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On Lessons from Water Recharge Projects in Mexico: Science-Policy Collaboration and Stakeholder Participation

Mary-Belle Cruz Ayala
José R. Soto
2 and
Margaret O. Wilder
Water Resources Research Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
School of Geography, Development, and Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2023, 15(1), 106;
Submission received: 16 November 2022 / Revised: 7 December 2022 / Accepted: 22 December 2022 / Published: 28 December 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Managed Aquifer Recharge: A key to Sustainability)


Analyzing collaborative practices among water governance institutions is key to generating timely information for stakeholders, policymakers, and researchers -as these are rethinking their goals and network structures to find the most productive avenues for collective work. This study draws on existing collaboration theories to characterize and analyze science-policy interactions between researchers, water managers, non-governmental organizations, and consultants who have participated or currently participate in water management and recharge projects in Mexico. We sampled 70 people that had worked or are working on water recharge projects in eight Mexican states in three broad regions: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Sonora (northern); Estado de Mexico, San Luis Potosí, Mexico City (central); and Oaxaca (southern). Participants represented research institutions, non-governmental organizations, universities, federal, state, and municipal governments, and consultants. The data were collected using a mixed-methods approach (i.e., semi-structured interviews; online surveys). We identified science-policy interactions between researchers, policymakers, and non-governmental organizations critical to effectively developing and implementing water recharge projects. Our results find that trust and stakeholder participation are the most critical elements for building collaborative relationships. Finding ways to supersede structural challenges and promote science-policy collaboration among sectors and interagency with water management responsibilities will help achieve environmental and policy goals and increase water recharge development across Mexico.

1. Introduction

Globally, the rapid depletion of groundwater has prompted the need to identify ways to improve its management. In Mexico, in the last 20 years, groundwater availability has been diminishing since water pumping has exceeded the natural recharge rate [1,2]. In the arid to semi-arid northern states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, and Sonora, almost one-third of the aquifers are overexploited [1], putting at risk water availability for human consumption and other productive activities. The federal government has implemented policies to address groundwater depletion; however, the outcomes are not encouraging. Other mechanisms and messages to be communicated are therefore important to contemplate.
Pahl-Wostl [3] has suggested that water crises are often crises of governance and not resource or knowledge problems. While there is no unique model to improve water governance, the engagement of water users and the inclusion of scientifically sound information must be incorporated [3,4]. Moreover, stimulating collaboration among sectors will help to achieve desirable (water) management outcomes [5]. Considering that one option to address groundwater depletion is implementing managed aquifer recharge projects (MAR) [6], in this research, we empirically assessed the opportunities and challenges for those who seek to collaborate on developing MAR projects. Our analysis was developed based on the results obtained in our previous study and what other scholars have researched on MAR, albeit outside the context of Mexico and Latin America. We explore the elements that enhance or hinder working relationships among sectors (cross-sector collaboration) involved in developing MAR efforts and identify the opportunities to improve these relationships.

