We present framings of water issues at three administrative levels in Cochabamba, Bolivia to increase insight of how actors’ perspectives facilitate, obstruct or strengthen suggested actions or solutions. Participatory vulnerability assessments were conducted with leaders in one peri-urban community and municipal and regional officials in water-related sectors. Actors framed water problems and potential solutions differently, placing blame most often at other levels of responsibility. While all pointed to the municipality as responsible for solving the most acute water problems, it was acknowledged that the municipality consistently underperforms in its responsibilities. All actors promoted concrete and detailed technical measures as solutions to many problems while governance-related ones such as training and increased cooperation between different levels were only discussed at an abstract level. While fiscal federalism would fit some of the suggested management solutions, issues such as ecosystem protection and flooding with cross-border externalities might require shared yet clearly defined responsibilities between different levels. We suggest that the water war of 2000 and the framings that emerged from it have so strongly impacted the current water management situation that alternative management models and solutions are rarely discussed.

Introduction

In recent years, water management has gained renewed interest at various levels in society as a result of increased pressures and concern about urbanization, climate change and other stressors. Cities, especially in the Global South, are challenged by inadequate infrastructures, growing peri-urban areas without water and sewerage, energy supply problems and impacts from the increased risk for storms, flooding and heat waves. Urban areas are however also uniquely equipped to deal with pressing challenges. As heterogeneous centers of cultural, political and economic leadership, they have the capacity to act to address pressing water issues by implementing adaptation measures to reduce vulnerability and contribute to sustainable development. Numerous vulnerability assessments have been carried out to increase urban preparedness to new challenges, including climate change, and these have also put other stressors and points of concern into focus.

Framings of different urban water management perspectives have been shown to determine prioritized actions for improvements (Bohman & Raitio, 2014). Cochabamba is well known worldwide for its so-called Guerra del Agua (water war). In 1999, Cochabamba's water system, then managed by the municipal company, Servicio Municipal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado (SEMAPA), was privatized. A large multinational consortium, Aguas de Tunari (Aguas) was granted a concession over the city's water services, and also claimed control over all water systems in the city including groundwater wells that were managed by neighborhood-based water committees (Finnegan, 2002). Aguas increased water rates by up to 200%. In response, urban residents elicited support from peri-urban and rural inhabitants who joined because they perceived the change as a potential threat to their usos y costumbres (customary uses) of water and thus livelihoods. A number of organizations and groups in Cochabamba subsequently formed the Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida (Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life) in order to defend people's right to access water and fight privatization. Large-scale protests over several months led to the cancellation of the Aguas contract, the re-establishment of SEMAPA's management and greater social participation in the company's administration. The latter demand of ‘social control’ instead became ‘social representation’ on SEMAPA's Board of Directors (Bakker, 2008). This struggle in Cochabamba symbolized to many a ‘successful demonstration of people's abilities to resist oppression from neo-liberal policies and international businesses’ (Otto & Böhm, 2006). Although it also was portrayed as a fight against privatization, this was not entirely accurate as many local water committees in Cochabamba did and continue to manage their water systems privately and this situation remains uncontested.

Since 2000, Cochabamba's water management has undergone little change. The positions that emerged during the conflict by organizations that supported different managerial or technological diagnoses and solutions can still be found in the current discourses and policies. Although control of water supply was the contested issue and scarcity was already a major concern, in the last two decades the population in the larger Metropolitan area has grown by 150% (Alarcón et al., 2013) putting additional pressure on the city's already strained water resources. Residents obtain water from three main sources: SEMAPA, water vendors (cisternas) or local water committees or OTBs (Organizaciones Territoriales de Base), which are authorized local grassroots organizations. OTBs were formed as a partial response to the highly centralized entities with little local oversight that were predominant in the late 1990s, something that also spurred the water war (Perrault, 2005). In rural areas, they merged with communal organizations (peasant unions), but in urban and peri-urban areas, they were established as a way to organize neighborhoods and in the absence of state or municipal water services, they also managed these services. OTBs participate in and control the municipal assignment of national funds that in total make up 20% of the Bolivian national budget, distributed per capita and have authority over development planning and infrastructure construction (see Altman, 2003; Marston, 2013).

This article investigates different framings of water management problems and proposed solutions in Cochabamba. Urban water management involves actors at administrative levels from regional level to local, the latter being increasingly involved in solving their own problems. Coordination and collaboration between these levels, their responsibilities and room of action are heavily influenced and controlled by the political situation in the city. This multi-scalar governance of water results in gaps and ambiguity in responsibility, disjointed agendas and generally little cooperation or common meeting spaces for the actors. Although water is increasingly scarce, water issues encompass much more than water access. Pollution, flooding and threats to ecosystem services are major areas of concern. Water pollution is especially problematic as the current wastewater treatment plant is inadequate to meet demands and industrial effluents are dumped directly into the Rocha River. An increased understanding of how different actors perceive the main water problems and in turn how this influences their ideas and suggested options for addressing them will contribute to increased insight of how these perspectives facilitate, block or forge positive actions to address Cochabamba's many water problems. The views illuminate positions that reflect ambitions for fiscal federalism and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and current city water politics.

At the regional, municipal and local levels, we address the following questions:

  • What are the overarching perspectives on water issues?

  • How are water-related problems defined and framed?

  • Where is responsibility for the problems located?

