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Environ Eng Res > Volume 29(3); 2024 > Article
Radaei, Salehi, Moghaddam, Dehkordi, and Radaei: Look at the past, vision for the future with the groundwater sustainability approach in desert regions


Ancient civilizations long practiced sustainable and integrated water resource management. To implement groundwater sustainability policies and strategies, this study introduces ecological wisdom as a transdisciplinary integrated approach. The present study aims to present strategies for the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing Qanat hydraulic structure (QHS) with the groundwater sustainability approach in an Iranian desert region. Thus, the constraints of the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS were extracted using the structural-interpretive model, and the strategies for their development and evolution were presented with an operational-prescriptive approach. The results indicate that 14 variables can be identified as strategic constraints for the development and evolution of QHS. Also, based on eleven extracted scenarios with strong consistency, only two highly adaptable scenarios would design strategies for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS. Therefore, Rethinking the ancient heritage and developing ecological wisdom which governs it not only manifests the ecological considerations and cultural-social values of local communities but also considers a comprehensive and transdisciplinary approach to addressing materialism and reductionism challenges as well as providing a pattern for making visible the invisible treasure and groundwater sustainability in dry regions

1. Introduction

Groundwater is a common and invisible resource of fresh water; stakeholders seldom have sufficient understanding of the volume, interactions, changes, and vulnerability of groundwater against various natural and human driving forces [16]. Although the concepts of groundwater sustainability have been increasingly considered in groundwater policies, laws, and regulations in some countries in the world, the lack of a holistic view and interdisciplinary communication has created a profound challenge in oprationalizing policies, strategies, and programs among stakeholder, scientific communities, managers, and decision makings regarding groundwater sustainability [610].
New challenges require new thinking. Therefore, removing the wrong beliefs and updating common sense is very important. In the framework of comprehensive views and understanding the goals as well as challenges ahead, it will be possible to provide effective and practical strategies [1113]. A multi-disciplinary and integrated approach facilitates developing capacity and capability (both people and knowledge), cooperation and participation of stakeholders, monitoring and evaluations, financial and political support, governance, and optimal policy-making for groundwater sustainability [6, 10, 1417].
Historically, water resources have been managed in an integrated and sustainable manner. In areas with limited access to water and generally in dry areas such as Iran, historical hydraulic structures are man-made ancient water systems that provide life and civilization [18, 19]. The rich hydraulic heritage not only manifests the cultural values of local communities but is also a model for sustainable structure and performance [20, 21] as well as the manifestation of ecological wisdom [22]. Ecological wisdom governing historical hydraulic heritage is the product of experiences over generations that have fully understood that the sustainability of resources and the survival of communities mainly depend on how to plan, manage, resolve conflicts, solve problems, and adapt to the environment [19]. The importance of ecological wisdom in sustainability is its effectiveness in practice, its ability to predict the performance of executive studies, and its evolutionary capacity over decades and centuries. Thus, in the current era, much emphasis has been placed on the regeneration, development, and evolution of ecological wisdom plus its application in planning and managing socio-ecological systems [23].
Iran is the cradle of the Karizi civilization, and Yazd province is the center of this civilization due to its geographical necessity. The age of the Qanat hydraulic structure (QHS) in Iran can be estimated as old as 30 centuries based on the remains of the ancient Qanats in the area of the ancient castles [24]. Numerous studies such as [22, 2427] have explained the history, objectives, design, structure, function, site selection, and importance of QHS. QHS is a solution to provide a continuous flow of water in desert areas with limited access to surface water. QHS is a set of vertical wells that are connected by a tunnel with a gentle slope and carry underground water to the surface without pumping and based on the force of gravity. QHS is a socio-ecological and eco-friendly system that has shaped human life for centuries in desert areas. QHS has designed, built, and managed by the local community to exploit, transfer, distribute, and utilize groundwater resources based on the principles and rules of ecological wisdom [22]. Changes in economic-social conditions, the use of unsustainable techniques of overexploiting groundwater resources, as well as digging deep and semi-deep wells have reduced the groundwater level, disrupted the function of QHS, or turned it into an abandoned structure in this desert region. Since the awareness of the past will have an effective and unique role in drawing favorable prospects for the future, ignoring the historical heritage can lead to unfavorable management policies and programs. Therefore, the research questions can be formulated as follows:
  • How can ecological wisdom governing ancient hydraulic structures lead to groundwater sustainability?

  • What are the main constraints for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain, Yazd province, Iran?

  • What are the strategies for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain, Yazd Province, Iran?

