We investigate the underlying social dimensions of unregulated groundwater extractions in selected European case studies.

Illustration: Krystin Unverzagt

Rules for using groundwater have emerged over centuries and originate in times when there was less stress on the resource than there is today. Stressors on groundwater include harmful, toxic input and quantity uncertainties due to climate change. This directly affects how people use groundwater ‘on the ground’ – for irrigation or drinking water, for example. At the same time, groundwater’s invisibility facilitates unruly use, and makes it more difficult to manage the resource locally, nationally and regionally. Overall, how groundwater is used and managed is related closely to the social dynamics and cultural norms surrounding it. Is the resource understood as a common good? Who owns groundwater? How is the resource distributed and by whom? How is groundwater use organised, for example by customary law?

Source of the Buna River in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Foto: Goran – Adobe Stock

This focal area approaches these questions by conducting long-term ethnographic research on the implementation of the (Ground) Water Framework Directive in local contexts. By choosing two case studies, one in the Republic of Croatia and one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we aim to investigate this comparatively. For instance, how does the G-WFD implementation work within one EU and one non-EU context? As the youngest EU member, how did the Republic of Croatia implement the required policies in its Europeanisation process? And in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, how is an EU policy such as the G-WFD implemented prior to actual EU membership? On another level, our goal is to understand how water policies affect local practices of groundwater use and how they, in turn, affect water governance. Regarding the first point, it is crucial to identify mismatches between intended consequences of the G-WFD and local practices of groundwater abstraction. For instance, unmonitored drilling of groundwater wells and concomitant unmonitored groundwater abstraction might interfere with the overall goal not to exploit groundwater resources in a specific area. The second point particularly relates to the role of knowledge practices in groundwater management and use. Here, it is important to consider how local knowledge/practices are considered in policy-making processes on local, national and regional levels and how they might influence decision-making in this respect.


Dženeta Hodžić
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research /
Goethe University Frankfurt

Prof. Dr. Gisela Welz
Goethe University Frankfurt

Dr. Fanny Frick-Trzebitzky
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research