The challenge of water management

Conflicts are intrinsic to water management. Individual activities often have adverse consequences for the community or for downstream areas. Moreover, economic and environmental values often conflict. And on top of this, there is always the issue who should cover the costs of water management.

Over the centuries solutions have been developed for these conflicts. These include the establishment of river basin organisations and the introduction of economic instruments to finance water management and reduce water use. In addition, environmental and community values have developed that promote the protection and conservation of water resources and mitigate conflicts between the different water users.

Due to climate change and socio-economic change, the old solutions no longer suffice. Floods and droughts become more frequent and serious, the demand for food and water is increasing, and people move into flood-prone areas. Moreover, the geographical scale of the problems is increasing. Local and national institutions are no longer sufficient when problems have become basin-wide or even global. Technological innovation may be of help, but it requires individuals or organisations that are willing and able to experiment, cover the investments costs, and carry the risks.

Against this background, my research focuses on two topics and one common theme.

Institutional adaptation

The central research question concerning institutional adaptation is when and how water management institutions adapt to long-term environmental and socio-economic change. The institutions studied include the organisational structure, the allocation of responsibilities, laws and regulations, and financing systems. This topic is closely linked to the new field of socio-hydrology, which aims to increase understanding of the long-term co-evolution of human and water systems. The main research approach is (historical) case study research.

Innovation processes

The central research questions concerning innovation processes are why some water management organisations innovate and others do not, and how innovation can be promoted. Factors considered include the innovation itself (e.g. costs and ease of implementation), individual characteristics, organisational culture and procedures, and external factors such as national laws and national policy. Research on this topic includes evaluation research and action research.

Environmental and community values

Environmental and community values deal with how humans relate to their environment and to each other. They can support or hinder institutional adaptation and innovation. Central questions concerning values are what the prevalent values are, what effects they have, and how they change.