3.1. The View of the Basin Committee on the Role of Revitalization
presents the ranking of the average grades, attributed by SFRBC members on the strategies that contribute to the improvement of water security of the SFRB.
In general, there was a convergence of grades regarding the hierarchy among the 47 specialists who answered the survey, from a total of 124 members of the SFRBC. For 8 strategies out of the 10 selected, there was a concentration of more than half of the respondents (i.e., repetition >50), on a specific scale from 1 to 10 (bold values in Table 1
). The exceptions were Strategy 3—Increase the efficiency of production processes—
(44.4%) and Strategy 6—Construction of Water Infrastructure—
(48.9%), which showed less dispersion among the dataset. These strategies can be considered more difficult to be agreed upon by the expert group consulted. Strategy 3—Increase the efficiency of production processes—
, with a lower degree of consensus (44%), aims to improve the management of demand for water use, above all, to a greater efficiency than the methods used in irrigation (a sector that represents 70% of SFRB water consumption) [28
] in sanitation, industry, and mining. Strategy 2—Implement Water Pact
—concentrated the highest frequency of response in one range (62%); that is, 28 participants ranked it in grade 2, i.e., in second place of importance. This strategy was foreseen in the first SFRB planning instrument [32
] and reaffirmed in the current SFRB Water Resources Plan 2016–2025 [28
]. The planning instrument assumes allocation of water by sub-basin in each of the seven states of Brazil (Minas Gerais, Goiás, Bahia, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Distrito Federal) that make up the SFRB. Strategy 1—River Basin Revitalization
—scored first place, with an average of 3.7; only 7 respoTdents out of a total of 47 (14%) rated it below or equal to 5 for this factor, demonstrating the importance of this strategy on a hierarchical scale as a top priority. The SRFBC claims there have been actions by the federal government to revitalize the SFRB since its creation in 2001. As Mello [33
] observed, on the one hand, the S. Francisco River transposition project generated conflicts and controversies within the SFRBC; on the other hand, it was the driving and integrating element around a single theme, nationally designing the Committee and uniting the basin stakeholders around the theme of revitalization.
After compiling and analyzing the responses, the six strategies with the highest scores in the first round were selected, and then, in a second round, the SFRBC experts were consulted, by questionnaires, about their agreement with the responses. The results are shown in Table 2
A general consensus was reached, with a degree of agreement greater than 80% among the 26 respondents who participated in the second round, converging to validate the results of the first phase. Strategy 1—River Basin Revitalization—, advocated by the panel of experts in this research as the main strategy for improving water security in the first round of the Delphi method, obtained 83.5% agreement, in line with the research hypothesis. We assumed that if river basin revitalization had emerged in first place as a guarantor of water security in the SFRB and with a high agreement rate (above 80% in the second round), the hypothesis should be considered validated. This result may be due to the multiple functions of revitalization, favoring natural water supply conditions and the integrity of ecosystems, with a positive impact on the population’s life situation, on productive activities, and on disaster management, and also on minimizing potential conflicts.
In case of disagreement, the respondent could change their score, assigning another degree of hierarchy and justifying the change. It can be said that 1 of the 4 (16.5%) participants who disagreed with the score of Strategy 1—River Basin Revitalization
—justified their decision by arguing: “(river basin) revitalization is important, but the river and the basin should be preserved before
”. Another respondent added as a strategy “to implement a soil and water management program, through rural technical assistance
”. The answers of the respondents that disagreed with the score of Strategy 1—River Basin Revitalization
—showed their lack of knowledge about the term river basin revitalization
, which already includes actions for environmental preservation and soil and water conservation to guarantee sustainability in the river basin [34
The revitalization of the SFRB, proposed by the federal government of Brazil, presents a diversified set, which includes: preservation actions and environmental recovery; guaranteeing decent access to water; boosting economies with sustainable bases; prevention in risk areas; and basic sanitation [35
]. Therefore, the concept of river basin revitalization is directly related to water security, and it is also related to the river restoration concept. River restoration is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in response to water quality contaminations associated with industrial development, as can be seen in the USA Clean Water Act of 1972 and in the European Union Water Framework Directive from 2000. Remarkable ground experiences at the river basin scale have been implemented on the River Rhine, the River Danube, and the River Thames since the 1980s and 1990s in Europe, and on the Cheonggyecheon River in South Korea in the 2000s [36
]. In Switzerland, the Water Protection Act of 1991, revised in 2011, required the revitalization of rivers throughout the implementation of measures. Those measures were proposed for the restoration of natural functions of dammed or channeled ecosystems through infrastructures being built that were directly linked with flood protection [37
