Water Governance: Beyond the Management of Water Supplies
What does water governance include?For many, discussions of water governance start with thinking about who manages the collection, storage and distribution of water supplies. This might be a government body, or a water utility (a type of company) working on behalf of government, or a private company, or a collection of individuals securing their own supplies of water. There is no single model, and all countries (and sometimes even individual towns and cities) have developed particular approaches over many years.
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The Challenge of Global Water Security
What are the mechanisms for water governance?The structures and practices of water governance vary widely between countries. Some common dimensions can be identified though. These include tariff structures and billing practices, water quality standards, and obligations for the amount of water to be supplied. Whilst the legal (rules and regulations) and organisational forms (the bodies that are responsible) that shape governance practices are important, we should also recognise that cultural practices and social norms (accepted standards of behaviour or everyday practices) also play an important role. Taken as a whole these are commonly described as the prevailing ‘water institutions’. It is this institutional mix that shapes the particular practices of water governance in any one place. One emerging concept in the field of water governance is that of the ‘social contract’. This promotes the idea that as well as a legal and economic contract between a water user and a supplier, there is an assumed social contract of reciprocal expectations and responsibilities. This could include the expectation that water will be supplied at a particular quality at all times, or that users will not use too much water during times of drought. Whilst the idea of an actual social contract is more an academic theory at present, it is true that for many water users an assumed social contract exists. The importance of recognising the institutional dimension to water governance is worth re-emphasising. This is one of the reasons that we have highlighted the term governance rather than government. It also means that any institutional reforms associated with water governance cannot be seen in isolation, but are directly associated with larger agendas of state reconfiguration, socio-economic or political disputes, and dominant values that reflect prevailing power structures. Water governance is inherently political, but is also shaped by the everyday attitudes and practices of consumers on the ground. The importance of understanding and influencing these social processes is often underestimated.
Water governance is complex and messyA growing awareness of problems related to water use and management around the world is leading to a renewed interest in the role of water governance. This ranges from local issues, such as river pollution and lack of water supply, through national and transboundary pressures, to global challenges associated with climate change. This rising concern with the need to better manage water systems is reflected in the daily coverage of the mass media and in the work of academics and research institutions. The practice of water governance is shaped by the prevailing institutional context and unfolds through a series of interlinked geographical ‘domains’, from everyday matters and sovereign state policies to transboundary and global politics. This is because the institutions governing our use and supply of water are often subjective, dependent on the inherited legacy of the past, and nested in spatially hierarchical arrangements – from the local through to the international – which do not easily align to the geography of water resources. Over recent decades our understanding and recognition of water interdependencies have also grown. This has led to more comprehensive approaches to water governance that seek to integrate social, economic and environmental concerns.
The Challenge of Global Water Security
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