  • Which solutions are identified?

  • On what points do respondents from the various levels agree (or disagree)?

Method

Our point of departure is that stakeholders know and can map their current state of affairs with respect to major challenges, and that concrete action plans based on strengthening and utilizing their adaptive capacity are needed (Füssel & Klein, 2006). Only through stakeholder participation at relevant levels can one understand connecting relationships, lack of synchronization between actors, policies, planning and implementation, and cultural and local repertoires that may aid and/or hinder good responsive management (e.g. Wilk & Jonsson, 2013). Stakeholder dialogue and engagement are processes that optimally lead to finding solutions that bridge different interests, priorities and perspectives. Data collection in this study was structured according to a participatory integrated climate change vulnerability assessment approach (Wilk et al., 2013) that was primarily created for assessments in a developed context, but adapted for the Cochabamba case. Thus, our study follows a ‘present-based approach’ that has grown stronger in the field of climate change impact, adaptation and vulnerability (CCIAV). This approach focuses on multi-level adaptive governance through an inclusive approach to situated (local) knowledge but it also takes into account ecological (hydrological) system factors, which makes it closely related to the IWRM paradigm (Bisaro et al., 2010). Although assessing the vulnerability of water issues to climate change was our aim, the process revealed many current and unresolved water-related challenges and these became central in our investigation. The integrated vulnerability assessment framework, however, still proved valuable when exploring these multi-dimensional, multi-scalar water issues.

As vulnerability is nested in different and often overlapping hierarchies (Smit & Wandel, 2006) we approached participants from local, municipal or regional levels who held knowledge of or responsibility for water resources in the capacity of their residency and/or leadership in the community or responsibility as part of their employment positions. The La Maica peri-urban community was chosen as a local case. It is somewhat particular because of its dominant agricultural livelihood base yet it suffers from a number of acute water problems also found in other parts of the city. We acknowledge that the three administrative levels are not fixed spaces and that actors, processes and politics move between as well as span them. Participants in this study represented the following organizations or capacities: at regional level, Secretaria Departamental de Cuencas (Departmental Secretary of River Basins), Secretaría Departamental de la Madre Tierra (Departmental Secretary of Mother Earth) and Unidad de Gestión de Riesgos (The Risk Management Unit); at municipal level, Oficialía de Desarrollo e Infraestructura Territorial: Alumbrado público, Obras pluviales e Infraestructura (The Office of Development and Territorial Infrastructure: Lighting, Stormworks and Infrastructure) and Comisión de desarrollo humano (The Human Development Commission); and at community level, residents and leaders from La Maica. At the municipal level, an initial group meeting to establish contact and introduce the project was followed by individual interviews with selected staff members of relevant departments. Similarly, the targeted regional organizations were first visited to present the project and subsequently to conduct individual interviews. The main empirical material used in the paper is from interviews with civil servants at the municipal and regional levels, and workshops and semi-structured interviews with residents and leaders in La Maica, supplemented by local documents and reports.

The Cochabamba case

Cochabamba is located in the upper reaches of the Rocha River, which originates in the Bolivian Andes and flows into the Amazon River through the Rio Grande. The city is one of the large population settlements in the part of the Andean region that is one of the most climate vulnerable in Latin America. It regularly receives intensive rains and periods of drought and has a high population density and agricultural dependence (Baez & Mason, 2008). Many of the city's problems are representative of other large urban centers such as urban migration, unplanned growth, high poverty levels and low investment in infrastructure and services. An increasing population and economic development are causing large-scale land use changes in the urban region as agriculture replaces forests and urban areas encroach on farmland. These changes intensify the impacts of higher temperatures as well as alter hydrological processes such as infiltration and runoff. In the municipal area, effluents from urban industrial activity and untreated wastewater heavily pollute the Rocha River. While Cochabamba is one of Bolivia's three most developed cities, water and sanitation coverage are much lower than that in La Paz/El Alto and Santa Cruz (Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Agua, 2013) and the socioeconomic opportunities and basic services are unevenly distributed. Only 19% of the wastewater is treated. Two thirds of the population are not connected with SEMAPA and attain water through self-managed local water committees (Alarcón et al., 2013) or from water vendors, the most expensive option. The last two options are the only available ones in the informal settlements that have grown most rapidly in the southern section of the city (Zona Sur). Households throughout the city, however, use water vendors, as the municipal water service regularly fails.

La Maica lies in Zona Sur in the large District 9. While this district predominantly contains urban residents, La Maica is still zoned as an agricultural area and it is a large producer of dairy products, maize and alfalfa. Because of its agricultural livelihood base and downstream location, it experiences a number of particular water needs and challenges. Its proximity to the urban center puts it under intense pressure from urbanization and the high demand for residential plots (Bustamente & Médieu, 2012). The community manages its own water through committees linked to OTBs (Walnycki, 2013). Residents get water for their cattle from community-managed wells. Although water is not scarce, the shallow groundwater in some areas is saline due to infiltration of untreated wastewater and septic tank liquids rich in, for example, nitrogen. Fields consistently irrigated with this water have become barren or restricted to growing saline-tolerant grasses for animal fodder. Water, if not too saline, is used for cleaning, laundry and the watering of animals while drinking water is obtained from water vendors or groundwater wells. Irrigation water is taken from La Angostura reservoir, groundwater, the Rocha River and the Valverde Canal (an open sewer that flows into the Rocha River). The surface water is highly polluted from poorly treated or untreated wastewater and industrial effluents.

