pérez-Rincón 2022; Blanco-Moreno & Peña-Varón 2023) who showed diverse types of social organizations constituted as associations, networks, platforms or confederations, and their struggles to reach institutional and social recognition and public support, rather than explore their features of partnership creation, formalization processes, and interactions.

The formation, design, and functioning of WOPs have been explained by Merme-Darrigrand et al. (2019), through an analytical framework developed by the BEWOP initiative (Boosting Effectiveness in Water Operators' Partnerships). This work postulates that the partnership creation involves the history of collaboration and the formalization process, built from their emergence, participants, goals, agreements and advances, and remarking on their characteristics, motivations, and opportunities.

Placing the lens on the rural execution of WOPs, this article details some distinctive features or sets of attributes that give identity to the collaboration between rural water suppliers, following the experience of two CBWOs working in Colombia. The study focuses on their creation and their interactions in CBWOPs from a scalar perspective in different levels of governance (local, subnational, national, and transnational). The CBWSOs studied in this article are as follows: (1) Association of affiliates and/or users of the drinking water and sewerage service of the Corregimiento de Nariño ESP (ACUANARIÑO); and (2) the Tres Esquinas Aqueduct and Sewer Subscribers Association (ASDAL – Tres Esquinas). Both CBWSOs supply water in densely populated rural areas and participate in CBWSOPs at the municipal, subnational, national, and transnational levels. The case also illustrates some features of the CBWOPs at these different levels.

The analysis is useful for developing effective strategies to strengthen and promote water governance and improve water service in rural contexts.

The article presents the results of participatory research about CBWSOs and their initiatives or peer-to-peer collaboration.

In the beginning, 34 CBWOs affiliated to Asociación de Organizaciones Comunitarias Prestadoras de Servicios Públicos de Agua y Saneamiento de Colombia (AQUACOL), which is a CWOBP with a subnational scope, participated in a survey. Outcomes demonstrated that the majority of the CWOBs have collaborated with others at the local level. Later, the researchers decided to go deep into the case of collaboration between ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas because these organizations participate at the local, subnational, national, and transnational levels.

The community-based organizations, i.e. ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas and the CBWOPs where they collaborate together, were studied via data obtained from several ways such as surveys – poll design, interviews, research workshops and meetings with members and key stakeholders, to comprehend their experiences according to a narrative design (Hernández et al. 2010) (Table 1).

Table 1

Data collection activities

LevelActivities to collect informationNumberParticipantsType of organizations
Local Survey Asociación de Afiliados y/o Usuarios del Servicio de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado del Corregimiento de Nariño ESP (ACUANARIÑO)
Asociación de Suscriptores de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Tres Esquinas (ASDAL – Tres Esquinas) 
CBWSO 
Meeting with water boards Members of the board of directors of CBWSOs 
Semi-structured interview Members of the board of directors of CBWSOs 
Municipal Semi-structured interview Representatives of Asociación de Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento de Tuluá (ASOOCSAS Tuluá) CBWSOP 
Subnational Survey 34 CBWSOs affiliated to Asociación de Organizaciones Comunitarias Prestadoras de Servicios Públicos de Agua y Saneamiento de Colombia (AQUACOL) CBWSOP 
Research workshops Members of water boards and Consultive Council of AQUACOL 
Semi-structured interview Members of the board of directors of AQUACOL
Key stakeholders at the local and regional level
Allied organization 
National Semi-structured interview Members of the board of directors of Confederación Colombiana de Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento (COCSASCOL)
Key stakeholders at the national level 
CBWSOP 
Transnational Semi-structured interview Member of Confederación Latinoamericana de Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento (CLOCSAS)
Allied organization 
CBWSOP 
LevelActivities to collect informationNumberParticipantsType of organizations
Local Survey Asociación de Afiliados y/o Usuarios del Servicio de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado del Corregimiento de Nariño ESP (ACUANARIÑO)
Asociación de Suscriptores de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Tres Esquinas (ASDAL – Tres Esquinas) 
CBWSO 
Meeting with water boards Members of the board of directors of CBWSOs 
Semi-structured interview Members of the board of directors of CBWSOs 
Municipal Semi-structured interview Representatives of Asociación de Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento de Tuluá (ASOOCSAS Tuluá) CBWSOP 
Subnational Survey 34 CBWSOs affiliated to Asociación de Organizaciones Comunitarias Prestadoras de Servicios Públicos de Agua y Saneamiento de Colombia (AQUACOL) CBWSOP 
Research workshops Members of water boards and Consultive Council of AQUACOL 
Semi-structured interview Members of the board of directors of AQUACOL
Key stakeholders at the local and regional level
Allied organization 
National Semi-structured interview Members of the board of directors of Confederación Colombiana de Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento (COCSASCOL)
Key stakeholders at the national level 
CBWSOP 
Transnational Semi-structured interview Member of Confederación Latinoamericana de Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento (CLOCSAS)
Allied organization 
CBWSOP 

