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187 Land Use Impacts on Water Resources – Science, Social and Political Factors

Part 16. Land Use and Water Management

  1. Tim Forsyth

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa194

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Forsyth, T. 2006. Land Use Impacts on Water Resources – Science, Social and Political Factors. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 16:187.

Author Information

  1. Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


Public perceptions of land-use impacts on water resources are important because they influence formal environmental policies and popular attitudes about land use. For example, upland agriculture and deforestation are commonly blamed for reducing rainfall levels and for causing lowland water shortages, and some governments have consequently passed logging bans or restrictions on upland agriculture. However, there is intense controversy concerning whether these public perceptions are supported by scientific evidence; whether these policies may actually address underlying problems; and how far hydrological science is itself influenced by social and political factors. This article draws upon debates in social science (rather than hydrological science alone) to discuss linkages between public perceptions and scientific explanations of hydrological change. As examples, the article discusses the cases of so-called Himalayan environmental degradation; dryland desiccation in the Sahel; and debates concerning the impacts of deforestation and reforestation in watersheds. The article argues that hydrologists should not categorize public perceptions and formal science separately, but see both as mutually evolving. Dominant perceptions, or “narratives”, of hydrological change may occur from various coincidences of historical research and public concern, and reflect the viewpoints and experiences of only selected social groups. It is suggested that hydrologists can help overcome apparent conflicts between public perceptions and scientific explanations by increasing public participation in describing and framing complex environmental problems, and using this information to make existing narratives more diverse and flexible. There is also a need to understand the political and institutional factors that lead to the persistence of contested narratives within different national or organizational contexts.


  • science studies;
  • deforestation;
  • drought;
  • Himalayas;
  • land use;
  • myths;
  • Sahel;
  • water shortages;
  • watersheds