Water governance has for decades been a major area for studies of the policy process, regulation, and public administration, contributing to new developments in the field of environmental governance and beyond. Currently, water management is facing severe challenges due to climatic change, biodiversity loss, urbanization, or population growth. This Section offers a platform for scholars dealing with recent developments in water governance, as well as interdisciplinary work considering the interactions of institutions with the environment, technology and infrastructure. We invite contributions relying on interdisciplinary, new and innovative concepts, methods and empirical research, representing the state of the art in water governance and opening up the research agenda for the future. Our Section includes Panels led by established and emerging scholars in the field. These Panels look at the main challenges around water governance: inter-relatedness of governance with infrastructure (1) and ecological systems (2,5,6), issues of dispersion of authority in a multi-level and multi-stakeholder/multi-sector (3,4) context, as well as questions of change and transformations (all Panels).
1) Water infrastructure reforms (Chairs: Eva Lieberherr, Thomas Bolognesi)
The water sector entails fix and extensive infrastructure to deliver services. However, the current infrastructure systems face multiple pressures and are in dire need of maintenance, investment, rethinking and reform. While liberalization and New Public Management have been generally pivotal in shaping ongoing reforms, we find a wide diversity of institutional arrangements – with many failed examples. This Panel aims at exploring the interlinkages between infrastructure and institutional systems in the water sector. Important topics include the change of respective institutional arrangements over time and the consequences in terms of accountability and legitimacy, the link between big trends in water infrastructure reforms and (conflicts in) the policy process, or the questioning of centralized infrastructure in terms of efficient service delivery and types of institutional arrangements.
2) The governance of water quality protection (Chairs: Florence Metz, Simon Schaub)
Clean water is a vital resource for humans and the environment, but significant pressures on water quality persist. To improve water quality, abundant research has been undertaken in the natural sciences. However, decision-making, governance and implementation challenges have been identified among the core obstacles towards clean water. Contributions by political science, also crossing disciplinary boundaries between social and natural sciences, are necessary to enhance our understanding of these challenges and to be able to find better solutions for improving water quality. This Panel focuses on the governance of water quality protection and pollution prevention, linking political approaches to the status of water resources. Potential topics include the choice of relevant policy instruments for water quality, cross-sectoral stakeholder participation and policy integration (e.g. industry, water quality, health), or the challenge of emerging pollutants.
3) European Water Governance and the EU Water Framework Directive (Chairs: Frank Hüesker, Sissel Hovik)
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted almost 20 years ago and represents the cornerstone of the European water governance regime. It includes strong procedural provisions, e.g. for ecosystem-based management and public participation for all EU member states. Despite its ambitious ecological targets and institutional provisions, improvements of the status of European waters are mixed. Hence, the directive highlights the tension between integration and convergence on the one hand, and flexibility and local differentiation on the other. The Panel focuses on how different institutional arrangements handle tensions between harmonization and local differentiation and between integration and flexibility, as well as their impact on environmental performance. At the heart of these questions is the transfer or allocation of power in decision-making about a crucial natural resource, within and between member states of the EU.
4) Integrative water governance and the SDGs: Cross-sectoral links (Chairs: Philipp Gorris, Manuel Fischer)
As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation), water governance figures high on the global sustainability agenda. The SDGs highlight the role of Integrated Water Resources Management, bridging the boundaries between different sectors, scales and actors, in reaching these goals. The Panel aims to provide a platform to discuss new and innovative conceptual approaches and methods to understand the design and implementation of integrated modes of water governance. Particular challenges related to SDG implementation lie in the implementation across the global North and South, and in the complex trade-offs and synergies between different SDGs. We explicitly welcome contributions with case studies in the global South or considering the interactions of SDG 6 and related SDGs.
5) Adaptive Water Governance in Social-Ecological Systems (Chairs: Laura Herzog, Mario Angst)
For water governance to handle the increased sustainability pressures on water consumption and the health of aquatic ecosystems, it needs to be adaptive, considering the uncertainties and the complexity of the ecological system. This Panel focuses on the ways in which adaptive capacities are built up within aquatic social-ecological systems and how these play out in the governance such systems. Main topics include the conceptualization and empirically study of the adaptive capacity of existing water governance structures, the potential of adaptive governance to address different degrees of complexity within aquatic social-ecological systems, and the question of how characteristics of aquatic ecosystems influence the structures of adaptive water governance. We explicitly welcome inter-disciplinary perspectives, integrating features of the ecological aspects into analysis and conceptual approaches.
6) Transforming water governance in the face of climate change (Chairs: Meghan Alexander, Maria Kaufmann)
Climate change is often referred to as a ‘wicked problem’, characterized by high levels of uncertainty, interconnectivity and complex dynamics, affecting a host of public, private and civil society actors. Such wicked problems are typically regarded as incompatible with traditional forms of governance and arguably demand transformative change in existing governance arrangements. This raises a number of quintessential questions to address: What barriers and underlying ‘lock-in’ mechanisms reinforce path dependencies and constrain alternative pathways? What governance mechanisms and policy instruments are needed to leverage change and effectively adapt? What mechanisms are required to readdress social inequalities and ensure just transitions? Focusing on water governance, this Panel invites Papers that explore these questions across a range of water management issues.