Collaborative nexus between two CBWSOs: ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas

ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas are two CBWSOs located in rural settlements separated by 7 km (Figures 1 and 2). They have been responsible for providing water to rural communities in the municipality of Tuluá, Department of Valle del Cauca since the decade of 1960. These CBWSOs were legally constituted as user associations. The general assembly of affiliates is its highest decision-making body, which appoints a board of directors that performs administration tasks and has the power to appoint the administrator (Table 2).
Table 2

CBWSO – shared features

Community water boardYear of formal recognitionNumber of connections/Population servedManagerSource of waterTreatment plantWater quality risk index-WQRIaWater quality
ACUANARIÑO 1996 1,200/5,000 No Deep well OxFib 3.51% No risk water 
ASDAL – Tres Esquinas 1998 565/2,800 Si Deep well OxFi 0.79% No risk water 
Community water boardYear of formal recognitionNumber of connections/Population servedManagerSource of waterTreatment plantWater quality risk index-WQRIaWater quality
ACUANARIÑO 1996 1,200/5,000 No Deep well OxFib 3.51% No risk water 
ASDAL – Tres Esquinas 1998 565/2,800 Si Deep well OxFi 0.79% No risk water 

aThe water quality risk index (WQRI) is an indicator of the water quality for human consumption in Colombia based on its physico-chemical and microbiological features. The WQRI comprises the following water quality parameters: colour, odour, taste, turbidity, pH, free residual chlorine, total and faecal coliforms. The compounded calculation of WQRI from these parameters yields a range of values related to a risk category for given water: 0–5% (no risk water); 5.1–14% (low risk water); 14.1–35% (medium risk); 35.1–80% (high risk); and 80.1–100% (unacceptable risk) (Secretaria Distrital de Ambiente - Bogotá, no date).

bOxidation by filtration (OxFi) is a drinking water treatment process that combines oxidation and filtration in a single step.

Figure 1

Location ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas.

Figure 1

Location ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas.

Close modal
Figure 2

Oficces of ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas.

Figure 2

Oficces of ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas.

Close modal

The relationship between ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas started in 1995, when the leaders of ASDAL – Tres Esquinas needed to improve their chlorination system. The leaders of ACUANARIÑO chlorinated with a dosing pump which was eco-efficient and low cost. Thus, the leaders of ASDAL – Tres Esquinas asked ACUANARIÑO for collaboration in improving their chlorination system.

From this first contact, both CBWSOs found similarities such as the types of supply systems, operating costs and uses of water. Furthermore, the socio-cultural conditions predominant among their population were related to the proximity to the urban area of the municipality of Tuluá and the sugar mills as the main source of employment. Now the towns are turning to a more urban background, though the town of Tres Esquinas still preserves more rural characteristics than the town of Nariño.

Since 1995, the collaboration between the two CBWSOs has been multiple and has focused on different activities such as collaboration to respond to the requests from the Superintendency of Public Utilities (SSPD),1 requests about user's rights, exchange of accessory providers, loans of pipes, and accessories and tools.

Agreements to form CBWSOPs at the local level are based on the exchange of strengths of each CBWSO. ACUANARIÑO is well known for its experience in administrative/commercial issues, while ASDAL – Tres Esquinas is stronger in technical and operational issues. An example of this collaboration was the support of ASDAL – Tres Esquinas to ACUANARIÑO with the extraction of the motor pump with the help of a plumber and the tools for the extraction and subsequent immersion of the device. On the other hand, ACUANARIÑO has supported ASDAL – Tres Esquinas in calculating tariffs explaining the separation of administrative and operating costs, the application of mathematical formulas for calculations, and other social issues when applying the tariffs.

The channels of communication used by CBWSOPs are phone calls and face-to-face meetings, generally between the CBWSO boards of directors. Once the need for support is identified, it is sent to the member of the organization with more experience in the matter. These agreements are verbal, solidary, and based on mutual trust. There is no written collaboration agreement.