Framings of water management and climate adaptation

Frame analysis as a theoretical point of departure

A frame can be viewed as an interpretative screen through which we filter what we experience and learn. Analyzing frames ‘sheds light on the phenomena of partial or selective seeing’ (Bohman, 2010, p. 35). Rein & Schön (1996, p. 89) emphasize the function of frames as a prescriptive story or ‘strong narrative’ guiding analysis and action in practical situations. Although framing is inevitable, it is highly important to examine how it is used in order to uncover patterns of arguments, blaming of problems and identified solutions and responsible actors. The prescriptive story or narrative of a certain framing interprets a situation according to selected theories or understandings, which leads to particular focuses, suggestions and conclusions. It also sets boundaries of what is included and excluded, so that some aspects, although relevant and linked to the issue might be neglected or ignored. In particular, frame analysis is useful to better understand controversies that emerge when different parties argue for their standpoints that stem from alternative framings. Sewage sludge, rich in nutrients but contaminated by metals, may for example be regarded as a potential fertilizer or toxic waste, depending on the particular narrative. Different framings can lead to disputes that are difficult to resolve, since the comparison and weighting of the arguments becomes complex (e.g. Raitio, 2012). The framing that gains the largest impact at a certain time determines which associated policies are formulated and implemented (Bisaro et al., 2010; Bohman, 2010).

Framings in water management and climate adaptation

Water use and management take place at multiple levels. According to the IWRM framework, water resources should be managed with a river basin perspective to include and adequately address all relevant fluxes. However, the multi-scalar and multi-level characteristics of the hydrological cycle and water resource use potentially create conflicts if the agendas and priorities of actors at different scales counteract each other. Water in Bolivia is predominantly regarded as a collective resource, to be managed by local water committees and used for domestic and agricultural use based on customary principles. Recent national laws render Pachamama (Madre Tierra or Mother Earth) her own rights, including that of clean water and air (Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, 2010). This puts another specific framing on water resources in Bolivia. The current president, Evo Morales, has taken an active role in environmental protection, and he initiated an alternative climate summit outside Cochabamba in 2010. Critical voices however comment that national politics are not as visionary as Morales' speeches indicate. The proposed construction of a trans-national highway through protected land and exploration of oil mining in the Amazon region are contrasted with this rhetoric and also the Constitutional rights of Mother Earth. This indicates that while particular framings can lead to associated policies, they can also be used as rhetoric while actions take other directions.

In the case of CCIAV, it becomes evident that different levels need to interact in order to effectively manage and secure water quality and quantity for different purposes. Bisaro et al. (2010) have shown in Lesotho how different framings at the international level impact on national and local adaptation measures, mainly through the channeling of international development assistance for water and adaptation projects. In the scientific discourse, two strands of thoughts can be detected; the ‘present-based’, under which our study would be categorized, and the ‘future explicit’ which focuses on scenario development and the management of impacts and uncertainties (Bisaro et al., 2010). Both are reproduced in the practical policy framings of climate change adaptation through national adaptation plans and specific development projects. The ‘present-based’ approach nurtures an institutional-analytic framing that results in policies and projects that include measures to strengthen governance capacities. The decision-analytic framing on the other hand, derived from the ‘future-explicit’ approach, focuses on risks and highlights changes to ecological systems that lead most often to recommendations concentrating on technological solutions. Based on their case study, Bisaro et al. (2010) argue that measures proposed in the decision-analytic framing may limit the potential scope of effective adaptation, and particularly so ‘in a development context, where institutional and governance issues are key to successful adaptation’ (Bisaro et al., 2010, p. 173).

Aakre & Rübbelke (2010) argue that the rationale for adaptation may vary at different levels. While private actors may apply efficiency measures in their choices and priorities, national governments and regional organizations, such as in the study's case, the European Union, need to also consider and prioritize equity and distributional effects. This means that central institutions should select and promote adaptation efforts that target especially vulnerable areas and social groups. The authors promote the theory of fiscal federalism, also a central principle in IWRM that ideally places decision-making at the most decentralized level where economic externalities can still be internalized (Ederveen & Pelkmans, 2006). Centralization would thereby be appropriate where externalities are manifested at different scales. In the Cochabamba case, centralization examples could include the provision of drinking water as well as wastewater treatment, since responsibility for the health of people in the municipality as well as ecosystem protection requires coordination. The distribution and organization of water from local sources such as groundwater, however, could be managed by more decentralized organizations such as local water committees that take into account local preferences, relations of trust and appropriate management forms, as is the case. We examine if this theory fully encompasses the water challenges and proposed solutions as put forward from key water actors in Cochabamba.

Results: actors and their framings

Below, we present the prescriptive stories of actors at sub-national levels (local, municipal and regional) about water issues. Each section is organized according to the vulnerability assessment framework: perspective (water focus), diagnosis (what do the different actors identify as the main problems, why do they occur, who/what level causes them), suggested solutions (how should they be addressed/solved/mitigated) and level of implementation (who is responsible for solving/funding the suggestions).

