Volume 30, Issue 3

September 2014
Special Issue on Integrated Water Resources Management

Editorial »

IWRM Revisited: From Concept to Implementation

Cecilia Tortajada

Research Article

From IWRM back to integrated water resources management

Mark Giordanoa and Tushaar Shahb
aGeorgetown University School of Foreign Service, Washington, DC, and International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka; bInternational Water Management Institute, Anand, India

Contact: Mark Giordano | Email: mg1382@georgetown.edu


Integrated water resources management provides a set of ideas to help us manage water more holistically. However, these ideas have been formalized over time in what has now become, in capitals, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), with specific prescriptive principles whose implementation is often supported by donor funding and international advocacy. IWRM has now become an end in itself, in some cases undermining functioning water management systems, in others setting back needed water reform agendas, and in yet others becoming a tool to mask other agendas. Critically, the current monopoly of IWRM in global water management discourse is shutting out alternative thinking on pragmatic solutions to existing water problems. This paper explains these issues and uses examples of transboundary water governance in general, groundwater management in India and rural–urban water transfer in China to show that there are (sometimes antithetical) alternatives to IWRM which are being successfully used to solve major water problems. The main message is that we should simply get on with pragmatic politics and solutions to the world’s many individual water challenges.

Pages: 364-376


Research Article

A new paradigm for water? A comparative review of integrated, adaptive and ecosystem-based water management in the Anthropocene

Jess Schoeman, Catherine Allan and C. Max Finlayson
Institute for Land, Water and Society, School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW, Australia

Contact: Jess Schoeman | Email: jschoeman@csu.edu.au


The failure of conventional approaches to achieve equitable and sustainable water management has prompted a new way of perceiving and acting with water. This is creating a ‘new water paradigm’ that emphasizes broader stakeholder involvement; integration of sectors, issues and disciplines; attention to the human dimensions of management; and wider recognition of the economic, ecological and cultural values of water. This article reviews three approaches arising within the new water paradigm: integrated water resources management; ecosystem-based approaches; and adaptive management. The article concludes that the strengths of each approach address different moral and ecological challenges. Combining these strengths, while minimizing tensions, may contribute to more effective water management in the Anthropocene.

Pages: 377-390


Research Article

Overcoming the land –water disconnect in water-scarce regions: time for IWRM to go contemporary

M. Falkenmarka,b, A. Jagerskoga and K. Schneidera
aStockholm International Water Institute, Sweden; bStockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden

Contact: Malin Falkenmark | Email: mfalkenmark@live.se


This article aims to analyze the relationships between water and land. It posits that there is a disconnect between land and water management that needs to be rectified. To address the major challenges the world is facing in terms of feeding itself and securing adequate access to water there is a need to revisit the integrated water resources management (IWRM) paradigm. While IWRM incorporates the link between land and water in theory, it is often ignored in practice. The authors argue that greater visibility of the land–water linkage is needed and would be encouraged by adding an L for land use, making ILWRM: integrated land and water resources management. The natural systems at play are juxtaposed with a discussion of the (water) governance challenges that they pose. Challenges stemming from increased land (and thereby water) acquisitions, as well as the transboundary perspectives of the ILWRM challenge, highlight the need to revisit and evolve our approach to providing water and food security.

Pages: 391-408


Research Article

Integrated water resources management: unified process or debate forum?

Neil S. Grigg
Department of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

Contact: Neil S. Grigg | Email: neilg@engr.colostate.edu


The concept of integrated water resources management (IWRM) has stimulated a productive international dialogue, but is criticized as being ambiguous or a tool of the establishment and unresponsive to important needs. However, its broad scope actually enables it to provide a common language, facilitate policy discussions, catalogue management practices, and support education and capacity building. Similar criticisms can be levelled at integrated paradigms in other sectors, and even the process of water management itself. IWRM faces challenges because water policy is often subordinated to policies of other sectors and because of the unique attributes of water.

Pages: 409-422


Research Article

Can integrated water resource management be of value to business, specifically the oil and gas sector?