ASDAL – Tres Esquinas currently has direct participation in the board of directors of ASOOCSAS Tuluá and ACUANARIÑO in AQUACOL and COCSASCOL. ASDAL – Tres Esquinas was associated with AQUACOL in 2015 at the invitation of ACUANARIÑO, which has been part of this association since 2014.

Scaling up CBWSPs at the municipal level: ASOOCSAS Tuluá

Although ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas have created this alliance, each one on their own has collaborative relationships with other organizations, developing a close bond founded in solidarity. Based on the experience of mutual support and help among themselves and with other organizations, ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas have led the initiative to create an organization for the expansion of support among the CBWSOs in their municipality.

ASOOCSAS Tuluá is a CBWSOP with a municipal scope. The organization describes itself as a second-level organization – a partnership between community-based organizations – in the municipality of Tuluá, Valle del Cauca. Its objective is to ‘promote associativity, strengthening and incidence advocacy of community-based water organizations in the municipality of Tuluá’. It began in 2017 with eight CBWSOs: ACUANARIÑO, ASDAL – Tres Esquinas, La Palmera, Bocas de Tuluá, La Marina, Campo Alegre, and El Picacho and Monteloro. It was established to provide support for the organizations and to facilitate the dialogue with the municipal institutions to achieve the allocation of resources for water supply in rural areas. ASOOCSAS Tuluá was legally constituted in 2018 (Blanco-Moreno & Pérez-Rincón 2022).

ASOOCSAS Tuluá obtained public resources from the Municipal government in 2019 to replace sewerage networks, an important achievement because local governments generally prioritize resources for water and sanitation in urban areas. This CBWSOP is currently promoting a municipal public policy for water and sanitation.

Scaling up CBWSOPs at the regional level: AQUACOL

AQUACOL is a CBWSOP that reunites 37 community-based organizations with an estimated served population of 131,976 – inhabitants – in towns in Cauca and Valle del Cauca. It is well recognized in Colombia, working formally since 2001 and helping CBWSOs to scale up their needs at the subnational and national levels (Dupuits & Bernal 2015). The 37 CBWSOs that are part of AQUACOL consider themselves like a ‘family’ after working together for a long time and developing day-by-day mutual support.

AQUACOL offers support to the CBWSOPs ASOOCSAS Tuluá and develops actions to strengthen capacities in different community water management tasks. Its objective is to represent, promote, strengthen, and qualify the community management of water and sanitation based on the dialogue of knowledge, learning among peers, innovation, knowledge management, and incidence in public policies (Tamayo & Zamora 2019). AQUACOL prepares an annual work plan with organizational, administrative, technical management, and environmental components, to meet the needs of its associated CBWSOs. The CBWSO members of AQUACOL pay monthly fees to cover some of the organization's activities.

AQUACOL is part of the WOP-LAC Platforms (Regional Platform of the Global Water Operators Partnership (GWOPA) in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)), the Latin American Association of Water and Sanitation Operators (ALOAS), and the Latin WASH Platform.

AQUACOL has driven infrastructure and training projects to benefit their affiliated CWOBs funded by local and subnational authorities, international development agencies, and non-government institutions. During 2023, AQUACOL reached a ‘twinning’ project with Empresa de Obras Sanitarias de Pasto (EMPOPASTO), a larger and urban water supply, intended to improve knowledge about water systems, including operation and finance of water for users (WOP Colombia 2023: 8).

Remarking the importance of peer-to-peer learning, AQUACOL, together with the Cinara Institute, forms the so-called Centros Comunitarios de Aprendizaje – CCA by its acronym in Spanish) or ‘Community Learning Centers’ (Chaves & García 2009), defined as ‘spaces organized by communities to share information and knowledge created horizontally. This knowledge comes from their cultural practices in the management of water resources and sanitation, and their daily experience in managing public services’ (García 2009, 23). By 2023, there are four CCA working in towns of the Cauca Valley region.2 CCA is another expression of this ‘twinning’ process, where the mentor organization embraces other CBWSOs to share knowledge about experience in water management.

AQUACOL has been a member of COCSASCOL since 27 February 2015, and of CLOCSAS since 14 September 2011, being a founding member of both associations.

Scaling up CBWSOPs at the national and transnational level: COCSASCOL and CLOCSAS

COCSASCOL is a CBWSOP formed in 2015 as a third-level organization – joining of second-tier organizations, with national scope, formed by five second-level or subnational CBWSOPs, representing the Departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Risaralda, and Tolima. Their organizations share a sense of brotherhood, by sharing similar features.