Community level: agricultural water management in an urban context

La Maica residents and community leaders have a dual water agenda, to obtain abundant water of good quality for agriculture as well as for household use. The residents revealed overlapping and in some cases conflicting priorities as farmers and urban residents. There was ambivalence about their identification with a rural lifestyle and livelihood base and the potential advantages and conveniences of urban life. Farmers, that still make up a majority of community residents spoke of a desire for centralized water supply, a symbol of urban settlements. Some spoke strongly about lobbying the municipality for water connections. Others, although attracted by the possibility of improved water quality, also feared a further transition from agricultural land to urban dwellings. Residents identified water pollution as the most significant community water problem (Table 1), especially related to bad smells, color and salinity, that causes skin and stomach problems. They were also concerned that pollution deteriorates the quality of their agricultural produce such as cheese and milk that they sell throughout the city. Residents considered this a strong argument for the municipality to carry out regular water quality tests in their neighborhood and enforce sanctions against industries, especially tanneries that are heavy polluters (Table 2). Although residents acknowledged their own contribution to water pollution, e.g. discarding solid waste and sewage directly into waterways, they placed most blame on the municipality, and specifically SEMAPA, for not resolving the untreated wastewater issue. Residents were also concerned about the increasing salinity levels in their soils affecting their agricultural productivity. Although most agreed that the serious pollution problems should be remedied, some viewed the poor environmental and water conditions as a deterrent against further urbanization.

Table 1.

Water problems, diagnoses and who is responsible according to community, municipal and regional level respondents. L = Local actors, I = Industries, M = Municipality, RG = Regional Government, S = Society.

Key water issues Pollution Flooding Supply Ecosystem services 
  Community level perspective: Agricultural water management in an urban context 
Diagnosis and responsible actor(s) Inadequate wastewater treatment M
Household wastewater seepage L
Industrial effluents I 
Paving upstream OTBs No public water connection M
Urban growth S 
Soil degradation L 
Municipal level perspective: Urban water maintenance and management 
Inadequate waste-water treatment M
Landfill seepage M,I
Illegal waste disposal I,S 
Underdimensioned infrastructure M
Poor canal maintenance M
Channel blockage by constructions L
Constructions and cropping in security strips L 
Supply does not meet demand M Loss of natural ecosystems L,M 
Regional level perspective: Comprehensive river basin management 
Inadequate waste-water treatment M
Industrial effluents I
Lack of awareness and competence L 
Channel blockage L Supply does not meet demand M
Overexploitation of groundwater L
Increased irrigation by highland communities L 
De-naturalization because of agriculture and urbanization L,M 
Key water issues Pollution Flooding Supply Ecosystem services 
  Community level perspective: Agricultural water management in an urban context 
Diagnosis and responsible actor(s) Inadequate wastewater treatment M
Household wastewater seepage L
Industrial effluents I 
Paving upstream OTBs No public water connection M
Urban growth S 
Soil degradation L 
Municipal level perspective: Urban water maintenance and management 
Inadequate waste-water treatment M
Landfill seepage M,I
Illegal waste disposal I,S 
Underdimensioned infrastructure M
Poor canal maintenance M
Channel blockage by constructions L
Constructions and cropping in security strips L 
Supply does not meet demand M Loss of natural ecosystems L,M 
Regional level perspective: Comprehensive river basin management 
Inadequate waste-water treatment M
Industrial effluents I
Lack of awareness and competence L 
Channel blockage L Supply does not meet demand M
Overexploitation of groundwater L
Increased irrigation by highland communities L 
De-naturalization because of agriculture and urbanization L,M 
Table 2.

Suggested solutions and who is responsible for them according to community, municipal and regional level respondents. L = Local actors, I = Industries, M = Municipality, P = Polluter, RG = Regional Government, S = Society.

Key water issues Pollution Flooding Supply Ecosystem services 
 Community level perspective: Agricultural water management in an urban context 
Solutions and responsible actor(s) New wastewater treatment plant M
Garbage collection P
Enforcement of sanctions against polluters M 
Paving restrictions OTBs Construction of Misicuni dam M
Provision of municipal water supply M
Lobbying for urban coverage L 
Improved wastewater treatment M 
 Municipal level perspective: Urban water maintenance and management 
 New wastewater treatment plant M
Enforcement of sanctions against polluters M 
Regulation and channeling M,RG
Increased machinery budget M
Protection of security strips M
Enforcement of regulations against constructions and cropping on security strips L,M 
Construction of Misicuni dam M Restoration and management of urban ecosystems M
Training and awareness raising M 
 Regional level perspective: Comprehensive river basin management 
 New wastewater treatment plant M
Enforcement of sanctions against polluters RG, S
Effective policies to regulate wastewater treatment M
Training and awareness raising RG 
Regulation and channeling RG
Improved river engineering M,S 
Construction of Misicuni dam M
Increased coordination with Rocha River Master Plan RG
Re-use of water M 
Re-naturalization RG
Increased collaboration between municipalities and regional government M,RG 
Key water issues Pollution Flooding Supply Ecosystem services 
 Community level perspective: Agricultural water management in an urban context 
Solutions and responsible actor(s) New wastewater treatment plant M
Garbage collection P
Enforcement of sanctions against polluters M 
Paving restrictions OTBs Construction of Misicuni dam M
Provision of municipal water supply M
Lobbying for urban coverage L 
Improved wastewater treatment M 
 Municipal level perspective: Urban water maintenance and management 
 New wastewater treatment plant M
Enforcement of sanctions against polluters M 
Regulation and channeling M,RG
Increased machinery budget M
Protection of security strips M
Enforcement of regulations against constructions and cropping on security strips L,M 
Construction of Misicuni dam M Restoration and management of urban ecosystems M
Training and awareness raising M 
 Regional level perspective: Comprehensive river basin management 
 New wastewater treatment plant M
Enforcement of sanctions against polluters RG, S
Effective policies to regulate wastewater treatment M
Training and awareness raising RG 
Regulation and channeling RG
Improved river engineering M,S 
Construction of Misicuni dam M
Increased coordination with Rocha River Master Plan RG
Re-use of water M 
Re-naturalization RG
Increased collaboration between municipalities and regional government M,RG 