Based on these questions, the present study aimed to develop and evolve ecological wisdom governing the ancient hydraulic heritage for groundwater sustainability. The objectives of the study were as follows: (i) to explain the importance of ecological wisdom in the sustainability of groundwater; (ii) to identify the constraints of the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS; (iii) to Present strategies for the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS with the groundwater sustainability approach.
A transdisciplinary approach to groundwater sustainability was used to highlight the significance of ecological wisdom as well as the requirement for its growth and evolution. The constraints of the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS were identified using a structural-interpretive model. Finally, the strategies were presented for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS. Thus, expanding the intellectual foundation of ecological wisdom in various sciences will not only be a part of the evolution of interdisciplinary sciences, but it is also a safeguard of ancient values and a guarantee for implementing resource sustainability policy.

2. Theoretical Framework

Ideas, rules, historically proven contextual strategies, and even approaches that lead to long-term sustainability can define ecological wisdom [28, 29]. Ecological wisdom is a particular case which includes ancient ideas for optimal communication between humans and nature plus adaptation to environmental conditions [30]. The creation of sustainable structures and operations can be the result of integrating social and ecological systems. In China, the Dujiangyan irrigation system, the Suranga groundwater structures in India, and the QHS in Iran are examples of groundwater resource management systems that have contributed to the development of human civilization. QHS is the symbol of ecological wisdom that has contributed to the formation of human civilization, and they seldom have the previous optimal efficiency, due to mismanagement, in the present era. In response to poor management, they are often less effective than they used to be.
Researchers such as [2122, 3134] have tried to strengthen the link between social and ecological systems as well as emphasize the regeneration of ecological wisdom to reduce the negative impact of the development of social systems on ecological systems. Thus, ecological wisdom is widely restored and recommended for the planning and management of socio-ecological systems in modern times [23, 36]. The principles of ecological wisdom involve the use of a holistic perspective and a collaborative approach to enhance ecosystem services, to regulate the interventions of the social system on the ecological system, and to create a sustainable structure and function alongside dynamic management of processes [22]. Multiple functions of ecological wisdom provide a context for supporting the development and maintenance of socio-ecological or socio-hydrological systems by creating structural, functional, and management systems. Its regeneration can proudly be the cornerstone of sustainable management in modern cities.
Over the past years, academic studies on groundwater have been well-developed [3742]. However, most of the classical solutions for groundwater sustainability are based on regulatory, economic, institutional, as well as infrastructural instruments and cooperative mechanisms [38, 42]. Nevertheless, such classical solutions face operational, financial, social, and cultural constraints [43]. The sustainability of groundwater is not only a function of aquifer performance but is also contingent upon participatory and adaptive governance processes [10]. Thus, groundwater sustainability requires coordinated policy and decision-making processes that provide practical context-specific solutions instead of imposing a universal strategy [43].
Ecological wisdom, by creating a coherent combination between scientific and practical perspectives and ecological considerations [44, 45], can overcome the practical constraints of classical solutions of groundwater sustainability. Many historical hydraulic structures, such as QHS, have been designed based on the principles of ecological wisdom. QHS has co-evolved with human communities over millennia and has, until recently, proven very effective at providing water in sufficient quantity and quality for community purposes [22, 24, 46]. The participatory approach, as one of the principles of ecological wisdom governing most historical heritage, has reduced the conflict between stakeholders and has created an opportunity to intervene as well as influence decision-making. Thus, it is the basis for maintaining the rights of citizens to access information (transparency) along with the responsibility and accountability of stakeholders (governmental and non-governmental) [47]. The participation of stakeholders creates fair, transparent, and accountable decision-making with a holistic perspective and leads to an integrated management system [48]. Uncertainty, complexity, and implementation of groundwater sustainability policy dynamically and interactively are problematic for policymakers, managers, and the scientific community [4953], reminding them of the multifunctional nature of groundwater. Since ecological wisdom is to challenge the existing intellectual frameworks in a dialectical process, it can help the emergence of knowledge with the ability to connect between theory and practice, local and global conditions, past and present, and co-evolutionary systems such as socio-ecological or socio-hydrological systems. Ecological wisdom consists of nature-based strategies and context-specific solutions that foster synergy, expand social learning, generate innovative solutions based on adaptive experiences, and provide valid options for future groundwater sustainability measurements and policy recommendations [10, 5455]. Although policies of groundwater sustainability have been proposed, the required knowledge to understand the dynamics and complexity of coupled social-ecological or social-hydrological systems is limited to implement policies. Thus, an integrated multidisciplinary management approach is emerging which brings converges science further to politics (or vice versa) [10].
To implement groundwater sustainability policies, this study introduces ecological wisdom as a transdisciplinary integrated approach. In response to this transdisciplinary approach, participation, transparency, accountability, synergy, and dynamism are strengthened, and groundwater resources are ultimately made more sustainable. Fig. 1 displays the theoretical framework of the research.