COCSASCOL's objective is to promote, support, and make visible the Community Management of Water and Sanitation in Colombia. Since 2019, COCSASCOL together with the Red Nacional de Acueductos Comunitarios (another CWOP with national scope) have been in permanent dialogue with national authorities to improve public policies and recognize the community nature of water management in rural areas of Colombia.

In the last decade, the CBWSOPs in Colombia have improved their collaboration for political advocacy in the water and sanitation sector, due to regulatory changes from the Peace Agreement signed in 2016. This dialogue has resulted in the adoption of policies and decrees related to community water management. As an example, due to the participation of these CWSOPs during the drafting of the Decree 1210 of 2020, this rule recognizes the use of clean water in small-scale cattle and harvesting crops, as domestic uses related to the country's ways of life.

COCSASCOL, as an organization of national scope, is a member of CLOCSAS, which is a CBWSOP formed in 2011 as an organization with a transnational presence that advocates community water management in LAC based on the recognition of access to water and sanitation as human rights (Zambrana 2017). Its objective is to promote the association of community-based organizations through training and advocacy efforts at the local, national, and international levels to promote sustainable policies and strategies for the benefit of affiliated organizations.

CLOCSAS brings together 16 CBWSOPs from 15 countries: Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. CLOCSAS receives some technical and financial support from international cooperation.

CLOCSAS has promoted international visibility to the contributions of community water management to the right to water through divulgation and dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The leaders of ASDAL – Tres Esquinas and ACUANARIÑO have participated in the Latin American Meetings of the Community Organizations of Water and Sanitation Services organized by CLOCSAS and at other spaces to share knowledge and experiences on community water management, in addition to accessing training and written and audiovisual material built by CLOCSAS for the improvement of water supply.

In CWOBPs from local to transnational levels, membership is obtained through a letter of affiliation, where the commitments to be part of these organizations are indicated. Each organization builds an operative annual plan to guide its activities and follow progress for the fulfilment of its purposes.

The alliances between CWOBPs follow the same sense of brotherhood, considering each other as equal, by sharing features such as the community character of their organizations, their common purpose of improvement of community management, and prioritizing water quality as an essential attribute of the human right to clean water.

Leadership in CBWSOPs

It is important to recognize the leadership that has made the generation of CBWSOPs possible. For instance, the leader of ASDAL – Tres Esquinas, in addition to the functions assigned in her CBWSO, has led the associative and visibility process of ASOOCSAS Tuluá and participated in other instances at the municipal level for dialogue with local authorities. She also actively participates in AQUACOL. For his part, the leader of ACUANARIÑO also assumes functions in his CBWSO, leading the processes at the municipal, regional, and national levels. This leader actively participated in the transnational process of CLOCSAS, but currently, he only attends the exchanges convened by this organization, because his other activities demand a lot of time and dedication. Both leaders of ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas carry out these activities voluntarily and without remuneration, due to their conviction that coordination among equals is the way to improve community water management in their territories.

The participation of the CBWSO leaders in the different CBWSOPs is important because it allows them to share updated information on the different organizational levels and on information related to the legal framework and action against the authorities. This process is continuous and has intensified due to regulatory and public policy adjustments in the water and sanitation sector at the national level. However, these interactions require greater effort and dedication time, since these leaders represent several organizations simultaneously.

Rurality is a category associated with three interrelated aspects: a physical space with low demographic density, the predominance of the production of primary goods, and cultural traits (i.e., values, beliefs, habits) different from those that characterize the population of cities (Llambí Insua & Correa 2007). These aspects affect the way people and organizations interact in rural areas. Low population density favours closeness and building of trust between inhabitants, production of primary goods, and collective and solidary work build strong bonds with their land and boost the care of commons. The worth or honour of verbal commitment – intended as the promise to accomplish the duties even when they are not written – is rooted in cultural practices of high value among rural people. These aspects are central to understanding the partnership creation of the CBWSO at the local level.

The proximity or physical closeness between ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas allows a greater frequency of social interaction with a continuous and reciprocal flow of exchanges. This proximity ‘favours a greater subjective linking of relationships, fostering attitudes and actions of cooperation, mutual aid and solidarity’ (Torres Carrillo 2013, p. 206); in this sense, trust is the catalyst element of the link between the two CBWSOs, making the aforementioned relationships more intense and lasting. Trust is required for success (Coppel & Schwartz 2011), and it is construed on the willingness to establish a reciprocal relationship, to comply with the obligations implicit in the said relationship (De Lomnitz 1975).