1.1. Citizen Participation and Cross-Sector Collaboration

In Mexico, the Law of the Nation’s Waters (LAN) establishes the creation of basin councils to increase citizen participation. However, the involvement of stakeholders, including researchers, through basin councils has not been very effective. Gerlak [7] has pointed out that involvement by non-state actors in river basin organizations is often limited. Pineda-Pablos et al. [8] documented, in their study on river basin organizations in Mexico, that the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) controls all the Upper Northwest Basin Council agendas, and “the limited social participation is induced and promoted from above,” reflecting a lack of meaningful stakeholder participation within the basin. Wilder [9] found that government authorities dominate Mexico’s river basin organizations with a limited and inadequate number of stakeholder representatives from the water-using sectors. In addition to the basin councils, the LAN determines the creation of Groundwater Technical Councils (COTAS, Consejos Técnicos de Agua Subterránea) as auxiliaries of Basin Councils. One of the intended functions of these committees is to communicate and discuss technical issues with policymakers, water users, and researchers. Direct contact between researchers and policymakers is critical throughout the research process because it helps build trust, legitimacy, and openness [10,11,12]. Yet, the challenge is how scientists can effectively participate with non-scientific actors to be part of the decision-making sphere.
Cross-sector collaboration is “the linking or sharing of information, resources, activities, and capabilities by organizations in two or more sectors to achieve jointly an outcome that could not be achieved by organizations in one sector separately [13] (p. 44)”. In Mexico, some studies on cross-sector collaboration using quantitative methods have been conducted [14,15,16]. López-Martínez et al. [15] conducted a quantitative analysis to evaluate the motivations and barriers to cooperation between academics and industry. Ayala-Orozco et al. [14] analyzed the challenges faced when multiple stakeholders representing different sectors collaborated on place-based projects for sustainability and noted that “place-based partnerships including non-governmental actors, such as local communities, academics, and civil society organizations, have become central in environmental governance [14] (p. 13)”. Ayala-Orozco et al. [14] and López-Martínez et al. [15] suggest it is essential to identify the conditions that positively impact collaboration and cooperation between sectors working on natural resources conservation and, by doing this, improve water and natural resources governance.
There is a strong group of scholars focused on assessing collaboration on transboundary water resources governance at Mexico’s northern border with the United States. Megdal and Scott [16] found that establishing a working partnership between Mexico and the United States has led to a binational cooperative framework. The Transboundary Assessment Aquifer Program (TAAP) is an example of this. Petersen-Perlman et al. [17] refer to the TAAP as an example of a binational collaborative effort for the scientific assessment of aquifers shared between Mexico and the United States. Sabet [18] conducted qualitative research to characterize a binational civil society collaboration to address water-related problems in the Mexico-U.S. border region. Sabet suggests collaboration and cooperation could respond better to borderland water problems if more citizens and local governments were involved. Tapia-Villaseñor and Megdal [19] compared the TAAP with six transboundary aquifers that currently have mechanisms for groundwater collaboration; one of their findings is building trust between border communities that share water resources is an essential element for collaboration. Wilder et al. [20] analyzed turning points in hydro-diplomacy in the US-Mexico border region. They identified networks involving state and non-state stakeholders as crucial in shaping desirable regional hydro-diplomatic outcomes. Other scholars have analyzed the interactions among actors working on the Colorado River conservation activities in Mexico and the USA [6,21] and found that collaborative efforts between stakeholders in the USA and Mexico have positively impacted transboundary water governance.
Regarding groundwater recharge, globally, studies on cross-sector collaboration have seldom been carried out. We found one example exploring the interactions and conflicts on two managed aquifer recharge (MAR) projects in Finland [22]. The authors evaluated the limitations of these MAR projects through the lens of collaborative rationality, discourse analysis, and negotiation theory. They observed that “success or failure in MAR cooperation is related to management cultures and the ways in which various interests are taken into account [22] (p. 1369)”.

1.2. Fostering Collaborative Interactions and Conflicts

Trust, personal relationships, constant communication, and financial resources are some elements that foster collaborative interactions. Trust positively influences the intention to share knowledge and increase collaboration [23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30]. For instance, researchers studying networks and science-policy interactions in the Mexico-USA border region have identified that building trust between people working in this region is essential to maintain collaborative efforts and even strengthen hydro-diplomacy [6,20,21]. Communication helps maintain harmonious working relationships. Gerlak [6] and Rivera-Torres et al. [21] have documented that communication has been essential in increasing cooperation among actors working on conservation activities in the Colorado River basin. Moreover, Rivera-Torres et al. [21] argue that “respectful communication has been key; communicating the rationale behind decision-making allows other parties to understand the reasoning and limitations without sounding unwilling to compromise”.
In an ideal world, science-policy interactions would be balanced and equally endowed with resources, influence, and perfect communication [31]. However, beyond the obvious potential challenges associated with the technical discipline, several factors can negatively influence collaborative interactions and generate conflicts among the people involved. Conflicts in cross-sector collaboration can occur when externalities created by actions or decisions at one level negatively impact another [32]. Ayala-Orozco et al. [14] conducted a cross-sector collaborative study with organizations working on conservation projects in Mexico. They found that lack of funding and leadership negatively impact collaboration; a limited budget makes it impossible to work in more communities. Other authors suggest that appropriate stakeholder representation, frequent communication, and mutual trust are essential to reduce conflicts [26,27,33].