]. In general terms, river restoration includes any action aimed at improving the health of a river and, consequently, ecosystem services [38
]. Strategy 5—Increase the resilience of the basin
—presented the greatest consensus. This result emerged in the face of hydrological disasters, directly connected to the adaptation processes of critical climatic events, which is why it was viewed as a priority by the SFRBC [28
The concordance on the choice of strategies may reflect the “water crisis”, which has affected the water supply as a result of a lack of rain. This phenomenon has reached several regions of Brazil, especially from 2012 to 2017, with special severity in the semi-arid region through which the SFRB passes. In fact, the SFRB has recorded precipitation values below the historical average, with a significant reduction in water volumes flowing to the reservoirs of hydroelectric dams in the basin. As a main consequence, the lowest levels of water storage have been registered, putting the possibility of continuing to maintain multiple water uses at risk [22
]. It is not only droughts that have had an effect; floods, pollution, and dam failure have had devastating consequences for human development around the SFRB. These extreme water insecurity phenomena embrace a more inclusive approach to the water security concept: protection and disaster risk prevention. According to Grey and Sadoff [7
], who highlighted this dual character of water, the concept of water security should consider the availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems, and production, safeguarding the security of people, environments, and regional economies. Strategy 6—Construction of Water Infrastructure
—was ranked sixth. This corresponds to the main strategy of the federal government integrated in the National Water Security Plan [22
]. This Plan includes a set of structural interventions that guarantee lasting results, namely: construction of dams for water regulation for human supply or multiple uses; construction of infrastructures for flood control and for water conduction and derivation.
The GWP [39
] mentions that infrastructures (such as dams) are necessary to meet the current and projected demands for the future and must be part of the strategy to achieve water security of a given hydrological unit. However, infrastructures must be carefully planned and designed using technologies that minimize environmental impacts. If, on the one hand, dams reduce the variability of water availability in a territory, on the other hand, they also cause significant environmental impacts, such as the interruption of natural water flows on which aquatics ecosystems and their own biodiversity depend. The regional impacts of the creation of a large surface of water should also be considered. Within this concept, it is important to mention nature-based solutions (NBS) to minimize the contemporary problems of water supply according to quality standards, while guaranteeing the ecosystem’s ecological integrity [40
]. In this context, restoration of aquatic ecosystems and river basin revitalization become even more significant. Regarding complementary responses, other experts cited as a main strategy the “systemic view and permanent dialogue among the various actors
”, plus “implementing a consistent and effective information system
The results of the consultation process with the SRFBC were in accordance with the proposal of Grey and Sadoff [8
], who defended the logic of the three Is to achieve water security: Investment, Institutions, and Information. These authors analyzed the role of the economic history of water in the development of nations and at the national level, demonstrating that the path to water security should combine high investment with robust institutions and adequate infrastructure. That is, depending on the punctuated strategies, investments in revitalization actions and in infrastructure to access, store, and reuse water, as well as in robust institutions and the information and capacity to predict, plan, and deal with climate variability, would also be necessary.
The six most voted strategies in this research were aligned with the three pacts defined for the Water Resources Plan to prosper [28
]: (1) the Waters Pact, which takes the negotiated allocation of water between the states that are part of the SFRB; (2) the Legality Pact, in which the instruments for water resources management in the basin are universalized [41
]; and (3) the River Basin Revitalization Pact, so that actions to effectively revitalize the basin become a reality in terms of resources and political will. Based on political participation, river basin committees are already considered innovative because, in addition to being consultative, they collectively deliberate on water management in a shared way with the government, which drives an approach that favors social participation.
Another relevant piece of information about the current status of the concept and its relation to the importance of revitalizing the SFRB is the UN’s approval in 2019 [42
] of the new International Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030). The objective of this decade is to prevent, interrupt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems around the world as a proven measure to combat the climate crisis and improve food security, water supply, and biodiversity. The conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources are essential to achieve this goal. This decade, a global call to action will bring together political, financial, and scientific support to expand restoration initiatives, and the case of the SFRB could be one of them.