3. Materials and Methods

3.1. Methods

This descriptive-analytical study aims to better understand the existing and potential futures of QHS as well as the creation and evolution of the ecological knowledge guiding ancient hydraulic systems (Fig. 2). The methodology of this study is based on a structural-interpretive model (ISM), a type of cross-impact analysis to understand the system’s complexity [56]. The cross-impact analysis is a powerful tool for analyzing future binary events plus creating and analyzing scenarios in the future study process.
ISM is based on the cross-impact analysis which helps the researcher analyze the direct and indirect relationships [57]. Thus, ISM forms a system with interrelationships between variables that determine the system’s future evolution. The steps in the ISM methodology include the following:
  • Identifying the related dimensions and criteria to the investigated problem, which is done using research techniques such as surveys, Delphi study, etc.

  • Creating a possible and contextual relationship between dimensions or indicators, including influencing, comparative, temporal, or neutral [58].

  • Constructing the structural self-interaction matrix (SSIM) which examines the pairwise relationships between criteria (i, j) based on analytical rules. V (one-way relationship of i to j), A (one-way relationship of j to i), X (two-way relationship of i and j and vice versa), O (absence of a relationship between i and j).

  • Constructing the initial reachability matrix, which is a binary matrix. The number one replaces the symbols V and X, and the number zero replaces the symbols A and O.

  • Constructing the final reachability matrix to level each of the criteria.

  • Drawing the interaction network of determined dimensions and criteria.

MICMAC is a structural-interpretive analysis technique which analyzes the set of variables through a matrix of direct influence (MDI) and a potential indirect influence matrix [59]. The relation-ships between the variables of the MDI matrix are calculated in the form of the kth row and the kth column using the following Eq. (1).
Ik=j=1nMDI(k,j)and Ik=j=1nMDI(j,k)
The map obtained from MICMAC is a two-dimensional map with vertical and horizontal axes; based on the degree of influence and dependence, the variables are labeled by the panel of experts under the names dependent, independent, interface, and autonomous.
The Delphi technique and the non-probability snowball sampling approach are used to derive the limits on the growth and evolution of the ecological knowledge controlling QHS an expert panel. The expert panel consisted of 30 experts, experience local people with local knowledge of QHS, along with officials and experts specializing in water in organizations such as the Regional Water Organization and the Natural Resources Department. Due to the impact of various economic, technical, managerial, executive, legal, regulatory, and physical modules on groundwater sustainability, the team of experts was designed and selected in two sectors, experts of scientific and traditional knowledge in different fields. Through structured and semi-structured interviews, experts’ perspectives were collected in environmental-physical, individual, socio-economic, cultural-educational, technical-institutional, managerial, and legal-regulatory sectors. Strategic constraints for the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS were deduced, and the level of sustainability of QHS was determined using MICMAC analysis. Next, to draw projections of the future, the strategic constraints were examined in three optimal, static, and crisis states, while possible, probable, and desirable futures were drawn using Scenario Wizard software. To develop scenarios, Scenario Wizard uses interaction effect balance (CIB) for favorable, neutral, and unfavorable predictions by the interrelations network. Finally, various strategies were presented to implement the policy of groundwater sustainability, focusing on the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing historical hydraulic structures. Fig. 2 shows the flow diagram of the research steps.

3.2. Description of the Selected Study Area

Yazd-Ardakan Plain is one of the most extensive desert plains in Yazd Province, Iran. Yazd-Ardakan Plain, with an area of 8050 square kilometers, is located in the center of Yazd province between longitudes 53° 45′ and 54°50′ as well as between northern latitudes 31°15′ and 32° 30′. The highest point of Yazd-Ardakan Plain is Shirkoh Peak, with 4075 meters above sea level, and the lowest point is 970 meters above sea level. The average height of the plain is 1565 meters above sea level. This plain has QHSs with a historical-cultural value. The oldest and longest QHS in the world, the Zarch QHS, is 100 km long and has 2115 wells, more than 3,000 years old, located in this plain. Fig. 4 illustrates the study area. In recent years, climatic conditions have affected the central plateau of Iran, and Yazd-Ardakan Plain in Yazd province has faced continuous droughts. Digging deep and semi-deep wells, indiscriminate exploitation, and lack of an integrated management system, along with the development of urban and industrial activities in this desert plain, have led to a drop in the level of ground-water, a decline in the quality of the groundwater source, the destruction of QHS, land subsidence, and has finally turned this plain into the most critical plain of Yazd province. Fig. 3 shows the study area in Yazd Province and Yazd-Ardakan Plain in Iran.