1.3. Categorizing the Interactions

Collaboration theorists have proposed that the interaction between people or organizations is a continuum from low to high integration. It means the interactions can have stages with different characteristics [23,27,34,35,36]. The type and frequency of communication, common goals, trust, leadership, decision-making, variety of agreements, physical and non-physical resources shared are some elements considered to categorize interactions [23,27,36]. Frey et al. [36] propose six stages or categories of interactions: •No interaction at all • Networking •Cooperation •Coordination •Coalition •Collaboration. Our study follows Frey et al. [36], although we are not included coalition because its features are similar to coordination (Table 1).

1.4. Politics and Water Policy

Politics plays a crucial role in water governance [42,43] since water is connected to all sectors of society [44]. Therefore, the creation and implementation of water policies must be assessed considering the political agendas of each actor in the policy arena. Ayala-Orozco et al. [14] documented the impacts caused by policy changes in Mexico when new people take office; they found that political transitions modify government programs. Political turnover every three years in municipal administrations is one of the most critical barriers to maintaining long-term collaboration partnerships [45]. Political adjustments can also disrupt professional relationships [46].
In 2018, Andrés Manuel López-Obrador (AMLO) was elected president of Mexico; his political party has been categorized as center-left. AMLO has defined his government as progressive and transformative, claiming to usher in a so-called “Fourth National Transformation” [47]. The AMLO government has implemented new water policies and changed several natural resources and water management programs. AMLO’s government has been intensely criticized because it has made federal budget cuts, especially for science and technology [48]. Regarding CONAGUA, in 2019, its budget was reduced, but since 2020, it has been increasing [49]. In Mexico, Ojanen et al. [50] have documented political changes impact agreed-upon working agendas in the forest sector and found that a “new key person might support different political priorities and thus have no interest in supporting the science-policy interface [50] (p. 10).” Considering the political context with the AMLO’s government in office and the implemented changes, we asked participants in our study whether they identified the federal government had changed policies for water recharge projects.
In our previous research, we identified and characterized MAR projects operating in Mexico, interviewed water managers, and asked about their working relationships with representatives from other sectors [51,52]. Following the results of that research, the main objective of this study is to identify and characterize the science-policy interactions between people from different sectors working on water recharge projects in the specific context of Mexico. Analyzing the ingredients of successful collaboration practices would generate helpful information for stakeholders, policymakers, and researchers to make informed decisions and improve their collective work.
This paper is organized as follows: the first section presents the theoretical frameworks used in this study, definitions, and characteristics of each type of interaction identified. The second part of the paper describes the methods used, including details about the previous interviews [52] and the surveys. The last two portions of this paper include a description of the results and the discussion and conclusions.

2. Materials and Methods

The data for the present study were gathered from seven states in three broadly across-distributed regions in Mexico and Mexico City—the country’s capital, the seat of the powers of the federation, which is not fully acknowledged as a state. We present data obtained from two sources:
(1) Semi-structured interviews were conducted at three sites (Chihuahua, Mexico City, and Sonora) during the summer and fall of 2019 and spring of 2020. In the interviews (31), we gathered detailed information from professional experience when implementing MAR projects, the working relationship between researchers and water managers, and the participation of researchers in government councils and committees [52]. When we interviewed people, we asked about their working relationships with other institutions and people working on recharge projects; not all the interviewees responded to this question. Therefore, the information presented in this article is limited to this condition.
(2) A survey applied to people who had worked or are working on MAR projects; chosen participants are in the following states: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, and Mexico City (See Figure 1). The survey was pretested with 14 people prior to launching it. Seventy people from research institutions, non-governmental organizations (ONGs), universities, federal, state, and municipal governments, and consultants were recruited. The survey was activated from 12 April 2021, to 20 May 2021, and distributed via email. In the email sent to the potential participants, the study’s objectives were described, and the anonymity of their responses was clarified. Our previous research allowed us to identify potential participants and learn about other scholars through their published articles. In addition, we followed the snowballing method for recruitment; some participants suggested the names of other scholars or policymakers. Following Dillman [53], we sent three reminders to the participants.
The survey was composed of 17 questions. In the first section, the following definitions and characteristics (Table 1) for each type of interaction was provided, and asked participants to categorize their type of interactions considering four categories:
Networking: rounds in which individuals interact and connect with others, intending to share information or disseminate knowledge.
Cooperation: the interaction between participants with capabilities to achieve organizational goals but have chosen to work together.
Coordination: the interaction between participants in which formal linkages are mobilized because assistance from others is needed to achieve organizational goals.
Collaboration: refers to multiple stakeholders sharing resources and working together to achieve a common goal.
Participants characterized their interactions with the following actors: National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua, CONAGUA), the Mexican Institute of Water Technology (Instituto Mexicano de Tecnología del Agua, IMTA), the National Council of Science and Technology research centers (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, CONACYT), state governments, municipal governments, Federal Universities (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM, and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, UAM), State Universities, non-governmental organizations, consultants, and researchers from the USA.
Following this question, the participants were asked to use a Likert-type scale to respond to how often they met with the listed institutions. Dittrich et al. [54] define the Likert-type scale as “where responses to questions are measured on a continuum of two endpoints”, assuming an equal distance in variation between two consecutive points.
The second section aimed to identify principal drivers and barriers to working together on water management and recharge projects. A list of possible drivers and barriers was provided based on the results obtained in previous research [51] and the literature review [27,35,36,41]. Participants selected the elements and conditions fostering or hindering the creation of working relationships on water recharge projects. In the third section of the survey, the participants were asked whether they had identified changes in federal water policies since the AMLO government took office (2018). For all the questions, participants could opt not to respond and move on to the next question.
The Human Subjects Protection Program of the University of Arizona reviewed and approved the study protocol (protocol number 1907776608) for the interviews and surveys. This protocol establishes, among other details, that participation in this study was voluntary and anonymous.