Proximity and mutual trust are evident in the relationship between ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas, who, since their first collaboration, moved towards a relationship of closeness strengthened by permanent and reciprocal support. Despite there being no explicit agreement, there is a moral obligation to give back that has boosted continuous collaboration between both CBWSOs, according to the demands and needs of each community. Trust is nurtured from the recognition of common aspects, such as the technical characteristics of their systems and the livelihoods of the population served and rooted in the community nature of their organizations and the decision-making process through community meetings, discussions, and agreements. These similarities reinforce the identity between the CBWSOs, promoting a sense of unity and differentiation with other social actors. Alliances are welcome between them and those perceived as peers. CWBSOs easily identify and create close bonds with their equals, those who experience similar problems and share life expectations, in a sort of family, twinning, or brotherhood, and this gives a sense of collective identity.

In addition, these CBWSOs are based on the value systems of the peasantry and neighbourhood relations such as solidarity, the tradition of voluntary collective work – for example, different forms of collective work towards the fulfilment of different needs that are rooted in ancient practices and are named in the local ordinary language: mingas and convites. The latter implies that verbal agreements involve a commitment and responsibility towards the otherhood, which is evidenced in the relationship between ACUANARIÑO and ASDAL – Tres Esquinas. They have not signed any formal agreements to collaborate with each other, nor do they follow a specific or limited objective in time. Their mutual support is activated in case of need and by request, that is, they do not start from the conventional planning paradigm.

When scaling up the CBWSOP to the municipal, regional, or national levels, the form of relationship between the CBWSOs retains the characteristics of the rural world. Although on a larger scale, there is less physical proximity, by the time the collaborations are constituted, a relationship of trust has been established and the importance of the other in the collaboration is recognized and remains.

Carolini et al. (2018) point out that in addition to physical proximity, there are other proximities such as organizational, linguistic, technological, and cultural that favour the constitution of collaborative associations and the forms of learning that occur through them. Expanding proximity to aspects other than physical or geographical proximity would partly explain the emergence of CBWSOPs at different levels, where the same territorial/biophysical or everyday life is not shared; however, there are multiple shared proximities in their social world.

Alliances between CBWSOs preserve features of rural life and replicate them in their interactions at each territorial level, related to the socioeconomic, political, and cultural conditions, and to the legal and political framework, validating the need to understand partnerships in each context (Merme-Darrigrand et al. 2019). In Colombia, the CBWSOP is boosted by the legal and political misrecognition of the community-based water supply management by the institutional realm. This is why, in addition to the processes for strengthening capacities that are prioritized in WOPs (IWA & UN-Habitat 2021), there are ongoing struggles due to a lack of legal recognition of their community roots and practices, and poor financial and technical assistance from national and local authorities (Motta 2018; Bernal Pedraza et al. 2022).

Thus, the fight for the recognition of the community nature of this form of management happens through dialogue and deliberation with governmental entities in the water and sanitation sector at each level of government. In turn, this dialogue guides the CBWSOPs towards a more formal nature, following strategic planning with updated information on their needs, and their ‘mediating role’ with the institutional framework, as indicated by Dupuits & Bernal (2015).

In the CBWSOPs cases studied, once beyond the scope of the local level, they organize themselves through coordination and management bodies and formal agreements, setting specific objectives and planning routines. Perhaps these efforts respond to the necessary delegation of power to their representatives at the highest levels, so as to scale up community initiatives to participate in institutional dialogue processes. The formalization of CWOBPs and a clear structure facilitates external interaction with other organizations and institutions.

Along with these specific processes, the CBWSOPs also execute other activities according to the demands of the CBWSOs, thus sharing a bond of trust and reciprocity. However, these processes are flexible for other collaborations under a high level of trust, as pointed out by Coppel & Schwartz (2011). This also explains the coexistence of different types of agreements; for example, the collaboration between AQUACOL, a CWOBP, and EMPOPASTO, a large public utility, worked as well as WOPs amongst equals. Although the structure of these associations undertakes a more formal character to organizing work and having a greater capacity for dialogue at the institutional level, this does not change the essence of their continuity relationships of trust, solidarity, and respect for the worth or honour of verbal commitment, regardless of the level at which they are operated.

