Water management

waterrecht en waterbeheer

The management of oceans as a common good and the sustainable use of fresh water, on the basis of the protection of the available sources in the long term, the availability of sufficient surface water and groundwater of good quality for a sustainable and equitable use, protection against flooding and dealing with uncertain risks are the main challenges of our time.

The management of oceans, fresh water and deltas should be adaptive to enable change in response to changing circumstances (climate, population growth, economic development, urbanisation) or because of innovative technical or administrative changes. These changes require an adaptive, resilient legal system, which safeguards sustainability and equitability. 

Ongoing research projects:

Legitimate and Effective Water Management in the European Union: the stakeholders' perspective in times of proceduralisation

ongoing research until October 2016

In water management, a shift has taken place from a government to a governance approach. This approach is characterised by proceduralisation and by participation of stakeholders in norm setting, compliance and enforcement. This approach is assumed to be legitimate and effective and it should eventually lead to equitable and sustainable water management.

Case studies will be conducted to test these assumptions in the area of water quality, by using the position of the stakeholders as starting point. The project runs from October 2013 to October 2016 and is funded by the Dutch research council NWO. 

Researchers involved: 

The Jacana Project - Transboundary Water management in South Africa and Europe

The management of water resources in transboundary river basins is challenging.
 Water resources in the Inkomati transboundary river basin, shared between South Africa (SA), Swaziland and Mozambique are intensively used, mostly for commercial agriculture, biofuel production, and exotic tree plantations. Water use is expected to intensify (‘Tripartite Interim Inkomati Agreement’, 2002).

The Inkomati is a closing basin where water use frequently exceeds water availability, thus affecting social, economic and ecological processes in its delta area. Sustainable water management in the delta starts upstream, with South Africa being able to comply with its obligations towards Mozambique and Swaziland.
Water resource management is an example of a wicked problem, where value- pluralism and unclear boundaries make it impossible to identify one correct problem definition, solution, or set of conditions to determine whether the problem has been resolved. Although other basins, including those outside Africa, e.g. in Western Europe, face different problems, these too can be defined as wicked problems, and defy simple solutions. Hence, although solutions cannot be transferred one-on-one from one basin to another, strategies to deal with wicked problems may well be transferable, especially where they succeed in taking account of a wide range of stakeholder interests in a dynamic environment.

In June 2016, five students went to South Africa to conduct fieldwork and comparative research for the JACANA Project under the supervision of Marleen van Rijswick and Anoeska Buijze. The project supports the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency in order to improve the strategic and operational water management.

By exchanging views and ideas with various stakeholders, the students aim to set up a reciprocal learning process. In doing so, the focus will be on vulnerable groups and to include their interests in the water management (by stressing on inclusiveness and participation). This project is financially supported by the Rotary Club De Bilt Bilthoven, Rotary De Bilt en Rotary Bilthoven-Zandzegge. 

Download the research report: JACANA field work in Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland (pdf)

For more information, please visit our blog.

Researchers involved:

Students and focus of their research projects:

  • Benjamin Asante: Risk perception among stakeholders and water management practitioners
  • Anne-Christine Makkinje: Perception of water among water users
  • Bram Schmidt: Water redress
  • Jasmin Schous: Involvement of women in water management
  • Rebecca Wörner: Incentivising corporate compliance 
Regulating water levels: Report for the water board Delfland

The evaluation of the water level policy of the water authority Delfland shows that there is a discrepancy between the levels that have been laid down in the water level ordinance and a number of actual water levels. Whereas for some of these discrepancies, licenses have been issued, there is not yet a enforcement policy for the illegal discrepancies.

It is common practice to issue water licenses for water levels that deviate from the norms that are included in water level ordinances in order to facilitate certain forms of land usage that benefit from such deviations. The water board finds it advisable to hold the party who profits from a deviating water level responsible to effectuate the deviating water level and to maintain it through – for instance – the construction and maintenance of (small-scale) water infrastructure.

Based on the results of the previously mentioned evaluation, UCWOSL advised on request of the water board about the relationship between the water level ordinance and the water licenses that have been issued for the deviation and about the (legal) possibilities to hold the party who receives a license for a deviating water level responsible to maintain this level.


GWCM (Global Water Cycle Modelling)

One of the grand challenges in modern-day science is to forecast future hydrological conditions on Earth. Typical questions asked in this challenge are: how warm and dry/wet will it become, how fast will changes to water and ecosystems occur and which resources will be available to humankind? Projections on the future Earth can only be made with models that integrate our knowledge and understanding of all spheres on Earth (biosphere including humans, geosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere including oceans) and that includes all interactions and feedbacks among the spheres.

However, forecasting efforts by the global change research community have been under considerable scrutiny by press, politics and the public at large, because of the inability to accurately quantify human-induced changes in the carbon, nutrient and water cycles. This can for an important part be attributed to the incomplete and inaccurate representation of these feedback mechanisms in the current generation of Earth system models.

In the Water, Climate and Ecosystems project which is part of Utrecht University's strategic theme ‘Sustainability’, Anoeska Buijze does research on effective and legitimate reactions of society to changes in flood risk and drinking water availability. Even when reliable information is available, it is far from certain that society will succeed in acting upon that information, even in the presence of moral or legal imperatives to do so. Part of the reason for this lies in the characteristics of decision-making procedures and the legal system. There are rules on how information has to be used in decision-making processes, but these do not promote future-oriented action.

Are there ways in which these rules can be improved to ensure that society takes a more proactive approach to adapting to climate change? On the other hand, specialized scientific information may be plain difficult to comprehend and process for outsiders, especially in democratic decision-making procedures. What does information that is actually used in decision-making processes look like? And how can information on the global water cycle be produced and presented in a way that makes it more likely to be used in decision-making?

More information: Meet Anoeska and her project


Anoeska Buijze 

Research project for the ‘Handboek Legger Oppervlaktewaterlichamen’ commissioned by the water authority De Dommel

This research project is about the legal status of the ledger of the water authority De Dommel which is discussed in greater detail in the handbook on the ledger of surface water.

One of the chapters contains the water authority’s interpretation of the application of the ledger of surface water. In doing so, the water authority mainly based its findings on the Explanatory Memorandum of the Water Act. For the definitive phrasing of this chapter it is important to note that the Explanatory Memorandum of the Environmental Planning Act (Kamerstukken II 2013/14, 33 962, nr. 3, p. 441) is much more concise. Commissioned by the water authority, UCWOSL evaluates this chapter of the handbook and provides remarks and suggestions.

The aim of this research is to advise the water authority on a few specific issues concerning the legal status of the ledger as well as the responsibilities of the water authority and individuals that the ledger encompasses. On the Dutch page you can find more information about this project.