As the community lies in a low-lying area, some residents voiced how urban lifestyles in upstream neighborhoods affected them as the high degree of paved roads decreases infiltration and contributes to downstream flooding (Table 2). They strongly voiced that upstream paving, another symbol of the urban environment, should be reduced. In general, residents brought up the fact that the community is not united in its view on water problems and priorities and this ultimately works against them.

La Maica actors thus framed their water issues around the challenge of living as agriculturalists in an increasingly urban context. The urban-rural dichotomy of La Maica residents led them to alternatively support and blame urbanization depending on the issue in question. Highlighting agricultural water use and how pollutants deteriorate their soils and agricultural produce reinforced their rural identity yet they also staked their claim to the benefits of the urban setting such as municipal connections. As downstream residents, they placed blame on the ‘other’, i.e. upstream, residents and industries that pollute and OTBs that increase the proportion of paved roads.

Municipal level: urban water maintenance and management

Municipal officers viewed water issues as a part of a healthy functioning urban environment system encompassing soil, water, the atmosphere and ecosystems. The respondents stated that it is common knowledge that the current wastewater treatment plant is too small to meet requirements and as a result it discharges huge amounts of untreated wastewater directly into the Rocha River (Table 1). There is no possibility to extend the plant for lack of space so a new one needs to be constructed (Table 2). The proposed Misicuni dam is needed (originally planned for 2012 but delays have caused postponement until at least 2017) to augment the city's water supply (Table 2) but respondents know that it will intensify the wastewater problem. Officers acknowledged municipal responsibility for extended water supply and improved wastewater treatment but in subsequent discussions focused most attention on flooding and industrial pollution issues.

At the Department for Territorial Development and Infrastructure, respondents pointed out a need for both technical and institutional changes to combat flooding. They discussed at length the municipality's responsibility for maintenance and upgrading of municipal infrastructure such as gullies and canals by widening, deepening and clearing canals. They have sufficient knowledge to perform these operations but funds are insufficient for purchasing and maintaining machinery and a heavy bureaucratic process makes it difficult to obtain required funds. They added that the municipal budget alone cannot cover the necessary costs. They suggested that the Regional Government contribute and even discussed the possibility of accessing OTB funds. They stated that OTBs rarely, if ever, prioritize water infrastructure maintenance but rather road improvements and school construction. After allotting their funds, some OTBs still ask the municipality to invest in water infrastructure. ‘They think that their OTB money is one thing and the municipality has other money for these things.’ At the Human Development Commission respondents pointed out that it would be almost impossible to coordinate OTB funds that would be needed to have a sufficient amount for larger-scale works. They added that even if OTB funds became available, ‘How can they have technical knowledge, the OTB leaders?’

Besides the OTBs, municipal respondents also placed responsibility for water issues on residents. One officer said that ‘the entire population is to be blamed for neglect’. Even though there are municipal restrictions and fines against illegal dumping of garbage and sewage by individuals and industries, it is difficult for the municipality to control it since dumping usually takes place at night. In the dry season, residents open up channel constructions, that the municipality has installed to prevent flooding, to irrigate their crops. Residents have also constructed buildings and paths over drainage gullies and planted crops in the flooding security strips (Table 1). Even when the municipality has offered to widen the river at some sections, conflicts frequently arise between those that support this and others that want to maintain the advantages of cropping on the security strips. Although the municipality could and should enforce removal of the farmers (Table 2), the municipality is reluctant to evict people who have already been settled there for years; ‘They use and abuse because they take the strips as part of their land.’ One interviewee also challenged well-accepted truth claims related to reduced infiltration and flooding. He was unconvinced that upstream urban paving necessarily leads to increased flooding and instead highlighted how unpaved areas increase the sediment loads in canals and greatly augment needed maintenance. Lastly, he pointed to the impossibility of stopping further urbanization; ‘If there's a study that says that paving affects flooding, are we then not going to do it? How can one face a (OTB) president and say that we are not going to pave their streets, to no longer urbanize?’

Officers spoke of the municipal responsibility for regarding a number of water issues but turned discussions and focus towards areas where other actors are at least partially to blame such as industrial and household polluters, farmers that occupy security strips and OTB leaders that do not prioritize water infrastructure. Municipal officers also pointed out the loss of natural urban ecosystems like riparian areas along the watercourses. They see it as their responsibility to restore and manage these areas as well as to raise awareness about the ecosystem services they provide.

