The evolution of rural-urban watersheds in France, Mexico and Colombia has been driven by some SES key variables in such a way that their comparison will allow capturing a large diversity of situations.


France centralised governance during the Trente Glorieuses developed a top-down watershed planning both in terms of protected areas and urban and industrial development. While most forests have seen their surface expand, one of the main problems faced by water users has been quality: excess of nitrates and phosphates coming from agriculture as well as organic chemicals such as chlorinated compounds have posed a health and water use problem. Since the late 90’s a progressive devolution of political power at regional level, the harmonisation with Europe in terms of protected areas networks and water standards together with an increase number of local organisations and associations intervening in watershed decisions has created a new environment where bottom-up governance has gained strength. Finally, the increasing number of organic farms, a unique process together with few countries such as Spain, Germany, Italy and the US, has also created a new social-ecological driver in term polycentric governance, local development values and decrease water pollution from industrial chemicals.


Our study site in France is the Maurienne socio-ecological system. Maurienne is the longest valley in the French Alps, with 56 municipalities and >43,000 inhabitants. Its major drivers of change have been the Insdustrialisation, the modernization of agriculture and its winter and summer tourism.

Mexico has traditionally experienced hybrid Federal-and-State governance, with some competencies managed at the Federal level and other at the State level. Whereas agriculture has shown diverse patterns of cattle, maize and other commercial crops, it has experienced since the late 80’s a strong urban exodus. The Mexican-endemic form of local governance of ejidosand communitieshas been experiencing a continued disintegration and privatisation of communal lands, the majority of them under forest cover. Deforestation has not been stopped in part to wild fires, cattle expansion and illegal logging. Under the lack of interest and capacity of the federal water authorities to impose a top down organisation of watershed, the coordination of actors at the watershed level is relatively recent and follows a clearly bottom-up and polycentric governance. Some of these examples are the emergence of The Nature Conservancy water funds, local payments for environmental services schemes launched by local water enterprises and international funding from the Global Environmental Fund to coordinate land uses following a “water basin” concept.

Our study sites in Mexico are Mexico City and Copalita-Zimatlán-Huatulco complex :

Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in North America, it has a total surface of 1,485 km2 and it is subdivided into Urban and Conservation Land. The 59% of its territory is dedicated to conservation given its ecological and sociocultural relevance and diversity. Its conservation area encloses the 11% of the national biological richness (2% in the globe). Its major problem is the growth of the city, the change of land use and the high rate of deforestation. ​TRASSE will be focused in the study of 4 micro-watersheds in Mexico City: Eslava, San Buenaventura, La Magdalena and El Zorrillo, where there are different communities with a longitudinal profile and bio-cultural diversity.

On the other hand, Copalita-Zimatlán-Huatulco complex is located in the south of the mexican state of Oaxaca. It has 74% of the mexican vegetation types, including temperate and tropical ecosystems. The 90% of its population lives under margination, although they provide a lot of services related with the tourism. This complex has a lot of issues related with their main production systems, such as the low profits of their agricultural production, the increasing use of agrochemicals, the expansion of cattle raising, the abandonment and aging of coffee plantations and the lack of infraestructure investment.


Mexico City


Colombia has experienced a totally polycentric and decentralised model of watershed governance. In part due to the geographical constraints, in part due to the lack of territorial security that has fragmented the country for more than 40 years, watershed actors have had a mainly uncoordinated model of occupation. While private farmers invested in extensive cattle, municipal water companies assured water provisioning in terms of volume and hydraulic infrastructure without a real connection with the territory. Only some recent institutional initiatives around the capital of Bogota and the city of Manizales have attempted to propose bottom-up coordinating policies –like the Procuenca project in Manizales initiated by FAO in 2007. Under the post-conflict context and the possible reorganisation of land to create peasant territories, including the political re-integration of large parts of the territory –some mountain areas, a complex social-ecological trajectory is about to begin. In particular, the way local and national governance will be able to find synergies or enter in conflict will affect the sustainability of ecosystem services –e.g. the recent opposition of the Cajamarca population to the AngloGold Ashanti gold mine.

tRASSE Project will be focus in the Riogrande Basin, located in the Northwest of Medellin. Some of its major problems are the 

 high levels of deforestation, the loss of biodiversity,  the expansion of agriculture and livestock activities, the high dependence of chemical inputs for production, the pollution of the water sources, the increase in intensity of flooding events caused by deforestation, the overexploitation of land, the low presence of environmental institutions, the health problems related with water pollution, and the communities’s lack of awareness of environmental problems.


Trajectories of Social-Ecological Systems in Latin American Watersheds

Research project ANR-CONACYT