4. Results and Discussion

Based on the theoretical framework of the research, field studies, analysis of QHS, review of written sources, documents, and interviews with experienced people along with water experts, the main constraints for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS in the study area can be divided into seven categories: cultural-educational, socio-economic, physical-spatial, technological-institutional, managerial-executive, and legal-regulatory. Table 1 describes the main constraints for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain.

4.1. Analysis of the Crossover Effects Matrix of the Constraints for Developing and Evolving Ecological Wisdom Governing QHS

The preliminary analysis of the matrix data and crossover effects using the structural-interpretive model and MICMAC analysis shows that according to the dimensions of the matrix (35*35), 210 cells of the matrix are zero. In other words, the studied constraint factors did not influence each other or were not dependent on each other. Numbers between zero and three measure the relationship between the factors. The number zero means no interaction, number 1 has a weak interaction, number 2 has a medium interaction, and number 3 has a high interaction. A total of 216 cells are one, 589 cells are two, and 199 cells are three. The matrix’s fill level is 82.86%, indicating that more than 82% of the selected factors interact, and QHS is in an unsustainable situation. Out of the total 1225 numbers in the matrix, 1015 relationships can be evaluated in this matrix. Further, the matrix was 100% useful and optimized based on statistical factors with two data rotations, which also indicates the high validity of the questionnaire and its answers.

4.3. Analysis of Direct Influence/Dependence Matrix

Based on the analysis of this matrix, the managerial-executive constraints have the greatest influence and the highest level of dependence, followed by the cultural-educational constraints regarding influence, and the technological-institutional constraints considering dependence. The technological-institutional constraints rank third in influence, and the individual constraints stands third in independence. Thus, factors (D5), (A5), (G2), (F2), (F4), and (F5) are the six factors that have the greatest influence on constraining the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS. According to the results, factors (E5), (A1), (F3), (F5), and (F2) have also the most significant dependence.

4.3. Analysis of Indirect Influence/Dependence Matrix

Investigation of the indirect influence/dependence matrix shows that factors (D5), (A5), (G2), (F2), (F4), and (F5) are six factors, respectively, that have the most indirect influence in creating constraints on development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS. According to the results, the factors (E5), (A1), (F3), (F5), and (F2) also have the highest indirect dependence. According to the data analysis results, the managerial-executive constraints group has had the highest indirect influence and dependence.

4.5. Deduction of Strategic Constraints for Developing Ecological Wisdom Governing QHS

The analysis of the constraints of the development and evolution of QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain can be summarized into development variables, independent variables, Key variables, result from variables, and more strategic variables. Each variable is placed in a specific position on the diagram according to the degree of influence and dependence. The determinant variables are the most critical as system changes depend on them, and the degree of controllability of these variables is very important (Environment variables). Autonomous variables have a very weak relation to the system. This is because they neither stop a main variable nor cause the evolution and progress of a variable in the system. The result variables are considered variables with high dependence and low influence (Dependent variables). The strategic variables can be manipulated plus controllable and influence the dynamics of other factors (Objective variables).
According to the matrix of direct and indirect relations, 14 variables from different modules can be identified with slight differences in prioritization as strategic constraints for the development and evolution of QHS. The strategic constraints extracted from MICMAC software are highlighted in Table 1. The strategic constraints were extracted in sections: individual constraints (e.g., B3, B4), socio-economic constraints (e.g., C2), cultural-educational constraints (e.g., D1, D2, D3), technological-institutional constraints (e.g., E1, E3, E4), managerial-executive constraints (e.g., F1, F2, F4, F5), and legal-regulatory constraints (e.g., G3). The distribution of the variables in the influence-dependence axis reveals the stability or instability of QHS. If their distribution is L-shaped, QHS and ecological wisdom governing them are stable, indicating the stability of the influencing variables and the continuity of their influence on other variables. However, ff the variables are spread around the Z axis, the evolution and development of ecological wisdom governing QHS are unstable. The distribution of the variables in the direct and indirect influencing axis indicates the instability of QHS. This is because most of the variables are scattered around the diagonal axis, and in most cases, it shows an intermediate state of influence and dependence.

4.5. Codification of Possible States of Strategic Constraints for Developing and Evolving Ecological Wisdom Governing QHS

According to the raised questions and based on possible future states for the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS, 42 states were designed for 14 strategic constraints ranging from optimal to crisis (Table 2). A detailed questionnaire with the question, “if any of the 42 states occurs, what effect will it have on the growth and development or non-occurrence of other states” will be given to experts, indigenous knowledge experts of QHS, and professionals in water resource management after creating a 42*42 matrix and designing the states.

