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Facilitating Transitional Processes in Rigid Institutional Regimes for Water Management and Wetland Conservation: Experience from the Guadalquivir Estuary

Pablo F. Méndez, Laboratory of Spatial Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (Spanish Research Council, University of the Balearic Islands)
Nicola Isendahl, Institute of Environmental Systems Research (University of Osnabrück)
Jaime M. Amezaga, Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability, University of Newcastle
Luis Santamaría, Laboratory of Spatial Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (Spanish Research Council, University of the Balearic Islands)


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Traditional policies for water resources management and wetland conservation are often based on command-and-control approaches. The latter tend to drive the human–wetland–water system into pathological states, characterized by more vulnerable ecosystems and rigid institutions for governance. The overcoming of these states may rest in the development of flexible and adaptive institutional regimes that rely on adaptive governance and management. Because past factors might constrain the implementation of more flexible adaptive approaches to management, it is important to understand the historical mechanisms underlying the genesis of institutional rigidity. We first present the results of a historical analysis of Doñana, which can be characterized as a pathological water socio-ecosystem governed through rigid institutional regimes for water resources management and wetland conservation. In a second step, we analyze the advances achieved during a recent, large-scale restoration program for the Doñana wetlands, which adhered explicitly to the tenets of adaptive management. Our analysis indicated that the historical persistence of command-and-control approaches has been a path-dependent process that led to the emergence of a rigid institutional regime and caused it to enter a rigidity trap. However, the achievements of the restoration program suggest that a more flexible and adaptive regime could be developed through the introduction of adaptive management at the operational levels, using specifically tailored action research programs. To conclude, we speculate that the research strategy outlined could be extended to comply with, or complement, the requirements of the EU's Water Framework Directive in other European water socio-ecosystems.

Key words

action research; adaptive cycle; adaptive management; command and control; Doñana; Guadalquivir Estuary; path dependence; rigid institutional regimes; Water Framework Directive

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087