Another key feature of these alliances is their common goal of influencing political issues and decisions adapted to each territorial level, and this, in turn, is closely related to the governmental institutions the CBWSOs interact with along with the administrative and legal framework, and public financial sources.

Finally, leadership is a key to CWBSO and their partnerships. The leaders carry out volunteer work, which is related to the concept of ‘gift’, which is defined as ‘the offering of a good or service to others, without guarantee or demand for compensation, but with the hope that there will be correspondence, which can establish alliance and friendship relationships’ (Caillé 2009, p. 115). The leaders also assume multiple tasks ad honorem, because their efforts are not only to benefit their organizations, but also to promote better conditions to guarantee the human right to water for their families, neighbours, and other residents of their territory. However, the concentration of leadership on the same people at all levels also shows the difficulties of expanding participation to other subjects, as argued by Shields et al. (2021), which makes actions concentrated on a few people.

Alliances of CBWSOs in rural areas exhibit key features related to cultural and relational practices of rural life; thus, practices are reproduced in the CBWSOPs at different territorial levels. Alliance by itself is a goal, but in Colombia, it is extended to build political influence due to the adverse institutional agency regarding community water management.

The informal experiences of collaboration at the local level are the origin of the CBWSOPs at different levels, which in Colombia have been formed mainly to strengthen capacities and to progress on political advocacy. In the local CBWSOPs, the agreements are informal in nature and do not have a specific objective or timescale; these are, rather, activated via needs and at the request of base organizations. These types of agreements work mainly between CBWSOs with physical proximity and are facilitated by trust.

In CBWSOPs at the municipal, regional, national, or transnational levels, close relationships are established by virtue of common interests, which are strengthened by trust. However, their structures acquire a more formal character because formalization makes it easier to carry out a dialogue with those instances that make decisions related to water and sanitation in the territories.

This work shows that CBWSOs in rural areas require collaboration at different levels depending on the complexity of the issues to be addressed. While organizational functioning challenges can be addressed at the CBWSOP level, collaboration at municipal, regional, national, and transnational levels is required to address other sorts of challenges, mainly related to regulatory and policy conditions. The latter has led CBWSOs' partnership to get a more permanent nature to achieve such a broader goal.

The identification of distinctive features of CBWSOPs shows how different types of alliances rooted in the rurality, some informal and others formal that coexist and nurture each other, display a potential which can be studied with more detail, to develop effective strategies to provide clean water to rural populations. Social interaction in rural areas and WOPs adapted to rural life depends on the recognition of shared values (such as worth or honour of verbal commitment, brotherhood, and the gift without compensation) from the community grassroots.

Data cannot be made publicly available; readers should contact the corresponding author for details.

Jorge Amaya is Member of ACUANARIÑO CBWSO and Director of AQUACOL.

1

Superintendency of Public Utilities (Superintendencia de Servicios Públicos Domiliciliarios) – SSPD in Spanish.

2

The community centres that exist in 2023 are the CBWSOs Asociación de Usuarios del Servicio de Acueducto del Sur de Jamundí (ACUASUR), Asociación de Usuarios del Servicio de Acueducto de la vereda la Sirena (ASABLASI), Asociación de Suscriptores del Servicio de Acueducto de Mondomo (ACUAMONDOMO), Asociación de Suscriptores de los Servicios de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de La Buitrera (ACUABUITRERA), and ACUANARIÑO.