4.6. Scenarios of Development and Evolution of Ecological Wisdom Governing QHS

After designing the probabilistic states, the cross matrix raises the question of what influence the occurrence of one of the states of strategic constraints would have on the occurrence or non-occurrence of different states of other strategic constraints. The questionnaire was completed based on negative plus positive influences and numbers ranging from +3 to −3. The assessment of relationships between scenarios is performed using the CIB algorithm in the Scenario Wizard Software.
Scenario Wizard Software generally offers the researcher three categories of scenarios: High Probability Scenarios, Low Probability Scenarios, and High Adaptation Probability Scenarios. Given the matrix’s size and dimensions as well as based on experts’ advice, the software generated the following findings.
  • i. Strong scenarios: 3 scenarios.

  • ii. Credible scenarios or scenarios with high compatibility: 11 scenarios.

  • iii. Weak scenarios: 9474 scenarios.

Among the limited strong scenarios and broad weak scenarios, it is reasonable to consider highly compatible scenarios, based on which 11 reasonable scenarios (from completely desirable to completely critical) were considered for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS. Fig. 4 depicts11 credible scenarios with three states (optimal with green, static with yellow, and critical with red) in different degrees of realization probability for the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain.
Table 3 shows that out of the total 154 states in the probable scenarios, 27 are optimal states (17.53%), 29 are static states (18.83%), and 98 are critical states (63.6%). In other words, up to half of the states in the probable scenarios are in the critical state, followed by the static state, and finally, the optimal state with the lowest probability of occurrence.
Scenarios 3 to 11 indicate the least optimal situation for the development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain (1.57, 6.78, 6.78, 4.71, 4.71, 8.92, and 7.85, 7.85, 6.78, respectively). Thus, the possible scenarios with high compatibility can be divided into: 1) desirable scenarios (including scenarios 1 and 2), 2) static scenarios (including scenario 3), and 3) critical scenarios (including scenarios 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Based on the results in Table 5, the first scenario with 14 optimal states represents the most desirable situation (100% desirability), followed by the second scenario with 13 optimal states (93% desirability) and one static state which represents the desired scenario.
In this part of the study, the results of the desired scenarios are analyzed and interpreted, and finally, the strategies of the optimal scenario for the future development of ecological wisdom governing QHS are presented. According to the research results, the most desirable scenario can be described as follows: In the legal-regulatory section, integrated policy, and systemic planning for the development of pricing mechanisms, taxation, water market, and groundwater recharge can be the first step in the development of ecological wisdom governing QHS. The legal-regulatory mechanisms, such as restrictions on well location and depth, exploitation regulations, water conservation incentives, and the connection between surface and groundwater, create restrictions on over-abstraction of aquifers and lead to groundwater sustainability [10, 6065].
In the managerial-executive sector, the following have been suggested: developing spatial-physical policies and comprehensive plans related to the restoration, reconstruction, regeneration, and optimal operation of QHS; strengthening planning for monitoring, evaluation, and information infrastructure; developing innovative managerial-executive plans; and applying development-oriented and program-oriented management. Development of runoff storage systems, distributed and decentralized hydraulic systems, green-blue infrastructure, multifunctional and decentralized urban hydraulic structures, and a comprehensive plan for the restoration of QHS are considered managerial-executive strategies in groundwater sustainability. In the technological-institutional sector, the following should be done 1) Increasing knowledge-based projects as well as design and development of underground robotic system 2) Artificial recharging techniques of aquifers, and 3) Strengthening constructive and dynamic interactions among stakeholders. The technical-institutional solutions should be derived from collective social agreements at different levels. The existence of an institutional space for dialogue and negotiation among stakeholders enhances social learning, transparency, and accountability [66, 67]. Localization of new technologies, such as designing the underground robotic system, surveying studies of the project site, and practical technology to enhance water use efficiency and promoting effective balance water supply and demand are of special importance.
In the cultural-educational sectors, the following should be done: 1) Developing educational research centers to cultivate professional personnel in QHS and local knowledge, 2) Developing and diversifying knowledge-sharing spaces, and 3) Promoting participation and continuous improvement in action. The dialogue between different forms of knowledge and combining scientific knowledge with local empirical knowledge is important. In other words, instead of creating a hierarchy, scientific knowledge should play an evolutionary role in the experiential knowledge of native users. The institutional space allows for combining indigenous and scientific knowledge as well as adapting to changing environmental conditions [67].
Note that although this scenario is described in a linear process, all states interact with each other in a complex system, and any state’s occurrence can amplify and accelerate other states’ occurrence. The results suggest that designing a dynamic and integrated management system for the reconstruction and regeneration of QHS requires diverse strategies in different dimensions. QHS can be used again to help contemporary humans cope with global water crises such as droughts, floods, water shortages, etc. As Petit et al. [43, 67] argue, progress is rarely made when government officials focus solely on conserving groundwater resources. Conflict of interest requires negotiation processes to combine diverse stakeholders. According to the desired scenario, the strategies for the future development and evolution of ecological wisdom governing QHS in Yazd-Ardakan Plain, Yazd province, Iran, are presented in Fig. 5.

