The two possible scenarios to address flooding and improve urban-environmental conditions in the MSB have been discussed above in terms of their design viability, as well as some of the possible costs and benefits produced. In this section, the central question relates to the political and institutional conditions that create challenges and opportunities for the implementation of BGI as an integrated management solution for the MSB. Many of these coincide with other contexts, demonstrating the global relevance of generating political support and designing suitable institutional structures to manage nature-based solutions (NbS) in cities where multiple administrations interact across jurisdictions.
3.5.1. Politico-Institutional Challenges
Finding an engineering resolution in an urbanized area is difficult. But this is secondary: You can always resolve the problem if there is political agreement. The most difficult thing is consensus.
(Municipal public servant 1)
Moving towards a river basin management approach that focuses on NbS and not only traditional engineering requires a gigantic step in practice. In addition to the technical challenge of designing and implementing alternative solutions, such a transition also necessitates strong political support. As Thorne et al. [49
] found in their study on the adoption of BGI in Portland, US, decision makers need security regarding both BGI biophysical suitability, as well as support from the community and elected officials to confidently adopt BGI in place of grey infrastructure.
However, there are multiple sources that contribute to a lack of political support for a BGI proposal. First, most of the seven public servants interviewed as part of this research identified the challenge of operating in multijurisdictional settings with administrations of different political colours. In particular, this generates different priorities and also some obstacles in everyday governance, for example, in facilitating communication between levels of government or in accessing financing in many cases. Second, long term planning is generally a challenge with fluctuations in administrations. As one public servant from the Province of Buenos Aires Government commented, “we don’t explore alternatives for the long-term, for 20 years, for example, ... because in 10 years the government has changed three times. We do not have a State setting stable criteria together. It is very difficult.” A third challenge to generating political prioritisation of BGI solutions is a path dependency on two external structuring conditions: The framework of loans offered from multilateral development banks and the current model of public works delivery linked with private interests concentrated in a few companies. Other researchers [4
] have verified that grey infrastructure is generally favoured because it is the usual and accepted modality, which does not require changes to public or private roles and responsibilities.
The commencing challenge in this regard is how to generate a bipartisan consensus and how to maintain a focus on a long-term sustainable solution despite administrative changes. One way in which political support is generated is from civil society demands [49
], especially a change in awareness brought about by natural disasters. In this regard, some public servants interviewed identified the role severe flooding has played in recent years to place water management on the political agenda, generating new instances of dialogue and collaboration between different administrations. Flooding problems have also prompted innovation at the local level to solve specific infrastructure problems with political support, including through BGI solutions in the case setting as these offered faster, micro-solutions compared to waiting for larger drainage works to be funded and built. (e.g., reservoirs or floodable plazas in the ACBA or the Municipality of Vicente Lopez, or the design and implementation of emergency and evacuation plans in the Municipality of San Martín). Some public servants made the point that without an emergency to create a critical tipping point alternative or innovative proposals usually appear only when the traditional options have been exhausted or for some reason are proven unviable. Other possible opportunities for generating support for a BGI approach are explored below (4.3).
Once the political agreement is reached, the next multifaceted challenge relates to establishing a regional level plan with strategic goals for stormwater management and setting up an appropriate corresponding interjurisdictional governance structure for integrated river basin management. Given the incumbencies of each level of government in the case context, the governance structure requires the participation of three levels of government, and at the bottom of the institutional hierarchy, three different municipalities. Not only are multiple levels involved, but different areas within each government play a role in designing and implementing NbS that often have many miniscule interventions when compared to traditional hard engineering works that cross urban planning, urban design, public works, open space and stormwater management. In this sense, one public servant commented, “the difficult thing about a large BGI proposal is that they are more atomized than traditional proposals: They are more complicated than a single works proposal with single financing” (Public Servant, GPBA). It requires the difficult work of integrating “silos” to avoid duplications and inefficiencies, while also maximising the social, economic and environmental benefits of coordinated work [50
]. Overall, integrated work between different levels and areas of government is required which, according to the interviewees, do not have the same level of political support, institutional structures, priorities or budgets in place to collaborate fluidly. For example, the current Basin Committee for the Medrano Stream (CICAM) does not involve three of the relevant municipal governments in technical or management coordination groups. The MRBA is regarded as fragmented in its governance approach generally [51
], with other researchers pointing to specific coordination challenges relating to river basin management [52
] given the different operational logics and policies of the government in place.
In addition to achieving better coordination between different government actors, there is also a need to link public management with the interests of civil society and the private sector. The current governance structure offered through the CICAM does not encompass multi-stakeholder collaboration. In order to move forward with a BGI agenda, the scope of governance is very wide, for example, involving all the actors in the basin who influence the quality and quantity of stormwater, such as landowners, businesses, community organizations, and government agencies.
