Capturing a Catchment: Data and Uncertainties in Managing Ireland’s Water Resources

Authors: Arielle Hesse*, Trinity College Dublin, Patrick Bresnihan, Trinity College Dublin
Topics: Resources, Water Resources and Hydrology, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: water, catchment, governance, data, uncertainty
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Marshall West, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Water Framework Directive (2000) directed EU member states to take a new approach to managing water resources, recast around the ecological status of water bodies and the hydro-social cycle. In Ireland, the concept of catchment has become an organizing concept to restructure water governance away from political bodies and towards communities, people, and industries in the areas where water flows. This move towards catchment thinking has broadened efforts to collect data about water bodies for the purposes of characterization, classification, and remediation. This is particularly important as Ireland has failed to meet many of its targets for water quality, and is now combining catchment thinking, data collection, and community resources to direct action to areas where progress is perceived to be achievable. Appeals to more data are often seen to resolve the uncertainties that surround the pathways of pollution in Ireland’s water sources, where rural Ireland, industrial agriculture and septic tanks play major roles. Drawing on ethnographic research in three initiatives to protect catchments in rural Ireland, this paper explores what counts as data about catchments, how it is collected, how it is interpreted and who it is shared with, to understand the implications of managing water resources through catchment thinking. We seek to understand how do these data capture, or not, legacies of economic development and local planning practices, and with what effects.

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