5. Conclusions

Learning from and regenerating the experiences of predecessors, structures, and functions manifested in specific ecological contexts as well as developing new approaches based on the principles and rules of ecological wisdom can contribute to achieving sustainable development goals. In this study, besides the vulnerability of QHS in Yazd Province of Iran, the main constraints for developing and evolving ecological wisdom governing QHS were derived using a structural-interpretive model and MICMAC analysis. Based on the results of the cross-matrix analysis, the managerial-executive constraints had the greatest influence/dependence, followed by the cultural-educational constraints and then technological-institutional constraints. Based on the extracted strategic constraints and designed scenarios, the practical strategies were presented to develop and evolve ecological wisdom governing QHS in six sectors (e.g., Cultural-educational, Social-economic, Physical-spatial, Technological-institutional, Managerial-executive, Legal-regulatory). The scientific revolution in the modern era has almost obsolete human respect for nature. Reductionism often fails to recognize the interaction between humans and nature [68]. Also, materialism and summarizing the meaning as well as value of life in unlimited material wealth are the challenges of modernity that reduce sustainability. The results of the study show that the expansion and evolution of ecological wisdom try to overcome the challenge of the hegemony of science in the modern era. Rethinking the ancient heritage and developing ecological wisdom governing them not only manifests the co-evolution of coupled socio-ecological systems, and the ecological considerations and cultural-social values of local communities but also strengthens participation, transparency, accountability, synergy, and dynamism and provides a toolbox to operationalize policies and strategies for the sustainability of socio-hydrological systems. The results of the study emphasize that ecological wisdom can deal with the challenges of materialism, reductionism, and the disconnection between socio-hydrological systems in the present era and highlight a pattern for the operationalization of groundwater sustainability policies based on the following principles.
  • Strengthening the connection of social-hydrological systems

  • Regeneration of the values governing the ancient hydraulic heritage

  • Exploitation according to the natural balance of groundwater

  • Adapting to the water crisis

  • Building capacity for a collaborative approach in water resource management processes

  • Solving disputes and conflicts among stakeholders

  • Responsive, dynamic, and transparent management of groundwater resources

  • Making invisible groundwater visible

  • Linking between native and official knowledge

  • Coordination between cultural-educational, social-economic, physical-spatial, technological-institutional, managerial-executive, and legal-regulatory fields.

It is hoped that future studies will use the evolution of ecological wisdom as an exogenous factor to modernize the hydraulic heritage, along with its localization according to environmental, social, economic, and cultural conditions, and be a basis for groundwater sustainability on different temporal and spatial scales. It is suggested that future studies focus on expanding the intellectual foundation of ecological wisdom in the processes of policy-making, planning, and resource management, to accelerate the evolution of interdisciplinary sciences while preserving the ancient values left by the ancestors. The call for transdisciplinary approaches and executive models with their synergistic effects can lead to the empowerment and capacity building of local social capital and facilitate the implementation of resource sustainability policies, programs, and strategies with the stakeholders’ participation, and ensures the self-sufficiency of communities and the sustainability of resources.


This work has been supported by the Center for International Scientific Studies & Collaboration (CISSC), Ministry of Science Research and Technology. The authors would like to thank the interviewed participants and contributors.



The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Author Contributions

M.R. (Ph.D.) conducted the bibliographic search, designed a theoretical framework, and wrote the manuscript. E.S. (Associate Professor) directed the writing and revising of the manuscript. H.M. (Professor) conducted a critical review of the manuscript. F.A.D. (Ph.D.) determined the research method and shaped the questionnaire. M.R. (Ph.D. Student) conducted data collection and analysis.