Regional level: comprehensive river basin management

Regional officers presented water issues as complex, interrelated and multi-faceted. They raised the issues of contamination, the deficit of increased demand contra the difficulties of increasing supply, the awakening of highland communities to additional water sources, over-exploitation of groundwater and lack of policies regulating wastewater management (Table 1). The interviewed persons all emphasized their role of handling issues that arise or need action at macro-level, for example that span several municipalities in the Rocha River Basin. Through its River Basin's Department, the Pachamama (Mother Earth) office is addressing these issues through a comprehensive master plan where water is framed as a public good with priority for human use and not for profit. The plan is seen as part of a process that collects, sorts and updates information and provides an overview and direction for the river basin including the identification of responsible entities for operational measures, i.e. the municipalities.

Actual river basin management however cannot be achieved in isolation from the municipalities where the gullies, canals, etc. are located. Regional officers pointed to Cochabamba municipality for failing in its responsibility for water treatment and enforcing needed sanctions on the largest polluters, including SEMAPA for its insufficient wastewater treatment (Table 2). As in this last instance the municipality is both a service provider and authority, one respondent suggested that the regional government be given responsibility for regulatory policies as well as imposing sanctions. Polluters (industries) should be responsible for their effluents while the municipality should handle water regulation and wastewater treatment (Table 2). A key word among regional officers was collaboration, not only between themselves and their municipalities but also among the municipalities themselves as larger-scale issues are outside of the scope of one municipality's responsibility. One such example is ecosystem conservation where increased collaboration with and between municipalities could contribute to a restoration of natural habitats and wildlife corridors. One interviewed employee also highlighted the importance of placing decisions directly in the hands of the people, through their OTBs; ‘The one responsible for sanctions is the society that is being affected.’ OTBs lack of technological knowledge was seen, however, to deter prioritization of funding for larger infrastructural projects.

The regional representatives said that there is a great need for awareness raising at many levels in society about pollution issues and the changes in water supply versus demand. Water use and demands have changed dramatically in the past years and even the increased water supply from the proposed Misicuni dam will be insufficient today without major alterations. The increased water supply will also heighten pressure on the already overburdened wastewater treatment facilities. Respondents also pointed to the ambiguity of water perspectives among different users; ‘Even if the water availability increased – whose water is it and for what?’ Much of water allocation today relies on customary use and local agreements but the additional water from Misicuni would be an opportunity to implement principles of not hoarding water and using it efficiently. These issues make the water supply question more than about physical water availability but also water access and rights. Because of urbanization, water allocation must be changed to reflect the new land use, an issue that must include the social and institutional control of water.

Regional actors presented a river basin narrative that encompassed and highlighted complexity yet in an overarching manner that does not include operational responsibility. They placed responsibility for water management on the municipality but also on ‘all authorities, institutions, the society and private enterprise’. Their comprehensive perspective led them to suggest and support measures to strengthen governance capacities such as awareness raising, training and coordination.

Discussion

Framing analysis proposes that the ways in which actors describe water issues in their narratives influence and even dictate the proposed solutions as well as the means of achieving them. Actors from the three administrative levels in this study viewed the municipality as the major actor responsible for addressing the majority of water problems (Table 2). Many years after the heated dispute about private and public water management has abated, public water management in current day Cochabamba is an uncontested issue. This leaves the municipality as the designated actor for providing, improving and extending water access. Although water supply has received much international attention, actors in this study also pointed out other areas where they see the municipality as responsible yet shirking their duties, such as in managing wastewater, enforcing sanctions against polluters (including SEMAPA) and removing residents and cropping on flood security strips. Local and regional respondents pointed to many obstacles that obstruct the municipality from fulfilling their responsibility, such as corruption, heavy bureaucracy, understaffing and lack of space to expand the water treatment plant, yet offered no concrete suggestions of how to encourage or force the municipality to take positive action. Corruption was highlighted as one of the major reasons behind the major losses in support for the ruling party, Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia's sub-national elections in March 2015. The high losses in Cochabamba reflected the failure of local leaders and government institutions to respond to citizens' needs and requests (Torrico & Walnycki, 2016).

As for their own responsibility community actors spoke of lobbying the municipality to gain water connections and improving management of local sanitation, while the regional government actors suggested having the mandate to enforce sanctions on the municipality as it is a large contributor to water pollution. In La Maica pollution is the major water problem but the issue receives little attention from municipal officials. Although municipal representatives readily acknowledged their responsibility for larger-scale works to answer water supply and quality demands, the building of the Misicuni dam and a new wastewater treatment plant, their focus on flooding and pollution issues diverted attention from these responsibilities to issues where they have some room for action, can act without the need to collaborate with actors at other administrative levels or where others are at least partially to blame. While the municipality performs a number of technological operations to reduce the risk of flooding, it meets an unresolved institutional challenge in removing residents from flooding security strips. La Maica agriculturalists on the other hand did not view their cropping on these strips as negatively contributing to flooding but rather their expulsion from these areas as an example of the force of urbanization working against them.

