Bringing the Hydrosocial Cycle into Climate Change Adaptation Planning: Lessons from Two Andean Mountain Water Towers

Megan Mills-Novoa, Sophia L. Borgias, Arica Crootof, Bhuwan Thapa, Rafael de Grenade, Christopher A. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Glaciers, snowpack, rivers, lakes, and wetlands in mountain regions provide freshwater for much of the world's population. These systems, however, are acutely sensitive to climate change. In Andean water towers, which supply freshwater to more than 100 million people, climate change adaptation planning is critical. Adaptation plans, however, are more than just documents; they inform and are informed by sociopolitical processes with major implications for hydrosocial relations in mountain water towers. Noting the inadequate scholarly attention to climate change in relation to the hydrosocial cycle, we draw on the hydrosocial literature to examine and compare climate change adaptation plans from mountain water tower regions of Piura, Peru, and the Santiago metropolitan region in Chile. Through a hydrosocial lens, we find that these plans reinforce hydrosocial relations such as upstream–downstream disparities that tend to exclude those who access water informally, have differing ontologies of water, or have livelihoods outside of dominant economic sectors. Our analysis suggests that the Andean plans reinforce current water access patterns, missing a key opportunity to reenvision more inclusive hydrosocial relationships in the context of a changing climate. This study encourages further engagement between the climate change adaptation and hydrosocial literature within and beyond mountain water tower regions. Critical hydrosocial analysis of adaptation plans reveals gaps that must be addressed in future planning and implementation efforts if adaptation is going to provide meaningful pathways for change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-402
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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