3. Results

We interviewed 31 people, eight researchers, three from CONAGUA, seven from municipal governments, four from state governments, three representatives of NGOs, and two consultants; in this article, we only present information from the interviewee’s responses concerning collaboration. Regarding the surveys, 27 people responded to the questionnaire, representing a response rate of 38%; most respondents were researchers (48%), while no response was received from CONAGUA (Table 2).

3.1. Categorizing the Interactions

In the survey, collaboration was the type of interaction most participants had with the listed institutions. CONAGUA was the institution most mentioned as a collaborator, followed by municipal governments and NGOs (see Figure 2). Regarding the origin of the collaboration, State Universities, followed by municipal governments, are the institutions that have most frequently looked to collaborate with other actors. On the other hand, people from Federal Universities and State Governments selected only two institutions with whom they have collaborated.
Networking was the second category that participants identified as having engaged in most frequently, and the Federal Universities are the institutions most frequently mentioned (8). Regarding the origin of networking, as with collaboration, participants from State Universities named the highest number of institutions. State governments identified their relationship with the CONACYT research centers as networking (Figure 2).
In the interviews, officials from CONAGUA in Chihuahua and Sonora mentioned that people from this agency collaborate with researchers and State Governments to promote MAR efforts. However, State representatives from Sonora did not mention the collaboration with other stakeholders working on recharge projects, which is analogous to the responses received for the surveys. Municipal representatives said they collaborate with researchers, CONAGUA, state governments, NGOs, and scholars from State Universities. These interactions lack bi-directionality, where each actor informs and enhances the other Petersen-Pearlman et al., 2021, [18]. In summary, institutions and stakeholders look to collaborate with federal and state governments, but there is not the same response from these authorities.
In addition to the type of relationship, participants were asked how often they met with the listed institutions. Municipal governments are the institutions that participants meet with more frequently for water projects; it is understandable since municipal governments are the closest authority responsible for providing water services. State Universities are the second most frequently selected. The institutions and actors less often mentioned are the Mexican Institute of Water Technology (IMTA) and Researchers from the USA.

3.2. Drivers and Barriers to Building Collaborative Interactions

3.2.1. Drivers

Two questions were included to identify the main drivers and barriers to creating successful working interactions. For this question, a list of elements to be selected was provided; trust was the most frequently chosen as “very important,” after this, formal and informal communication channels and the participation of water users in the project were selected most often. On the other hand, “researchers familiar with the technical proposal” was the option most frequently chosen as “not important” (see Figure 3).