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Fig. 1
The theoretical framework of the research
Fig. 2
The flow diagram of the research steps
Fig. 3
The study area in Yazd Province and Yazd-Ardakan Plain in Iran
Fig. 4
Situations of each factor separately for each scenario
Fig. 5
Development strategies of ecological wisdom governing QHS
Table 1
The Main Constraints for Developing and Evolving Ecological Wisdom Governing QHS
Constraints Code Influential component
Environmental-physical Constraints (A) A1 Drilling of deep and semi-deep wells, improper operation, and imbalance between water supply and demand
A2 Neglect of repair, rehabilitation, and expansion of existing water mains and structures in the area
A3 Lack of structural-physical connection of new urban settlements and non-observance of privacy in water pipelines
A4 Occurrence of natural disasters such as successive droughts, climate change, and global warming
A5 Geographical constraints include soil salinity, rainfall in certain months of the year, slope, soil permeability, etc.
Individual Constraints (B) B1 Lack of motivation to share ecological knowledge about underground hydraulic structures
B2 Fear of job loss from passing on traditional knowledge of water resource management
B3 Lack of awareness of the value of sharing and combining traditional and modern water resource management knowledge
B4 Lack of confidence in the accuracy and validity of traditional groundwater management knowledge
B5 Lack of use of previous practical and personal experiences in communication between teachers and students
Socioeconomic Constraints (C). C1 Increasing population growth and urbanization, and increased demand for water
C2 The desire of the new generation to keep up with globalization and the use of new technologies, regardless of environmental conditions
C3 Lack of introduction of new land use concepts, such as tourism for abandoned hydraulic structures to attract domestic and foreign capital
C4 Lack of material rights and loss of jobs related to QHS
C5 Lack of adequate financial resources for studies and implementation plans for the development and rehabilitation of ancient hydraulic structures
Cultural-educational Constraints (D) D1 Lack of formal education systems for technical training personnel specialized in QHS
D2 Lack of participatory, supportive culture and continuous improvement as well as learning related to problem-solving
D3 Lack of formal and informal spaces for sharing information and results of groundwater management plans
D4 Lack of meetings, discussion groups, think tanks, and groundwater management
D5 Lack of programs that promote culture in the area of transparency of the values of combining traditional and modern knowledge
Technological-institutional Constraints (E) E1 Lack of integration of strategies based on ecological wisdom in the strategic goals of public and private institutions
E2 Lack of technical support and utilization of new technologies in the rehabilitation and renovation of QHS
E3 Nonuse of systems combining modern explicit knowledge with traditional tacit knowledge
E4 Discordance between governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions
E5 Unbalanced development and increased competition in groundwater exploitation
Managerial-executive Constraints (F) F1 The region lacking monitoring, control, evaluation, and access to extensive information resources
F2 Lack of appropriate physical land use policies with comprehensive and detailed plans for hydraulic structures
F3 Lack of flood management and aquifer feeding plans
F4 Lack of leadership and appropriate management in the field of combined projects of traditional and modern knowledge
F5 Lack of innovative management and execution plans to enhance the efficiency of QHS
Legal-regulatory Constraints (G) G1 Lack of transparency of incentive and penalty systems for stakeholders
G2 Legal vacuum in fields of structure, management, operation, and protection of QHS
G3 Lack of pricing mechanisms, taxes, water market, water rights, etc.
G4 Incompatibility of crimes and penalties for water resources
G5 Long-term legal action in prosecuting unauthorized exploitation
Table 2
Possible Strategic Constraints for Developing and Evolving Ecological Wisdom Governing QHS
Code Strategic constraints Possible Explanation of possible states of strategic constraints states
F5 Innovative managerial-executive plans to reduce water loss in QHS Optimal Development of innovative management-executive plans to increase the efficiency of QHS.
Static Lack of management-executive implementation of plans to enhance QHS efficiency.
Crisis Lack of innovative management-executive plans to reduce efficiency in QHS
F4 Leadership and management in combined projects of traditional and modem knowledge. Optimal Development-oriented and program-oriented management combines traditional and modem knowledge
Static Conservative and weak management of combinations of traditional and modern knowledge
Crisis Anti-developmental and ineffective management of combinations of traditional and modem knowledge
G3 Pricing mechanisms, taxes, water market, water rights, etc., related to the use of groundwater resources. Optimal Systematic and integrated planning for pricing mechanisms, taxation, water market, and groundwater recharge
Static Facilitation of the process of designing and implementing pricing mechanisms, taxation, water market, and water resources use
Crisis Instability in policy-making, design, and implementation of mechanisms for aquifer operation and supply
B3 Awareness and understanding of the value and benefits of sharing and combining traditional and modem water resource management knowledge Optimal Increasing the attention of government institutions and organizations in supporting experts in traditional knowledge of water resources
Static Neglect and stagnation in the use of ancient water structures and the acquisition of ecological rationality that regulates them