One of the tasks for coordinated action between stakeholders is the modernisation and standardisation of relevant regulations. This challenge is made up of two issues: First, because of the complexity of the specific institutional and regulatory framework of the local context, and secondly, because of the general difficulty in stipulating standards for BGI. In relation to the first issue, the set of rules and administrative processes for water management is very complex, involving a broad spectrum of public bodies with different approaches and timeframes for processing, financing and implementation. In fact, the consultants hired by the IDB to develop the Urban Drainage Master Plan for the MSB (2019) consider that the current abundance of standards “does not achieve the objective of protection pursued but, on the contrary, results in limited compliance, due to the complexity involved in properly interpreting the set of regulations” [26
] (p. 74). In addition to numerous current standards and practices, gaps have been identified as to the possibility of carrying out a comprehensive evaluation of infrastructure projects. For example, some social and environmental variables that are not currently considered in the decision-making process [52
], such as sea level rise or changes to extreme rainfall patterns [53
]. Again, in this regard, a regional level plan for the metropolitan area is required that encompasses the various integrated aspects of stormwater management.
Secondly, and as Staddon et al. [54
] and Tayouga and Gagné [10
] identified in global literature reviews, there is an absence of generally accepted design standards for BGI. This is a problem because it requires more work upfront in feasibility studies based on local context [55
], it challenges monitoring tasks [56
] and overall makes it difficult to demonstrate adequate functionality [57
]. This is required at a regional level that traverses different jurisdictions.
Information management is another politico-institutional challenge. First, the lack of collection, systematisation and analysis of the relevant data for design BGI solutions is a challenge to overcome. Interviewees mentioned the lack of data “measurements” (CABA Officer 3) and “available information” (CABA Officer 1), or the fact that “getting the information requires certain times that are incompatible with project timeframes” (CABA Officer 1). The second challenge relates to the limited exchange of information between areas and also levels of government. For example, for a long time, the technical representatives of the municipalities have not participated in the periodic meetings of CICAM, limiting the opportunity for knowledge transfer. Some difficulty was also mentioned in obtaining intergovernmental contacts for consultation and the difficulty of generating fluid communication at the political level when administrations are not aligned. Third, and as Janches et al. discovered in their study on climate change adaptation in the region, “there is little information available to the public ... which is particularly true for residents of informal settlements” [52
]. The fourth challenge for information management is the way knowledge is built about performance outcomes: The evaluation criteria adopted is based on grey infrastructure models, which in turn correspond to the established decision-making frameworks, financing model and the dominant practices of the construction industry. This creates discourse and context that tends to silence other alternatives.
All respondents identified that one of the main challenges and for some of them, the main challenge—is the “limited budget” to generate a comprehensive management plan based on a BGI approach. On the one hand, respondents commented that the budget for public salaries is not enough, so they lack staff or the staff lacks adequate training regarding integrated water management through BGI. On the other hand, the budget is often allocated to address “the multiple critical problems” that exist over “planning much in advance” (GPBA official 1). Furthermore, different levels and jurisdictions of government have very different capacities to finance infrastructure, which produces inequalities throughout the region. Finally, there is no requirement for contributions to the existing governance body, the CICAM, and no funding for its operation beyond the current master plan design. Beyond these localised limitations, another funding challenge at the global level is the frequent requirement to demonstrate that a BGI approach would cost the same or result in a minimisation of costs in relation to traditional grey infrastructure. However, given that the same criteria are often used, full socio-economic costs and benefits are not examined (e.g., possible reductions in public health costs to do improved water quality and increased access to open space), which limits the attractiveness of BGI solutions.
A widely studied and recognized problem in the context is the socio-spatial segregation and the inequalities that exist in the MRB in levels of development (e.g., References [51
]). Generally, the best development conditions are located in the centre of the city (downstream) where today there is complete coverage of basic infrastructure and households enjoy good quality housing. Towards the periphery of the MRBA and where the river basins originate, conditions worsen with many households experiencing unsatisfied basic needs and poor housing. Local researchers, such as Gutiérrez [59
], have shown how environmental problems unequally affect different territories not only because of physical issues, such as topography, but particularly because of the inequality in the level of development, for example, lack of services, waste collection and of stormwater drainage connections. For those interviewed in this investigation, the lack of planning and the vulnerability of informal neighbourhoods with lower-income sectors is a particular challenge not just for financing BGI as mentioned above, but also for designing sustainable BGI solutions. Basically, there is a theoretical possibility to mitigate some of the inequalities in risk faced by flooding and pollution and to balance access to public and recreational space. However, most authorities do not have adequate resources or capacities to address the already great differences in levels of development and close the gap in terms of households basic unmet needs. They are focused on responding to “emergencies” (Municipal official 1) and critical conditions. As one public servant of the Province summed up: ... we have so many problems to solve in the short term that our eyes are fixed there ... it is a very complex situation with many urgent and basic needs.