3.2.2. Barriers

Regarding the barriers, the financial budget of the project is insufficient (27%) was the option most frequently selected, and the second was due to applicable regulations (21%). In Mexico, federal laws do not clearly define the procedures to obtain a permit to build MAR infrastructure. Some interviewees mentioned that lack of clarity in the regulations prevents people from involving o participating in these efforts. Even facilities that are currently functioning do not have permits or authorization from the federal authorities. In addition to the regulations, the environmental characteristics of the selected site are inadequate, and disagreements in defining the site for the water project were selected (4%, see Table 3).
Overall, our results align with what other scholars have observed regarding building collaboration, especially the driver that participants selected more frequently, trust. Concerning the barriers, “budget considerations” was the barrier that most participants chose.
In addition to the options provided, a text box was included asking to define the specific barriers encountered. Participants mentioned that in some cases, water managers or researchers propose projects lacking a comprehensive perspective and do not include key stakeholders. It was also said that (frequently) federal water managers do not support water recharge projects “because they lack a long-term perspective.” Another barrier mentioned was the “absence of incentives to create MAR projects”, especially with municipal water managers operating MAR facilities because maintenance costs are considerable, and they are not receiving federal support. Some researchers commented that regarding water availability, official water data “are insufficient and (in some cases) contradictory,” which might impact hydrologic modeling.

3.3. Changes in Federal Water Policies

In 2018, the federal government under President Lopez-Obrador (AMLO) took office, proposing a transformation of public policies. The main objective of the AMLOs government was to eliminate corruption in the public sector. We asked whether the participants had noticed changes in federal water policies with the AMLOs government. If the response was positive, we asked what changes participants identified after AMLO took office. Almost half of the participants (48.4%) consider that the federal water policy has changed, while 22.6% responded no, and 20% opted not to answer the question. As for the people who noticed changes in federal water policy, the majority selected “less financial support for water management and recharge projects.” Only a few consider that “new communication channels have been created.” Finally, most participants responded that current legislation and government programs do not stimulate cross-sectoral collaboration for water recharge projects.

