There is growing concern about the sustainability of groundwater supplies worldwide. In many regions, desalination—the conversion of saline water to freshwater—is viewed as a way to increase water supplies and reduce pressure on overdrawn aquifers. Using data from reports, articles, interviews, a survey, and a focus group, this paper examines if, and how, the adoption of desalination technology can lead to aquifer preservation in Baja California Sur (BCS), Mexico. The paper outlines existing institutional arrangements (i.e.
, laws, rules, norms, or organizations) surrounding desalination in BCS and concludes that there are currently no effective mechanisms to ensure aquifer preservation. Four mechanisms that could be implemented to improve groundwater management are identified, including: 1) integrated water-and land-use planning; 2) creation of an institute responsible for coordinated and consistent planning; 3) improved groundwater monitoring; and 4) implementation of water conservation measures prior to the adoption of desalination technology. This paper concludes that viewing water technologies, including desalination, as sociotechnical systems—i.e.
, a set of technological components that are embedded in complex social, political, and economic contexts—has the potential to create a more sustainable human–environment–technology relationship. By assessing desalination technology as a sociotechnical system, this study highlights the need to focus on institutional development and capacity building, especially within local water utilities and urban planning agencies.
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