Acosta
M. E.
,
Basani
M.
&
Solís
H.
2019
Prácticas Y Saberes en la Gestión Comunitaria del Agua Para Consumo Humano Y Saneamiento en las Zonas Rurales de Ecuador
.
Ecuador
.
Arrojo
P.
2022
Derechos Humanos al Agua Potable Y al Saneamiento de la Población de las Zonas Rurales Empobrecidas
. .
Bernal Pedraza
A.
,
Quintana Ramírez
A. P.
&
Castellanos
P.
2022
Barreras Normativas Para el Acceso al Agua en Organizaciones Comunitarias
.
Bogotá
. .
Blanco-Moreno
C.
&
Peña-Varón
M.
2023
Relationship between community water management, conceptions, and struggles for Justice in Southwest Colombia
.
Environmental Justice
16
(
3
).
https://doi.org/10.1089/env.2022.0065
.
Blanco-Moreno
C.
&
Pérez-Rincón
M. A.
2022
Associativity as strategy for the recognition of community water management: Experience of second level organizations in Valle Del Cauca, Colombia
.
SSRN Electronic Journal
0
(
0
).
https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4137339
.
Boelens
R.
2011
Luchas y defensas escondidas. Pluralismo legal y cultural como una práctica de resistencia creativa en la gestión local del agua en los Andes
.
Anuario de Estudios Americanos
68
(
2
).
https://doi.org/10.3989/aeamer.2011.v68.i2.554
.
Caillé
A.
,
2009
Don
. In:
Diccionario de la Otra Economía: Lecturas Sobre Economía Social.
(
Cattani
A. D.
,
Coraggio
J. L.
&
Laville
J. L.
eds.).
Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento, ALTAMIRA, CLACSO
,
Buenos Aires
, pp.
115
120
.
Carolini
G.
,
Gallagher
D.
&
Cruxên
I.
2018
The promise of proximity: The politics of knowledge and learning in south–South cooperation between water operators
.
Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space
36
(
7
),
1157
1175
.
https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654418776972
.
Chaves
P.
&
García
M.
2009
Knowledge management at the community level in Colombia
. In:
Capacity Development for Improved Water Management
(
Blokland
M. W.
, Alaerts, G., Kaspersma, J. & Hare, M.,
eds.).
CRC Press
, pp.
97
113
.
Available from
:
https://doi.org/10.1201/b10532
.
De la Peña
M. E.
&
Álvarez
L.
2018
Ejecutar Proyectos de Agua Y Saneamiento en el Sector Rural Retos Y Desafíos en América Latina Y el Caribe División de Agua Y Saneamiento
.
Available from: http://www.iadb.org.
De Lomnitz
L.
1975
Como Sobreviven los Marginados
, 1st edn.
Edited by Siglo XXI Editores
,
Ciudad de México
.
Dupuits
E.
2014
Asociatividad Y Gestión Comunitaria del Agua en América Latina Una Construcción Desde la CLOCSAS
.
Available from: https://camaren.org/documents/asociatividad.pdf (accessed 10 June 2022)
.
Dupuits
E.
,
2018
Desde las organizaciones comunitarias del agua hacia el territorio latinoamericano Espacios transnacionales de convergencia y resistencia
. In:
A Contracorriente: Agua Y Conflicto en América Latina
(
Vila
G.
&
Bonelli
C.
eds.).
Abya Yala Editorial
,
Quito
, pp.
235
258
.
Available from: https://doi.org/ISBN:978-9942-09-474-2
.
Dupuits
E.
,
Baud, M., Boelens, R., De Castro, F. & Hogenboom, B.
2020
Scaling up but losing out? Water commons’ dilemmas between transnational movements and grassroots struggles in Latin America
.
Ecological Economics
172
.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2020.106625
.
García
M.
2009
Strengthening grassroots capacity with AQUACOL
.
Waterlines
26
(
2
),
22
23
.
https://doi.org/DOI:10.3362/0262-8104.2007.053
.
Heller
L.
2020
Progress Towards the Realization of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (2010–2020). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
. .
Hernández Sampieri
R.
,
Fernández Collado
C.
&
del Pilar Baptista Lucio
M.
2010
Metodología de la Investigación
, 5th edn (
McGRAW-HILL and S.A.D.C.V. INTERAMERICANA EDITORES
eds).
Mëxico
.
Available from
: .
Hoogesteger
J.
&
Verzijl
A.
2015
Grassroots scalar politics: Insights from peasant water struggles in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Andes
.
Geoforum
62
,
13
23
.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.03.013
.
Inter-american Development Bank
2023
Programa SIRWASH: Diálogo político, gestión del conocimiento y la innovación para lograr ODS 6 en agua y saneamiento rural. Available from: Programa SIRWASH: Diálogo político, gestión del conocimiento y la innovación para lograr ODS 6 en agua y saneamiento rural – Volvamos a la fuente (iadb.org) (accessed 29 November 2023)
.
IWA and UN-Habitat
2021
Water Operators Partnerships Building WOPs for Sustainable Development in Water and Sanitation Developed
. .
Kaitane
T.
2015
Water operators partnerships: A tool for capacity building and institutional strengthening, Blantyre, Malawi