4. Discussion

To the best of our knowledge, this study represents one of the first investigations focused on identifying and quantitatively assessing cross-sector science-policy collaboration for water recharge projects in Mexico. The results are similar to those conducted in other fields; for instance, in studies to evaluate collaborative interactions in educational settings and between schools and non-profit organizations [30,36,38,55]. However, it must be emphasized that most of these studies have been conducted in developed countries, and Mexico’s economic and social conditions are different from those nations.
Collaboration was the option most frequently selected to self-characterize the interaction among the people developing water management and recharge projects. This result is, to some extent, surprising since this type of relationship is the most difficult to build because it requires a high level of commitment and resources from each actor involved. Although it should also be noted that during the interviews conducted, some researchers mentioned they collaborated or have collaborated with governments and vice versa. A couple of reasons might explain why collaboration was chosen as the most frequent type of relationship. First, the number of people working on water recharge projects is small; they know each other. Thus, a professional relationship has been nurtured for several years because of consistent contact, which Lemos and Morehouse [56] refer to as sustained and iterative interactions. Another element is that, in some cases, when using the Likert scale, participants tend to select the edges -as a bipolar scale. In this case, our participants choose networking and collaboration.
CONAGUA is the national agency responsible for enforcing regulations and defining national policies [57,58]. Our results indicate most of the participants collaborate with this institution. However, the response from CONAGUA when conducting this study was quite limited, yet when the survey was sent to people from this agency, no response was received. Fortunately, we could interview some officials from this agency in Chihuahua and Sonora; they mentioned that they collaborated with researchers and municipal governments. Since CONAGUA is responsible for creating dedicated policies for water recharge projects, it should be desirable to have a comprehensive perspective from this agency regarding its interest in increasing collaboration for water recharge projects.
Inadequate communication can generate conflicts and be a barrier to building trust, which is a fundamental element for collaboration. Our study provides evidence of the willingness of researchers to communicate their findings to CONAGUA; however, according to the interviewees, the communication channels are scarce. This condition might limit the federal agency from adopting new knowledge scholars produce. It would mean that a relatively weak and infrequent intersection between the information needs of the federal agency and the evidence that researchers can provide is restraining collaboration.
Communication fosters trust. In this study, most respondents selected trust as the most important element in working with other institutions on water management or recharge projects, which aligns with the findings from other scholars. For instance, researchers have documented that trust is an essential element that facilitates relationships, sharing knowledge, and bolstering cooperation among actors from different sectors working in the Mexico-US border region on water-related topics [2,6,20]. In addition, our results showed that communication, financial resources, and water users’ participation were acknowledged as drivers of creating working relationships. On the contrary, one of the barriers identified in the survey was the lack of financial resources. Researchers interviewed mentioned that collaboration help to share financial resources and maintain projects operating for more than one year. Limited financial resources can also incentivize cooperation since scientists often seek funding outside their sphere [36, 59]. In addition, establishing financing mechanisms with NGOs and external sources for water recharge projects may help dedicate funds to restore a more significant number of aquifers or maintain water facilities.
The second most frequent type of relationship that participants selected was networking. Networking helps to share information and knowledge without signing agreements or being in the same location; it is generally the most natural way to build relationships. Networking is common among researchers situated in distant regions and countries in academic environments, especially when working together for publishing [60,61,62]. In Mexico, people conducting research or managing water recharge projects are located in distant locations; in many cases, it is impossible to hold in-person meetings or share financial resources. However, the physical distance has not limited the creation of working relationships as networking. In general, networking reflects informal relationships between the involved actors; in this sense, Scholz et al. [63] point out that when a collective action problem, “informal relationships provide one potential resource for mitigating the problem [64] (p. 1)”.
CONAGUA and municipal governments are the institutions with which participants frequently look to collaborate. Regarding the relation with CONAGUA, according to our results, the intention to collaborate has sometimes been unidirectional; users and stakeholders maintain communication, provide information, or share resources. In the long term, this unidirectionality will not help support and strengthen working relationships, which would impact the development of water recharge projects. On the other hand, municipalities are interested in collaborating on water recharge projects with researchers, NGOs, and universities, among other actors, which is understandable because local governments face the day-to-day need to provide potable water. Municipal authorities are looking for options to maintain or increase water availability for human consumption.
Participants in our study cited that insufficient financial support, regulations, and a lack of professional leadership are barriers to building collaborative relationships. According to the LAN, a permit is needed to build MAR infrastructure; however, this law does not define the requirements that must be fulfilled. As we documented in our previous research, current regulations clearly define a discharge permit but not a recharge permit. This gap in the legal framework prevents researchers and water managers from participating in or launching MAR efforts. In addition, there need to be clear rules about how the water will be appropriated to incentivize investment in these efforts.
Furthermore, when conducting interviews, researchers identified that annual-term funding for water recharge does not allow them to carry out long-term projects. Interviewees mentioned that it is insufficient to evaluate the technical viability when you have only one year of data. In addition, a few survey respondents commented, “federal water managers do not support water recharge projects because they lack a long-term perspective.” In summary, the amount of money and funding duration were acknowledged as barriers to collaboration on water recharge projects; a mismatch between long-term goals, such as the development of managed aquifer recharge, and funding available only year-to-year.
Several survey participants responded that they do not take part in any governmental water committees or councils. The Law of the Nation’s Waters establishes councils and committees as avenues to incorporate citizens’ participation in water management. However, scholars have documented that, in some cases, these councils have not worked well because the federal government controls the agenda, and the results of Basin Councils meetings have a non-binding legal effect on the government policies [7,58,64,65]. In many cases, these councils remain dominated by government authorities and interests and fail to integrate real water users’ involvement. Therefore, a pending issue is how to utilize the existing networking and collaboration we documented in this study to incorporate more stakeholders in deliberative bodies such as Basin Councils to influence water policies.
Some of the drivers identified helping to develop cross-sectoral collaborative relationships are stakeholders’ participation in water management and recharge projects. In this regard, Jacobs et al. [66] have suggested that multi-stakeholder bodies are more likely to engage diverse interests and knowledge needed to negotiate water management. However, lack of trust, lack of leadership, poor or inadequate communication, and insufficient funding are some factors that can negatively impact working relationships. Our results indicated that people participating in water recharge projects had faced conflicts with water managers, especially with federal authorities, because communication is limited. Although we interviewed officials from CONAGUA, we need more information from the federal authorities in this regard to help us identify the causes of disagreement or conflicts. Some participants mentioned that one of the causes of dispute is that “people conducting MAR projects lack a comprehensive perspective and do not include key stakeholders when developing them.”
Almost 50% of our survey respondents reported that since AMLO took office, financial resources have been reduced. We are writing this paper in 2022, and according to the available information, the budget for CONAGUA has increased since 2020. It would mean that the federal government has not adequately communicated how the financial resources for water projects are being allocated, the priorities have changed, or the money has been devoted to other programs. Specifically, adjustments in federal programs affect the project duration for water projects and as discussed above, may affect the ability to monitor water recharge facilities or pilot projects if the financial resources are shortened or limited for only one year.
This study represents the first approach to understanding the relationships between actors working on MAR projects in Mexico. We acknowledge the limitation of our results in terms of the sample size. Although it should be remarked that this study was conducted when the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting, it is not possible to generalize our outcomes. More research on this topic must be performed to have a broad perspective of the role that collaborative relationships have in boosting/hindering the implementation of MAR projects in Mexico.