Ruth Romer
IPIECA, London, UK

Contact: Ruth Romer | Email: ruth.romer@ipieca.org


Water is an important resource for both business and society; it is a cross-cutting issue and should be managed using an integrated approach. Many businesses, such as oil and gas, have global operations in multiple geographic and climatic contexts across a range of jurisdictions. This paper explores whether the conceptual framework of integrated water resource management (IWRM) is an applicable approach for business to manage water issues. There are currently limited documented experiences of the relationship between business and IWRM. This article summarizes key findings from research that was supported by King’s College London. Findings indicate that although IWRM is a high-level, holistic approach, the principles can be of value.

Pages: 423-432


Research Article

Integrated water resources management: horizontal and vertical explorations and the ‘water in all policies’ approach

Olli Varis, Konrad Enckell and Marko Keskinen
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Water & Development Research Group, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland

Contact: Olli Varis | Email: olli.varis@aalto.fi


Water constitutes a sector that overlaps with many other sectors and within itself has an array of quite different interests, stakeholders with varying mind-sets and consequently notable governance challenges. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is the recommended approach to tackle this situation. Integration -both vertical (within the sector) and horizontal (across different established sectors)- is seen as fundamental to balanced governance and policy making. IWRM has a long history, and rich experiences, both positive and negative, have been reported. This article summarizes some of this experience and concludes that both vertical and horizontal challenges are ample. To contextualize and systematize integration, a flow chart is presented for various tasks and phases of water governance, and the challenges of integration are embedded into that framework. Because water is not the only sector that overlaps with other sectors and has integration challenges, the health sector is considered to learn from its approaches. Particularly interesting is the ‘health in all policies’ approach. This is helpful in further developing IWRM, in particular with respect to horizontal integration, in which IWRM may particularly need development.

Pages: 433-444

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2014.912130 (Open Access)

Research Article

IWRM in England: bridging the gap between top-down and bottom-up implementation

Nigel Watson
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK

Contact: Nigel Watson | Email: n.watson1@lancaster.ac.uk


Implementation of IWRM has generally been approached mechanistically, with attention focused on identifying necessary conditions and developing useful tools and techniques. In contrast, this article examines alternative approaches to implementation in their totality, using IWRM in England as a case analysis. In England, the EU Water Framework Directive has been implemented through a ‘top-down’ approach but a ‘bottom-up’ approach has been adopted for catchment management. Both the Water Framework Directive and the catchment-based approach are consistent with the goals of IWRM, but their implementation arrangements are disconnected and operate at different scales. This example suggests that cross-scale interplay and bridging institutions are critical to the successful implementation of IWRM in complex governance settings.

Pages: 445-459


Research Article

Integrated water resource management: lessons from conservation authorities in Ontario, Canada

Bruce Mitchella, Charles Priddleb, Dan Shrubsolec, Barbara Vealeb and Dan Waltersd
aDepartment of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada; bConservation Halton, Burlington, Canada; cDepartment of Geography, Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada; dDepartment of Geography, Nipissing University, North Bay, Canada

Contact: Bruce Mitchell | Email: mitchell@uwaterloo.ca


The lessons and opportunities of integrated water resource management in Ontario are described by focusing attention on conservation authorities: watershed-based agencies formed between 1946 and 1979. Six foundational principles of the programme are explained: the watershed as the management unit; local initiative; provincial –municipal partnership; a healthy environment for a healthy economy; a comprehensive approach; and cooperation and coordination. Illustrative examples from the Grand River and Halton Region conservation authorities provide the basis for conclusions. The six principles have served the integrated water resource management programme well. In addition, the ability to make difficult budgetary decisions and adapt to changing public need has contributed to the conservation authorities’ success.

Pages: 460-474


Research Article

Simulation modelling for water governance in basins

Peter Droogersa and Johan Boumab
aFutureWater, Wageningen, the Netherlands; bEmeritus Professor in Soil Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Contact: Peter Droogers | Email: p.droogers@futurewater.nl


Accelerating future water shortages require development of operational water governance models, as illustrated by three case studies: (1) upstream–downstream interactions in the Aral Sea basin, where science acts as problem recognizer, emphasizing scoping policies; (2) impact and adaptation of climate change on water and food supply in the Middle East and North Africa, where science acts as a mediator between perspectives, emphasizing scoping and a start of implementation policies; and (3) green water credits in Kenya, where science acts as advocate, emphasizing scoping and implementation policies in close interaction with stakeholders, including impulses from applied to basic research.

