Environmental Governance in Urban Watersheds: The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Mexico
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Cities depend on several watersheds’ ecosystems as the main source of ecosystem services for urban populations; however, this connection is not visible to decision-makers and citizens. The current governance structures do not contemplate the integrated management of the urban-rural territory by watershed; they
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Cities depend on several watersheds’ ecosystems as the main source of ecosystem services for urban populations; however, this connection is not visible to decision-makers and citizens. The current governance structures do not contemplate the integrated management of the urban-rural territory by watershed; they establish few spaces for citizen participation, and limit the transparency of information. We use qualitative methods to analyze the work of the Civil Society Organization (CSO) in seven urbanized watersheds in Mexico, located under different socio-environmental conditions, to incorporate the watershed cities’ management processes through new spaces of collaborative governance. Through environmental education campaigns, the CSOs raised awareness of the importance of watershed ecosystems to provide water for cities, explored the willingness to pay for their conservation, and the perception of the work of municipal water utilities. By promoting alliances between social sectors, the private sector, communities, and different levels of government, the CSOs built new institutions to increase the collaborative decisions and facilitate public participation, such as Watershed Committees, Citizen Observatories for Water and Consultative Councils. The incorporation of cities and citizens in the conservation of environmental services of the watershed was promoted through payment for environmental services programs. These processes of building new forms of governance are not linear. They depend on the convening and organizational capacity of the CSOs, the political will of the municipalities and states, as well as the socioeconomic conditions of citizens. In general, our results suggest that CSOs allow the formation of alliances that strengthen collaborations among stakeholders at different scales, increase government transparency and accountability, and provide a bridge of trust between upstream and downstream users in the watersheds.