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Integrated and Adaptive Management of Water Resources: Tensions, Legacies, and the Next Best Thing

Nathan L Engle, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan; Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland
Owen R Johns, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
Maria Carmen Lemos, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
Donald R Nelson, University of Georgia


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Integrated water resources management (IWRM) and adaptive management (AM) are two institutional and management paradigms designed to address shortcomings within water systems governance; the limits of hierarchical water institutional arrangements in the case of IWRM and the challenge of making water management decisions under uncertainty in the case of AM. Recently, there has been a trend to merge these paradigms to address the growing complexity of stressors shaping water management such as globalization and climate change. However, because many of these joint approaches have received little empirical attention, questions remain about how they might work, or not, in practice. Here, we explore a few of these issues using empirical research carried out in Brazil. We focus on highlighting the potentially negative interactions, tensions, and trade-offs between different institutions/mechanisms perceived as desirable as research and practice attempt to make water systems management simultaneously integrated and adaptive. Our examples pertain mainly to the use of techno-scientific knowledge in water management and governance in Brazilís IWRM model and how it relates to participation, democracy, deliberation, diversity, and adaptability. We show that a legacy of technical and hierarchical management has shaped the integration of management, and subsequently, the degree to which management might also be adaptive. Although integrated systems may be more legitimate and accountable than top-down command and control ones, the mechanisms of IWRM may be at odds with the flexible, experimental, and self-organizing nature of AM.

Key words

adaptive capacity; adaptive management; institutional inertia; integrated water resources management; resilience; trade-offs; water governance

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087