Water Governance and Management for Sustainable Development
Olcay Unver, Lucie Pluschke, Betsy Riley, and So-Jung Youn
As freshwater resources become increasingly scarce, so does competition for them. With consumption levels at a historical high, much of current economic development depends on reliable and safe access to water. The increasing cost of accessing water leads to tensions among different actors, requiring facilitated discussions between competing user groups, between economic sectors, and even between countries where freshwater resources span international boundaries. It has been acknowledged by the international community that water crises are, to a large extent, crises of governance rather than scarcity (FAO 2014c). Without governance, it is difficult to manage water resources, to strategize about investments in water-using sectors, to provide and maintain infrastructure, or to protect aquatic ecosystems adequately.
Water governance offers a framework for addressing issues of water scarcity that goes beyond water management. Water governance looks at processes, actors, and institutions that work across sectoral boundaries and with a broad range of users of water resources and services, including agriculture, food, energy, health, and environment. Governance encompasses the political, administrative, financial, and social domains of freshwater use, including formal and informal systems and mechanisms that impact the state, quality, and management of water resources. This multiscale approach is increasingly necessary as current management-only approaches often do not adequately address cross-cutting and interlinked issues. As we all rely on the same and limited resource base, no sector can operate rationally in isolation.
With increasing scarcity, it is key to rethink water governance. As current water management practices often operate in an almost silo-like environment, each sector manages its own intake and outtake with little communication with other water users. This can strain a system that is based on the hydrologic cycle—a continuous movement of water on, above, over, and under the surface of the planet. Withdrawals of water from this system are through interactions with only small parts of this cycle, in the form of rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, or underground aquifers, but these interactions can modify the cycle. Through structural and nonstructural semipermanent interactions with the water system, humans can change water flows through building physical infrastructure for storage and other flow regulation, which in turn can impact the entire cycle and the ability of all other water users to draw on the system.