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Dealing with change and uncertainty within the regulatory frameworks for flood defense infrastructure in selected European countries

Susana Goytia, Luleň University of Technology, Sweden
Maria Pettersson, Luleň University of Technology, Sweden
Thomas Schellenberger, University Franšois Rabelais, Tours, France
Willemijn J van Doorn-Hoekveld, Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law, Utrecht University School of Law, The Netherlands
Sally Priest, Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, UK


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Whereas existing literature on the interactions among law, adaptive governance, and resilience in the water sector often focuses on quality or supply issues, this paper addresses adaptation in national water laws in relation to increasing flood risks. In particular, this paper analyzes the extent to which legal rules governing flood defense infrastructure in a selection of European countries (England, France, Sweden, and The Netherlands) allow for response and adaptation to change and uncertainty. Although there is evidence that the legal rules on the development of new infrastructure require that changing conditions be considered, the adaptation of existing infrastructure is a more complicated matter. Liability rules fail to adequately address damages resulting from causes external to the action or inaction of owners and managers, in particular extreme events. A trend toward clearer, and in some cases, increased public powers to ensure the safety of flood defense infrastructure is observed. The paper concludes that legal rules should ensure not only that decisions to build flood defenses are based on holistic and future-oriented assessments, but also that this is reflected in the implementation and operation of these structures.

Key words

Adaptive governance; flood defense; flood risk; flood risk management; water law

Copyright © 2016 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