Crisis Underestimation of traditional knowledge of experts and activists in the field of water resources
D2 Participatory, supportive culture and continuous improvement and learning related to problem-solving Optimal Expanding education and support programs to foster a culture of participation, support, and continuous development
Static Ignoring social participation and cooperation in water resource projects
Crisis Development of top-down authoritarian management plans
F1 Monitoring, surveillance, assessment, and access to extensive information resources in the region Optimal Systems planning - integrated development of infrastructures for monitoring, assessment, and access to water resources
Static Lack of technical support for monitoring, surveillance, assessment, and access to information resources
Crisis Decay and gradual weakening of systems and tools for monitoring, observation, and assessment of existing information resources
E3 Combined systems of modem objective knowledge with traditional tacit knowledge Optimal Targeted development of research and extraction of knowledge on water resources management from indigenous communities and integration of strategies based on ecological wisdom in the strategic objectives of public and private institutions
Static Recession and lack of attention to the reconstruction, rehabilitation, and operation of old hydraulic structures and knowledge about them
Crisis Increasing development of modem designs and techniques without regard to adaptation to local and regional conditions
D3 Formal and informal spaces for information exchange and reflection on water resource management plans Optimal Extensive use of information technology and diversification of information network development
Static Restriction of existing information networks and provision of promotional items in traditional and inferior ways
Crisis Preventing the reflection of information on the results of planning, design, and operation of water resources implementation plans
B4 Confidence in the accuracy and validity of traditional knowledge about groundwater management Optimal Development of assessment plans and mental and social preparation for accepting traditional and indigenous knowledge and extracting principles, bases, and management strategies for ancient hydraulic structures.
Static Lack of attention to the use of practical and personal experiences from the past through experimental education
Crisis Increasing conflicts between water professionals and experts in traditional knowledge
E4 Relationship between governmental Optimal and non-governmental organizations and institutions Optimal Optimal dynamics of constructive interactions between governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions.
Static Low level of interactions between governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions.
Crisis Greater increase in conflicts than in interactions between governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions.
D1 Formal training systems to train technical staff specialized in ancient water structures and indigenous knowledge of water resources management Optimal Development of formal training and research centers to train indigenous water resource management knowledge
Static Ignorance of indigenous and traditional knowledge as well as educational systems for its transmission and development
Crisis Development of modern western educational systems for water resource use and management that are incompatible with cultural, social, and geographic realities without regard to possible negative consequences for the future
C2 Position of the new generation in the face of the globalization process and the use of new technologies, regardless of their adaptation to environmental conditions Optimal Tendency to using new technologies compatible with environmental conditions or localization of new technologies.
Static Ignoring the need to change and apply new techniques, methods, and technologies
Crisis Encouragement and enthusiasm of the new generation in the face of the process of globalization and the use of new technologies without regard to the adaptation to environmental conditions
F2 Physical spatial planning policies Comprehensive and detailed plans for water structures. Optimal Development of an effective and coherent physical-spatial policy for rehabilitation, restoration, reconstruction and optimal use of QHS.
Static Lack of physical-spatial policies with comprehensive plans related to hydraulic structures
Crisis Inefficient policies with negative side effects in lowering the water table, demolishing ancient hydraulic structures, etc.
E1 The place of strategies based on ecological rationality in the strategic objectives of public and private institutions Optimal Developing, elaborating, and integrating policies based on ecological wisdom into the strategic objectives of public and private institutions
Static Ignoring the importance of implementing strategies based on ecological wisdom being incompatible with environmental conditions
Crisis Modeling and implementing strategies that are incompatible with environmental, geographic, climatic conditions, etc.
Table 3
Coefficients, Number and Percentage of Each State Separately for Each Scenario Based on the Triple Spectrum.
S Number of situations separately Coefficients of situations Favorable conditions Critical situations

Optimal Static Crisis +3 +1 −3 Utility rate Ideal score Percentage of desirability The extent of the critical situation Maximum critical conditions Percentage of critical conditions
S1 14 0 0 42 0 0 42 42 100 0 −42 0
S2 13 1 0 39 1 0 39 42 93 0 −42 0
S3 0 6 8 0 6 24- 0 42 0 24- −42 57.1
S4 0 3 11 0 3 33- 0 42 0 33- −42 78.6
S5 0 3 11 0 3 33- 0 42 0 33- −42 78.6
S6 0 4 10 0 4 30- 0 42 0 30- −42 71.4
S7 0 4 10 0 4 30- 0 42 0 30- −42 71.4
S8 0 1 13 0 3 39- 0 42 0 39- −42 92.8
S9 0 2 12 0 2 36- 0 42 0 36- −42 85.7
S10 0 2 12 0 2 36- 0 42 0 36- −42 85.7
S11 0 3 11 0 3 33- 0 42 0 33- −42 78.6
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