Pages: 475-494


Research Article

Too much of a good thing? Building social capital through knowledge transfer and collaborative networks in the southern Philippines

Declan Hearne and Bronwyn Powell
International WaterCentre, Brisbane, Australia

Contact: Declarn Hearne | Email: d.hearne@watercentre.org


Meaningful engagement of diverse stakeholders is essential for ensuring support for science-based responses to complex watershed challenges. A collaborative network in the Davao river basins, in the Philippines, provides evidence of an approach that enabled integration of science into local decision making and increased bonding social capital between shared-interest groups. Insufficient attention towards bridging and linking social capital allowed bottlenecks between policy and implementation to persist. This ‘dark side’ of social capital was evidenced by entrenched sector positions and lower levels of trust between different interest groups. A social-learning approach is recommended to create new spaces for productive ‘bridging’ relationships.

Pages: 495-514


Research Article

Evaluating IWRM implementation success: are water policies in Bangladesh enhancing adaptive capacity to climate change impacts?

Josselin J. Rouillarda, David Bensonb and Animesh K. Gainc
aSchool of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, UK; bEnvironment and Sustainability Institute and Department of Politics, University of Exeter, UK; cDepartment of Economics, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy

Contact: Josselin J. Rouillard | Email: josselinrouillard@gmail.com


Optimizing the capacity to adapt to climate change impacts has become a critical challenge for human societies. This article therefore evaluates how integrated water resource management (IWRM) approaches help enhance adaptive capacity to climate change impacts on water resources. An evaluative framework is derived from key IWRM principles and their roles in modulating adaptive capacity. This framework is then used to evaluate IWRM implementation in Bangladesh. The analysis draws on policy documents, interviews and a survey of policy makers. Results suggest that policy principles and implementation in favour of IWRM can be a source of success but also of failure for adaptive capacity. Recommendations for amending the concept with the aim of increasing adaptive capacity are outlined.

Pages: 515-527


Research Article

The politics of IWRM in Southern Africa

Lyla Mehtaa,b, Rossella Albac, Alex Boldingc, Kristi Denbya, Bill Dermana, Takunda Hoved, Emmanuel Manzungue, Synne Movikf, Preetha Prabhakaranb and Barbara van Koppeng
aDepartment of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Aas, Norway; bInstitute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK; cWater Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands; dAteg Consultants, Harare, Zimbabwe; eDepartment of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe; fNorwegian Institute for Water Research, Oslo, Norway; gInternational Water Management Institute, Pretoria, South Africa

Contact: Lyla Mehta | Email: l.mehta@ids.ac.uk


This article offers an approach to the study of the evolution, spread and uptake of integrated water resources management (IWRM). Specifically, it looks at the flow of IWRM as an idea in international and national fora, its translation and adoption into national contexts, and the on-the-ground practices of IWRM. Research carried out in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique provides empirical insights into the politics of IWRM implementation in southern Africa, the interface between international and national interests in shaping water policies in specific country contexts, and the on-the-ground challenges of addressing equity, redress and the reallocation of water.

Pages: 528-542


Research Article

Moving beyond integrated water resource management: developmental water management in South Africa

Barbara van Koppena and Barbara Schreinerb
aInternational Water Management Institute, Silverton, South Africa; bPegasys Institute South Africa, Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa

Contact: Barbara van Kopen | Email: b.vankoppen@cgiar.org


This article traces the history of integrated water resources management (IWRM) in South Africa since the 1970s. It examines IWRM according to its three common pillars, which are also reflected in South Africa’s National Water Act: economic efficiency, environmental sustainability, and equity. The article highlights how the principles of economic efficiency and the environment as a user in its own right emerged under apartheid, while equity was only included in the post-1994 water policies, with evolving influence on the other two principles. In 2013, the Department of Water Affairs overcame the widely documented flaws of IWRM by adopting developmental water management as its water resource management approach, aligning with the political and socio-economic goals of South Africa’s democratic developmental state.

