Water, People, and Sustainability-A Systems Framework for Analyzing and Assessing Water Governance Regimes

Arnim Wiek, Kelli Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Freshwater resources might become the most limited resource in the future due to rising demands, climate change, and the degradation of aquatic ecosystems. While the urgency of this challenge is uncontested, water governance regimes still struggle to employ suitable responses. They lack of: taking a comprehensive perspective on water systems; focusing on social actors, their actions, needs, intentions, and norms as drivers of water systems; engaging in a discourse on tangible goals to provide direction for governance efforts; and promoting a comprehensive perspective on water sustainability that equally recognizes depletion, justice, and livelihood issues in the long-term. We present an approach that intends to overcome these limitations by putting the focus on what people do with water, and why, along with the impacts of these doings. First, we outline an integrated approach to water governance regimes, and then, we present a holistic set of principles by which to evaluate sustainable water governance. Solution-oriented research applying this approach integrates natural sciences and engineering perspectives on water systems with social science studies on water governance, while also specifying and applying normative principles for water sustainability. The approach we develop herein can be used to reform and innovate existing water governance regimes as well as stimulate transformative governance research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3153-3171
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Management
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Governance analysis
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Sustainability principles, sustainable water governance
  • Water system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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