Water governance systems: conceptual framework, principles and criteria

Authors and Affiliations: 

Belmans Els, Kerselaers Eva, Messely Lies, Wauters Erwin, Søderkvist Kristensen Lone

Corresponding author: 
Els Belmans

High-quality, safe, and sufficient drinking water is essential for life: we use it for drinking, food preparation and cleaning. However, more than half of the river and lake water bodies in Europe are reported to be in less than good ecological status and about 25% of groundwater across Europe is in poor chemical status (European Commission, 2012). Despite the increased integration of policies to deliver clean and safe drinking water over the last 30 years there is clearly a need to increase the engagement between interdependent actors and stakeholders (EEA, 2015). The reduction of the diffuse pollution of drinking water sources by pesticides and fertilisers used by the agricultural sector remains the biggest challenge and requires a move towards more “horizontal” water governance between the various actors and stakeholders: water companies, farmers, nature conservation NGOs, plant protection product producers, fertilizer producers, food and retail businesses, consumer organisations, environment agencies and ministries (OECD, 2011). The overall aim of the European Horizon2020 project ‘WaterProtect’ is to contribute to the effective uptake and realization of innovative farming systems delivering good water quality. Therefore an integrative multi-actor participatory framework including innovative instruments that enable actors to monitor, to finance and to effectively implement management practices and measures for the protection of water sources will be developed.

One of the aims of the project is to develop new models for water governance to facilitate adoption of measures and actions to protect drinking water sources. Water governance is a well-investigated topic. The Global Water Partnership (GWP) defines it as the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems in place to develop and manage water resources, and the delivery of water services, at different levels of society (Rogers and Hall, 2002). This attention has led to a large number of guidelines, principles and frameworks for water governance systems. Yet, there are still gaps in understanding why certain governance systems work effectively and efficiently in practice and others do not. Therefore, we aim to develop a framework for evaluating and analyzing water governance systems across case-studies in the EU. Based on a review of existing literature on water governance, we will develop a conceptual framework on water governance, which will then be translated into a set of practical guidelines or criteria to evaluate existing water governance systems. The guidelines will serve to evaluate the feasibility and the uptake of science-based mitigation measures and stewardship solutions in the different cases. They should be applicable across different biophysical, social, economic and political conditions. At the congress, we will present this conceptual framework and the application of it on the Belgian case.


EEA (2015), The European environment — state and outlook 2015: an integrated assessment of the European Environment.

European Commission (2012), Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the Implementation of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) River Basin Management Plans.

OECD (2011), Water Governance in OECD Countries: A Multi-level Appoach, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing.

Rogers and Hall, 2002. Effective water governance. TEC Background papers No. 7. Stockholm: Global Water Partnership.

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