Aside from the overwhelming agreement on the municipality's responsibility for water supply and wastewater management, respondents at all levels also placed responsibility for water issues to some degree ‘in the hands of the people’. On the one hand, local and municipal respondents referred to individual responsibility for proper waste disposal and sanitation systems and respect of security strips. A respondent from the Department of River Basins expressed it as another type of responsibility, ‘We must go beyond participation and control. We are saying it is the people, the society, who has to decide on issues of water management, not only by involvement but by direct authority.’ This statement speaks of the collective society as represented by the grassroots OTB organizations. These organizations in previous studies have been attributed with supporting the eroding authority of the state (Perrault, 2008) but also contributing to a ‘hollowing out’ of the state's role by carrying out functions that were previously solely its responsibility (e.g. Gibbs & Jonas, 2000). The OTB's control of a substantial proportion of municipal funds can be seen as partially releasing the municipality of some of its responsibility (Bakker, 2008) and rendering them to service providers. Municipal and regional actors pointed to the possibility of OTBs taking some responsibility for water-related matters related to infrastructure yet they also acknowledged the unlikeliness of this because of their lack of technical competence and difficulty in coordinating sufficient funds. This leaves one to wonder how OTBs could share this responsibility if at all.

One regional respondent said that the divergent perspectives of water management by themselves and the municipality lead to unclear responsibilities at both levels. The municipality claims ‘territorial ownership’ of their water bodies from a geographical standpoint thereby taking responsibility for all water issues strictly within their administrative borders. This restricts their geographical imaginations to this demarcated space. This perspective, however, overlooks water's hydrological properties that do not respect administrative boundaries. Although theoretically, issues and responsibility for water management can be divided between scales, in reality this is bound to be problematic (Bakker, 2003). The theory of fiscal federalism as related to water issues could more clearly be applied to certain water issues in this study but perhaps not all. It would dictate that water pollution caused within the municipality should be addressed and handled at this same level. Yet for the management of issues such as flooding and ecosystem services and even water pollution with sources outside the municipal area, effective management would require cooperation between numerous actors and a comprehensive management because the causes and effects are not restricted to one administrative level or scale. In the case of flooding, actors have divergent ideas of causes and management strategies. La Maica stakeholders pointed to upstream urban paving as the major cause of their flooding problems. In this manner, they acknowledged upstream/downstream relationships but solely those within the municipal area. With a wider geographical imagination, one would see the paved area within the Cochabamba municipality as actually only a fraction of the entire river basin where numerous land use changes are taking place that affect infiltration, runoff properties and ultimately flooding. Municipal officers spoke little of the causes of flooding but rather of managing it through municipal maintenance, while the regional respondents had a larger-scale perspective which linked and acknowledged a number of causes and effects including land-use changes and increased highland irrigation withdrawals. The case of ecosystem services also illustrates and acknowledges cause and effect relationships at different scales. La Maica inhabitants are concerned about soil contamination from untreated wastewater that affects their agricultural production, municipal officers spoke of the importance of restoring urban ecosystems such as parks and riparian areas while the regional government brought up re-naturalization that would include wildlife corridors and critical habitats for key animal and plant species but also river engineering that respects larger-scale fluvial geomorphology. Thus delegation of issues of this nature to, for example, OTB organizations and municipalities, as suggested by fiscal federalism, could ideally be connected to a clear mandate at a higher level that assumes an overarching responsibility. This would mean that comprehensive decisions and details and practices cannot (and need not) always be located at the same administrative level for issues where there are cross-border or cross-scale externalities.

To address the variety of water problems, respondents suggested both technical solutions, e.g. dredging, water regulation, restriction of upstream paving, construction or expansion of a wastewater treatment plant, as well as governance-related ones, such as increased training and collaboration to better handle the removal of farmers from security strips, illegal and clandestine polluters, uncertainty over future allocation and priorities of Misicuni's water, corruption, understaffing, financial constraints and decreased inflow from extended upstream irrigation schemes. The suggestions regarding technical/physical solutions were more concrete and tangible which indicates a stronger decision-analytic framing. Even the delay in the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant was related to a physical constraint, the fact that a new site had to be found, rather than to complex governance issues that must also underlie the lack of action on this point. The technical solutions were described in great detail, including what maintenance works were carried out and by which departments. In contrast suggested governance changes, such as increasing day-to-day cooperation between water-related sectors and actors at different levels, capacity building, training and awareness raising, were voiced as important but described at an abstract level. However, respondents related how under declared states of emergency, responsibilities and communication pathways become more clearly mapped out, additional funds become available, bureaucratic channels are shortened and national, regional and municipal actors effectively collaborate to resolve problems; ‘Right now things are being done, but by desperation and emergencies.’ Cooperation between the Mayor's office, the municipality and even local industry however is lacking regarding day-to-day issues and in disaster prevention. Instead ‘authorities wait for an emergency to take action’ so that actors have reactive rather than proactive problem-solving perspectives and cooperative strategies. Respondents however did not offer concrete suggestions of how to, for example, make this positive emergency cooperative strategy take root in day-to-day water management. While the governance-related suggestions, such as collaboration and training, are incontestable in eliciting positive change, without concrete strategies, clear plans of action and a way to navigate within the complex political situation they may remain permanently abstract.

Conclusions

As in many previous studies, we argue that different scales are nested and need simultaneous inclusion and coordination in decisions about water resource management, a view supported by respondents at all three administrative levels. The results of this study raise several interesting aspects when it comes to the framings of water issues of actors at different sub-national levels and where their perspectives lead in terms of feasible solutions.