. In:
38th WEDC International Conference ‘Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services Beyond 2015: Improving Access and Sustainability
,
UK
.
Loughborough University (ed.)
, pp.
1
6
.
Lasso
E.
2021
Los Retos Y Perspectivas de la Gestión Comunitaria del Agua: El Caso del Acueducto Comunitario del Corregimiento de Mondomo, Municipio de Santander de Quilichao-Cauca
.
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
.
Llambí Insua
L.
&
Correa
E. P.
2007
Nuevas ruralidades y viejos campesinismos. Agenda para una nueva sociología rural latinoamericana
.
Cuadernos de Desarrollo Rural
4
(
59
), 37–61.
Merme-Darrigrand
V.
,
Sanz
M.
&
Schwartz
K.
2019
Framework for Analyzing Water Operators’ Partnerships. WOP Case Analysis
. ).
Motta
R.
2018
El derecho de la gestión comunitaria del agua en Colombia para garantiza el acceso al agua potable
.
Misión Juridica, Revista de Derecho Y Ciencias Sociales
15
(
1794–600X
),
321
334
.
Red Nacional de Acueductos Comunitarios de Colombia
2020
Memorias de la Red Nacional de Acueductos Comunitarios de Colombia
.
Medellín
. .
Romano
S. T.
2016
Democratizing discourses: Conceptions of ownership, autonomy and ‘the state’ in Nicaragua's rural water governance
.
Water International
41
(
1
),
74
90
.
https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2016.1107706
.
Romano
S. T.
2017
Building capacities for sustainable water governance at the grassroots: ‘Organic empowerment’ and its policy implications in Nicaragua
.
Society and Natural Resources
30
(
4
),
471
487
.
Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2016.1273413
.
Secretaria Distrital de Ambiente – Bogotá
no date
Índice de Riesgo de la Calidad del Agua Para Consumo Humano- EAAB- E.S.P. – IRCA
(accessed 25 August 2023)
.
Shields
K. F.
, Moffa, M., Behnke, N., Kelly, E., Klug, T., Lee, K., Cronk, R. & Bartram, J.
2021
Community management does not equate to participation: Fostering community participation in rural water supplies
.
Journal of Water Sanitation and Hygiene for Development
11
(
6
),
937
947
.
https://doi.org/10.2166/washdev.2021.089
.
Stephens
C. M.
, Ho, M., Schmeidl, S., Pham, H. T., Dansie, A. P., Leslie, G. L. & Marshall, L. A.
2022
International capacity building to achieve SDG6: Insights from longitudinal analysis of five water operator partnerships
.
International Journal of Water Resources Development
[Preprint]. https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2022.2109604
.
Tamayo
S. P.
&
Zamora
A.
2019
Documento de Diagnóstico: Análisis de Situación Actual, AQUACOL Como Organización de Segundo Nivel Y Como CAI
.
Torres Carrillo
A.
2013
El Retorno A la Comunidad. Problemas, Debates Y Desafíos de Vivir Juntos
, 1st edn.
Edited by CINDE and Editorial El Búho
,
Bogotá
.
Tutusaus
M.
&
Schwartz
K.
2016
National water operators’ partnerships: A promising instrument for capacity development?
Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development
6
(
3
),
500
506
.
https://doi.org/10.2166/washdev.2016.040
.
UNESCO
2022
Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua Y Saneamiento (OCSAS) en América Latina Y el Caribe: la Gestión del Agua en Zonas Rurales Desde una Perspectiva Técnico-Social
.
Montevideo
.
Available from: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000383912 (accessed 24 March 2023)
.
UNESCO IHE and GWOPA – UNHABITAT
2021
Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance Learning Approaches in Water Operators’ Partnerships
. .
UN-Habitat
2020
GWOPA Strategy 2020–2024
.
Barcelona
.
Available from: www.unhabitat.org.
WOP Colombia
2023
Boletín informativo número 9. Red de empresas hermanas de Colombia. Julio 2023. Available from: Boletín Informativo #9 - ACODAL (accessed 29 November 2023)
.
Wright-Contreras
L.
, Perkins, J., Pascual, M. & Soppe, G.
2020
Water operators’ partnerships and their supporting role in the improvement of urban water supply in Da Nang
.
International Journal of Water Resources Development
36
(
1
),
1
26
.
https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2019.1625753
.
Zambrana
T.
2017
CLOCSAS. Antecedentes, Evolución Y Potencialidades
.
Panamá
. .
Zwarteveen
M. Z.
&
Boelens
R.
2014
Defining, researching and struggling for water justice: Some conceptual building blocks for research and action
.
Water International
39
(
2
),
143
158
.
https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2014.891168
.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY 4.0), which permits copying, adaptation and redistribution, provided the original work is properly cited (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).