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Addressing Diffuse Water Pollution from Agriculture: Do Governance Structures Matter for the Nature of Measures Taken?

European Union
Governance
Institutions
Comparative Perspective
Policy Implementation
Mark Wiering
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Sabrina Kirschke
United Nations University
Jeanette Voelker
Consultant
Mark Wiering
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

Abstract

Both academic scholars and practitioners increasingly struggle with the integration of water management and agriculture, particularly in light of increasing pressures from agriculture on the quality of freshwaters. Governance research suggests that specific governance structures can support the planning of effective water quality measures, e.g. mechanisms of horizontal coordination, participatory governance approaches and capacities of public authorities. However, it is unclear how these structures work in concert: whether structures have similar functions and if they are mutually reinforcing or even exclusive. This contribution sheds light on the combined role of governance structures in implementing the Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC), which is one of the most ambitious environmental directives of the EU, both in terms of substantial aims and its governance approach. The general aim is to have clean and healthy water for humans and aquatic eco-systems all over Europe; its governance is for a large part based on principles, procedures and processes, with very little (direct) ‘hard’ measures or standards for core environmental pressures. To a great extent it relies on creating a ‘self-disciplining’ framework where integration of policies in light of water quality is encouraged. One of the generally acknowledged ‘wicked problems’ of the WFD is the diffuse water pollution from agriculture (nitrates, phosphates). After many years of implementation, it remains a substantial pressure for the quality of water, especially for aquatic ecosystems and it is also ‘wicked’ in terms of governance, because measures are greatly dependent on agricultural stakeholders that cannot directly be governed by WFD standards or instruments. Our investigation will take a closer look at how EU member states are addressing this issue. We have seen that there are different governance arrangements dealing with implementation of the WFD in light of agricultural pollution, ranging from more consensual/antagonistic and more integrated/separated organisations or programmes. Then, the capacities of implementation agents and relevant stakeholders (human and financial resources) vary and finally participation varies (the extent of stakeholder involvement and the roles of stakeholders). We will relate above variables to outcomes in terms of the nature of practical measures taken. Are the measures more source-based (e.g., dealing with fertilisers policies or structural measures for agriculture) or more effect-based (e.g., buffer zones, filtering water, cleaning surface water or other forms of water treatment). The core question is how governance structures influence the nature of practical measures taken. Are more consensual approaches also leading to more comprehensive sets of measures – and possibly more source-based measures - for this wicked problem? In a multi-country comparative case study, we will include cases from Germany and the Netherlands. Data on governance characteristics are based on documents (e.g., river basin management plans, programmes of measures) and European reporting (types of measures planned). As a result we expect a more in-depth understanding of the combined impact of various potential influencing mechanisms on the planning of measures around the water-agriculture nexus.