Pages: 543-558


Research Article

Legislative and institutional reforms for water resources management in Ghana

Clement Dorm-Adzobua and Ben Yaw Ampomahb
aTU Braunschweig, Institut fur Socialwissenschaften, Germany; bWater Resources Commission, Labone, Accra, Ghana

Contact: Clement Dorm-Adzobu | Email: gbefikosi42@gmail.com


The management of water resources among traditional societies in Ghana has been based on indigenous knowledge systems and practices. Colonial administrations subsequently vested water administration at the central level, without proper coordination, resulting in disjointed management systems. When a new constitution was adopted in 1992, constitutional requirements resulted in an overhaul of the legislative and institutional framework for water resources management. The old sector-based legislative instruments have been reviewed; a Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing has been created for policy direction; and an act of Parliament has established a Water Resources Commission to regulate and manage the utilization of Ghana’s fresh-water resources.

Pages: 559-571


Research Article

Assessment of water resources management in the Ethiopian Central Rift Valley: environmental conservation and poverty reduction

Jordi Pascual-Ferreraa,b, Agustí Pérez-Fogueta,c, Jordi Codonyc, Ester Raventósc and Lucila Candelab
aInstitute of Sustainability, UPC-Barcelona Tech, Barcelona, Spain; bDepartment of Geotechnical Engineering and Geoscience, UPC-Barcelona Tech, Barcelona, Spain; cDepartment of Applied Mathematics III, UPC-Barcelona Tech, Barcelona, Spain

Contact: Jordi Pascual-Ferrera | Email: jordi.pascual-ferrer@upc.edu


This article assesses the relation between water management, environmental degradation and poverty through a stakeholder analysis focused on the status and management of water resources. It draws from the situation observed in the Ethiopian Central Rift Valley, an endorheic basin south of Addis Ababa where human activities have resulted in the degradation of most freshwater ecosystems and where the vast majority of the population lives in poverty. It proposes a shift in water governance that focuses on improving economic and social welfare and enhancing environmental sustainability. This shift can help overcome some of the problems affecting the Central Rift Valley, namely: (1) the overexploitation of water resources; (2) poor water quality; and (3) the high dependency of the population on water resources to sustain their livelihoods.

Pages: 572-587


Research Article

From principles to localized implementation: villagers’ experiences of IWRM in the Shiyang River basin, Northwest China

Haiyan Yu, Mike Edmunds, Anna Lora-Wainwright and Dave Thomas
School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University, Oxfordshire, UK

Contact: Haiyan Yu | Email: haiyan.yu@ouce.ox.ac.uk


Understanding perceptions of resource users and influencing factors that affect these perceptions has significant value in evaluating the success or failure of IWRM (integrated water resource management) reforms. This article explores villagers’ experiences of China’s recent powerful enforcement of IWRM and the locally perceived impacts through three in-depth case studies. Results show that neither villagers’ perspectives nor the implementation processes and outcomes are monolithic. Political trust plays a key role in shaping villagers’ perspectives and responses towards IWRM, which is constantly shaped and reshaped by understanding, experiences and negotiation among different stakeholders in the embedded physical, socio-economic and political environment.

Pages: 588-604


Research Article

Supporting IWRM through spatial integrated assessment in the Lake Naivasha basin, Kenya

Pieter Richard van Oela,b, Vincent Omondi Odongoa,c, Dawit Woubishet Mulatua, Francis Kamau Muthonia, Jane Njeri Ndungua,c,  Job Ochieng’ Ogadaa,d,e and Anne van der Veena
aFaculty of Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation (ITC), University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands; bWater Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands; cEgerton University, Nakuru, Kenya; dFaculty of Arts Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya; eDepartment of Economics and Agricultural Economics, School of Business and Economics, Masai Mara University, Narok, Kenya

Contact: Pieter Richard van Oel | Email: pieter.vanoel@wur.nl


This study describes the mismatch between required knowledge and efforts by scientists and stakeholders in the Lake Naivasha basin, Kenya. In the basin, integrated water resources management (IWRM) suffers from the absence of critically relevant knowledge. This study further presents a spatial integrated assessment framework for supporting IWRM in the basin. This framework resulted from an ongoing debate between stakeholders and scientists studying the basin’s issues. It builds on jointly identified indicators for sustainable governance, and their interdependency, and knowledge gaps. For IWRM in the basin this is a first important step towards a more structured debate on the implementation of IWRM.

Pages: 605-618