5. Conclusions

This is the first study we are aware of to examine the science-policy collaboration on water recharge across sectors in Mexico or Latin America. Our results show that researchers, water managers, NGOs, and consultants working on water recharge projects have built cross-sector science-policy collaborative relationships when developing water recharge projects. Trust and communication are recognized as essential ingredients in fostering these interactions. Our outcomes align with the results that scholars have described in other contexts. However, several findings stand out in the science-policy interface in the context of Mexico: (1) the key role of State Universities in promoting and fostering science-policy interaction around groundwater recharge at local municipal levels; (2) Barriers to integration of stakeholder participation due to the centralization of power and authority in the federal water agency, CONAGUA, despite Mexico’s proclaimed intentions to decentralize water authority; (3) limited interest from federal and state governments to collaborate with other actors involved in water recharge projects, and (4) structural barriers due to a mismatch between the long-term goal of managed aquifer recharge and the short-term (year-to-year) availability of funding which in turn disincentivizes science-policy collaboration.
Considering the definitions provided, most of the people interviewed or surveyed working on water recharge projects identified their relationship as collaboration; it would mean they share resources, and knowledge, maintain constant communication and have formal agreements signed. The second most frequent type of relationship selected was networking, a typical interaction among researchers. It allows them to share knowledge and information without signing formal agreements and living in different countries or cities.
Some scholars noted that sharing funding is one of the objectives of creating collaborative relationships. Some interviewees mentioned that Mexico’s water governance institutional design is limited in promoting shared funding; hence, this is a pending issue that needs further research. There is a need to create long-term funding to sustain MAR-related research projects because only long-term monitoring can adequately assess whether they are viable or unfeasible. Year-to-year data is insufficient to evaluate the technical viability of a water recharge project.
Inter-sectoral and inter-agency collaboration among sectors will help achieve water recharge policy goals. Our results align with the scholarly literature that suggests that the engagement of water users and the inclusion of scientific sound information are fundamental requirements to sustain collaboration. By contrast, our study found that a lack of formal and supported communication channels is a barrier to enhancing collaboration around MAR.
The current legal framework for water recharge efforts is considered a barrier to collaboration because the LAN does not define the requirements to obtain a permit for water recharge nor the allocation of the recharged water. These conditions generate uncertainty for people interested in investing in or researching water recharge projects.
In summary, we identified and analyzed the existence of cross-sectoral science-policy relationships among researchers, policymakers, and non-governmental organizations that are critical to the effective development and implementation of water recharge projects. In this article, we documented there is collaboration among people working on water recharge projects. As Mexico is experiencing political changes at the federal level and new policies have been implemented, the existence of solid working relationships could help communicate these changes and incorporate proposals from stakeholders. Mexico finds itself edging into a water crisis with depleted aquifers and a lack of universal access. Finding ways to supersede structural challenges and foster integrative science-policy collaboration among sectors and inter-agencies with water management responsibilities will help achieve environmental and policy goals and increase water recharge development across Mexico.
While Mexico’s experience to date reflects the literature on collaboration in other contexts with regard to the importance of trust, for example, Mexico’s case underscores specific structural issues and communication gaps particular to that country that may be relevant for understanding MAR development elsewhere in Latin America and the global South.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, M.-B.C.A.; methodology, M.-B.C.A. and J.R.S.; investigation, M.-B.C.A.; resources, M.-B.C.A.; data curation, M.-B.C.A. and J.R.S.; writing—original draft preparation, M.-B.C.A. and M.O.W.; writing—review and editing, M.-B.C.A. and M.O.W.; funding acquisition, M.-B.C.A. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This work was partially funded by the National Council of Science and Technology in Mexico (CONACYT) through a doctoral fellowship to MBCA (73788); the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research CRN3056 Project supported by NSF grant number GEO-1128040 via support from the Udall Centre for Studies in Public Policy; the Tinker Field Research Grant Summer 2019 via the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona; and the Carson Scholars University of Arizona (Cohort 2020). Center for Latin American Studies.

