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Are visible and strong legal frameworks always necessary to sustain irrigation institutions?: some wider lessons for water resource management

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How important is a long‐term legal framework for irrigators' organizations to manage their irrigation systems? Countries that have a consistent long‐term legal framework appear also to have strong self‐managed irrigation institutions (e.g., Spain, Japan, Chile, and the US). A lack of this legal framework appears to correlate with lack of or weak irrigators' organizations. In Mexico, however, in spite of a changing and chaotic legal framework, informal or nonofficial irrigators' organizations and horizontal agreements actually do exist. Some of these organizations were officially suppressed, others lost their legal framework, and still others never received official recognition. There is continuity for some cases dating back to 16th century institutions, as well as new organizational efforts. The irrigators' organizations and horizontal agreements are not missing but invisible. These results emphasize that research based around the analysis of official information and official organizations may overlook what is revealed by considering local arrangements on the ground. While a consistent legal framework for self‐managed irrigation institutions may provide increased visibility, and probably make them stronger and more capable of operating effectively, legal frameworks are not necessary—not least because such institutions may actually be very resilient in the face of external pressures. These issues are of much wider importance for water resource management, questioning the assumption that a strong top‐down response is necessary to guarantee water security, and emphasizing the importance of sustaining specific local circumstances in water resource management, which may be invisible without careful investigation. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Water Governance

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