The first is the recurrent ‘blaming’ of the municipality by all levels (including municipal officers) for causing some water problems, but also and most importantly for failing in their responsibility to resolve serious water problems under their mandate such as enforcement of sanctions against polluters, delays in the construction of much needed large infrastructural works and protection of flood security strips. While there is agreement of where the responsibility lies, what if the identified actor continually falls short? If the municipality is failing in its duties for water supply and treatment and the question of privatization is off the table, what then are other plausible options for improving water management in the city? Regional and municipal officers pointed to the people, represented by OTBs to bear some responsibility. Yet the suggestions of coordinating funds for larger-scale works and prioritizing water infrastructure with their allotted funds (for which they lack knowledge) are shortly afterwards discarded as unreasonable. By pointing to OTBs and the society, is the municipality deflecting from its own areas of responsibility? Why do regional government officers also agree with these suggestions? Is it a part of the discourse that fails to arrive at concrete and feasible actions to address acute issues? We suggest that the legacy of the Cochabamba water war in particular and the framings that emerged from it, and the national political discourse of people's empowerment and participation in general, have strongly impacted the views of actors in water management. While SEMAPA continues to underperform and the majority of city residents regularly obtain water from water vendors or local wells, the same situation as before the water war, alternative governance options than the present model of public water management are not raised or discussed. This holds true even though private and cooperative delivery models have led to similar results or where private ones have even proven superior in managing water access by low-income consumers (Hailu et al., 2012) and local water committees are run under private management. A private model might not necessarily be the answer for the city, but opening up discussions for alternative management models could ease the deadlock of perceived solutions.

Secondly, the Cochabamba case exemplifies the complexity of the theory of fiscal federalism in the case of water management. Although theoretically, issues and responsibility can be divided between administrative levels, the water-related issues in this study seem to lend themselves to remedies that range in scale and magnitude. Fiscal federalism would support responsibility for water supply and wastewater treatment at the municipal level and to some extent in OTBs. More complex and large-scale issues, such as the increased water supply from the Misicuni dam and subsequent need for expanded wastewater treatment, the ambiguity of who and what the water will be used for, increased irrigation by highland communities, and over-exploitation of groundwater by agricultural communities, will however change Cochabamba's water supply in a profound way. Who could manage and be responsible for the combined effects of such complex, cross-border issues? With flooding, the municipality copes by dredging and channeling and maintaining security strips in the urban area, even though land use changes outside the municipal limits also greatly contribute to the problem. Political priorities might lead to the legalization of housing in risk areas such as along riverbanks rather than re-settling residents. How can land use changes coupled to urban migration be regulated and whose responsibility should it be? Could an increased cooperation between municipalities and the regional government more successfully address such issues? The Rio Rocha Master Plan might shed light on the complexity and relationships between various water-related issues and point to the responsible actors but how could a concrete and effective coordination with and between relevant municipalities be initiated and sustained to address larger-scale issues? Also, as local organizations are increasing their engagement in solving their own problems, could OTBs then share some responsibility for clearly defined water issues and if so, as some regional and municipal officers suggested, how could their budgets then be coordinated? It is a matter of discussion whether fiscal federalism could allow for the distribution of certain limited responsibilities at the local level while still retaining an overarching responsibility at higher administrative levels and if so, how this could be organized?

Thirdly, the results in this study confirm those of earlier studies in that extraordinary events seem to be conducive for enabling cross-scale cooperation. Actors at different levels are then able to improvise and take fast and efficient actions to address pressing problems that threaten lives and property and cooperation between levels takes place. In such instances, framings and blaming are open to immediate re-formulations that do not reproduce themselves in everyday life. How and why can positive things be made to happen when urgently needed, but not otherwise? Is there a way to unlock such framings without the occurrence of a catastrophe situation, for example in crisis management exercises? This is an interesting question for future research.

Fourthly, we would like to highlight the relationship between framing and identity. Inhabitants of the La Maica community are divided between their identities as rural dairy farmers and as urban residents with the potential advantages of future water connections and proximate markets for their agricultural produce. The identity of each La Maica actor also inflicts on his or her framing of water issues, who is considered responsible for their occurrence as well as which solutions should be promoted. Thus, in the same way as a scientific paradigm such as the present-based approach may define an institutional-analytic framing of water issues for academic knowledge production, personal identity and sense of local community is likely to influence the framings and solutions proposed by local leaders and inhabitants. Thus, it is of utmost importance to place situated knowledge in a wider local context to enable a better understanding of the different framings that are discerned.

Lastly, even if methodologically departing from the present-based approach and revealing a number of institutional-analytic framings of issues and problems, actors still predominantly prescribed technological solutions to water problems while suggestions to combat corruption and poor coordination were discussed only abstractly. Can it be that the solutions to governance issues are seldom operationalized to the same extent that technical and engineering solutions are? And therefore are they not as greatly promoted even within an institutional-analytic framing? Is it not possible to prescribe measures aiming at improved institutional capacity, even if analyzing a situation from a present-based perspective? We would like to put forward the idea that there is a strong need for operationalization of the IWRM rhetoric into policy measures with a similar degree of concreteness as for technical solutions. Examples could be training courses on relevant topics for municipal officers in water-related sectors that have a control responsibility or organized workshops to decide the division of responsibilities for water issues with cross-border externalities building on successful examples from emergency situations. We do also recognize that the local political context is influencing and restricting the responsibilities and collaboration opportunities of different actors. Yet at the very least the positive collaboration that arises during emergency situations could be replicated so that it could influence and positively affect day-to-day operations to a greater degree.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the vulnerability assessment participants who shared their insights and knowledge. This project was funded by Sarec/Sida.

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