3.2. Symbiotic Process: Water Security Versus River Basin Revitalization
Symbiosis, from the Greek words syn
(together) and bios
(life), is a term originally utilized by biological sciences to describe an ecological relationship between those who are part of a very close association but belonging to different species. In this ecological relationship, organisms need one another to survive. Likewise, river basin revitalization, with the maintenance of natural water sources, is directly related to the water security concept. Thus, the interdependence between river basin revitalization and water security is closely linked in a symbiotic process. This metaphor around the word symbiosis has also been used to state the relationship between water security and integrated water resources management [3
]. We use it here because it fits the analogy well. This reasoning can be applied in a similar way to the SFRB because the premise of improving water security has always been a key inclusion factor for efforts towards the São Francisco River basin revitalization, based on two political aspects: (1) increasing the supply of water for the basin, referred to in the original design of the SFRP [43
]; (2) the recurring association with the São Francisco River Transposition Project. It is important to highlight the fact that this project (transposition) is full of contradictions. It is supposed to induce water security in drier areas of the Brazilian northeast region with the construction of canals that would supply reservoirs and intermittent rivers, despite the possibility of negatively affecting ecological and social relations in the SFRB itself.
Beyond identifying symbolic processes between both concepts—river basin revitalization [23
] and water security [44
]—a concept map was elaborated with the Delphi method results, based on the assumptions presented in Table 3
The concept map (Figure 2
) was chosen because it facilitates the visualization of themes and their interconnections, as well as the achievement of results, from the following question: What is river basin revitalization’s place in relation to water security?
In an integrative approach, the concept map structured in Figure 2
places the concept of river basin revitalization in relation to water security, therefore demonstrating a clear convergence between these themes. Additionally, the concept map shows how the revitalization concept is broader than the restoration concept. The map depicts river basin revitalization as a process linked to environmental recovery (of natural vegetation), conservation, and preservation of ecosystems through permanent and integrated actions, such as: (1) Planning; (2) Environmental education; (3) Soil protection and use; (4) Sanitation; (5) Sustainable Economy. All these actions, acting together, acquire an amplifying effect that improves water quantity and quality, and consequently, socioenvironmental conditions and the sustainable use of natural resources. Water security, on the other hand, is portrayed as the ability to ensure sustainable access to water (in terms of quantity and quality) to guarantee: survival and human well-being; socioeconomic development; protection against pollution and disasters; the preservation of ecosystems in conditions of peace and political stability. The dashed lines establish a cross-relation, illustrating how the two themes (revitalization and water security) intersect in a more direct way. Figure 2
presents the main cross-relationships: socioenvironmental conditions’ improvement connected to socioeconomic development and livelihoods and human well-being; river health connected to ecosystem preservation and also to protection against pollution and disasters. The fifth component—political stability—of the water security concept emerges and is connected to the capability to develop integrated actions and plans in the basin.
On the map, the arrows represent the direction of the conceptual relationship that drove the formulation of the hypothesis to be tested by the Delphi method, including SRBC members’ opinions about the main strategies for achieving water security. As mentioned before, as a consensus, river basin revitalization was identified as the most important factor related to water security. The concept map summarizes the main details presented in Table 3
, emphasizing the categories “Finality” and “Components” as the key elements that define the symbiotic process between the two concepts. Therefore, considering that natural resources need to be conserved, preserved, and recovered, we postulate that river basins should be revitalized to meet the multiple uses of water on a sustainable basis, which means the achievement of water security.
In the absence of an agreed criteria regarding the implementation and measurement of the results of revitalization [45
], we defend the revitalization concept in line with the objectives of water security. The incorporation of the water security concept in the SFRP has enormous potential to produce solutions that benefit multiple sectors and enhance the effectiveness of implemented actions. Water security can provide a framework of goals for river basin revitalization, which is understood as a complex process. Water security, despite not being at the core of the mission of river basin revitalization actions, is one of its parts. On the other hand, river basin revitalization comes close to the broader concept of environmental security, where water security is one of its main results, focused on practical actions.
We also recognize that the construction of water infrastructures can be essential for achieving the water security objective (related to the guarantee of water for human beings). However, it is necessary to go beyond this, towards the concept of river basin revitalization and ecosystem preservation.