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Spatial Fit, from Panacea to Practice: Implementing the EU Water Framework Directive

Timothy Moss, Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS)


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Within the broad discourse on the concept of fit and its relevance for the governance of social–ecological systems, problems of spatial fit have attracted particular attention. Mismatches abound between the geographical extent of an environmental resource and the territorial scope of the institutions affecting its use. Managing water resources around river basins is, perhaps, the most prominent illustration of attempts to reconcile the boundaries of an environmental resource with those of its respective institutions. Achieving perfect spatial fit has, however, proved an elusive task in practice. Beyond the difficulties of defining the physical boundaries of water and reordering institutional arrangements to reflect these, improving spatial fit for water can create new spatial misfits with other policy sectors upon which sustainable water management is dependent. The paper explores the way spatial fit is conceptualized, institutionalized, and practised, using the EU Water Framework Directive and its implementation in one sub-basin of the Rhine as an exemplar. The paper develops from the analysis a more differentiated and context-sensitive understanding of the concept of spatial fit of practical value to policy makers.

Key words

river basin management, spatial fit, Water Framework Directive, Wupper

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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