Data Availability Statement

Data sharing does not apply to this article.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Study sites: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Ciudad de Mexico, Chihuahua, Estado de Mexico, Oaxaca, Sonora, and San Luis Potosí.
Figure 1. Study sites: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Ciudad de Mexico, Chihuahua, Estado de Mexico, Oaxaca, Sonora, and San Luis Potosí.
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Figure 2. Representation of the interactions that participants identified maintained when conducting water recharge projects. Colored lines represent the type of interactions, networking (red), cooperation (blue), coordination (yellow), and collaboration (green); the numbers represent the frequency that participants selected that type of interaction.
Figure 2. Representation of the interactions that participants identified maintained when conducting water recharge projects. Colored lines represent the type of interactions, networking (red), cooperation (blue), coordination (yellow), and collaboration (green); the numbers represent the frequency that participants selected that type of interaction.
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Figure 3. Participants’ responses when answering the question: How important are the following aspects for working with other institutions on water management or recharge projects? (n = 27).
Figure 3. Participants’ responses when answering the question: How important are the following aspects for working with other institutions on water management or recharge projects? (n = 27).
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Table 1. Type of working interactions and their characteristics (source: Avram [37]; Chedid et al. [38]; Frey et al. [36]; Keast et al. [35]; Keast et al. [39]; Mayer and Kenter [40]; McNamara [28]; Morris and Miller-Stevens [41]).
Table 1. Type of working interactions and their characteristics (source: Avram [37]; Chedid et al. [38]; Frey et al. [36]; Keast et al. [35]; Keast et al. [39]; Mayer and Kenter [40]; McNamara [28]; Morris and Miller-Stevens [41]).
CharacteristicsNetworkingCooperation Coordination Collaboration
AgreementsInformal agreementInformal agreementFormal agreementInformal and formal agreements
CommunicationOccasional communication Frequent communication through informal channels.Periodical communication through informal channels.Constant communication through formal channels.
TrustMay existIt is developed through frequent interactionExistExist
InformationInformation is occasionally exchangedInformation is frequently exchanged Information is exchanged through informal channels.Information is exchanged through formal and informal channels.
ResourcesNo resources are shared.Resources are exchanged to achieve individual goalsResources are exchanged to achieve collective goals.Resources are shared in support of collective goals
Table 2. Number of interviews and surveys conducted.
Table 2. Number of interviews and surveys conducted.
Sector/InstitutionResponses Received to the SurveysInterviews
Municipal representatives37
State representatives24
Non-governmental representatives33
Table 3. Barriers that participants selected for building a collaborative relationship when working on water recharge projects (n = 27).
Table 3. Barriers that participants selected for building a collaborative relationship when working on water recharge projects (n = 27).
Barriers IdentifiedPercent
The financial budget of the project is insufficient27%
Due to applicable regulations21%
Lack of professional leadership9%
The technical information shared by researchers is insufficient.7%
The environmental characteristics of the selected site are not adequate4%
Due to disagreements in defining the site of a water project4%
I would prefer not to answer16%
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Cruz Ayala, M.-B.; Soto, J.R.; Wilder, M.O. On Lessons from Water Recharge Projects in Mexico: Science-Policy Collaboration and Stakeholder Participation. Water 2023, 15, 106.

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Cruz Ayala M-B, Soto JR, Wilder MO. On Lessons from Water Recharge Projects in Mexico: Science-Policy Collaboration and Stakeholder Participation. Water. 2023; 15(1):106.

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Cruz Ayala, Mary-Belle, José R. Soto, and Margaret O. Wilder. 2023. "On Lessons from Water Recharge Projects in Mexico: Science-Policy Collaboration and Stakeholder Participation" Water 15, no. 1: 106.

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