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Integration with moderation

New direction for water management

In Switzerland, various local, cantonal and federal authorities are responsible for water management. This leads to inefficiencies and extra costs. A project of the National Research Programme "Sustainable Water Management" (NRP 61) now shows that sustainability and efficiency can be improved if the various water management sectors are integrated with moderation.

In our daily lives, we rely on water in many ways. The challenges which have to be met by politics and society are similarly varied: authorities on all levels are involved in managing the various water sectors, which include drinking water supply, wastewater management, flood prevention measures and the protection of aquatic life. Administrative obstacles and conflicting views often lead to friction and hamper an efficient management of water.

Model in the canton of Neuchâtel
The European Water Framework Directive demands a stronger integration of the whole water management domain. Could this be the answer? A project of the National Research Programme "Sustainable Water Management" (NRP 61) explored to what extent this approach might work in Switzerland. "In a first step, we gained a good understanding of how the various sectors collaborate by analysing literature and conducting interviews with experts as well as holding workshops with people involved in water management," says project leader Bernhard Truffer, head of the division for Environmental Social Sciences at the Eawag. "In a second step, we elaborated a proposal showing what the transition towards a more integrated water management might look like."

The advantages of an integrated approach to water management are exemplified in the project "MultiRuz" in the Val-de-Ruz between Neuchâtel and La-Chaux-de-Fonds. A few years ago, the communities in the valley suffered from lack of water and poor water quality. The responsibilities relating to water were distributed across 22 bodies. In early 2011, a large proportion of the tasks was transferred to a new authority - a pioneering step for Switzerland. This solved the problems related to water quality and led to savings of around CHF 3 million per year.

Centralised solution not feasible
On the basis of six case studies, the researchers concluded that the current fragmented system is no longer suitable. But they are aware that a centralised solution, as was introduced in France, is not compatible with the federal structures of Switzerland. Instead, they recommend a balanced solution that reflects the existing political and social structures. "A balanced approach prevents unnecessary bureaucratic structures," Truffer states. "Every catchment area requires a different solution."

The catchment area of Lake Greifen (where the canton of Zurich is implementing a number of measures to achieve a more sustainable management of water) requires different measures from the Val-de-Ruz or the Valais (where the third Rhone correction is due in the next few years). "Integration is not an end in itself," says Truffer. "The aim is to achieve the targets defined for a catchment area as efficiently and inexpensively as possible." It is therefore important to balance the advantages and possible savings with the growing coordination effort of the integration.

Higher acceptance
The researchers propose a staggered approach: in the first instance, the federal authorities elaborate a national water strategy which combines existing strategies and define in which cases integrated water management needs to be introduced. The cantons then decide which catchment areas might benefit from improved integration. On this basis, they implement - supported by the federal authorities - the necessary measures in collaboration with the involved actors. This Swiss model is more efficient than a fully centralised solution and it enjoys a higher degree of acceptance among the people involved.

In the context of the "International Year of Water Cooperation", the researchers are presenting their results at the conference "Water overcomes boundaries - examples and opportunities in Switzerland", which takes place in Berne on 22 March 2013.

On this subject
Synthesis report of the project the project “Towards integrative water governance” (in German): Scheuchzer Patrick, Walter Felix, Truffer Bernhard, Balsiger Jörg, Chaix Olivier, Kempter Tim, Klinke Andreas, Menzel Susanne, Wehse Heiko, Zysset Andreas:
Auf dem Weg zu einer integrierten Wasserwirtschaft. Synthese zum Projekt IWAGO – Integrated Water Governance with Adaptive Capacity in Switzerland (2012)
Video clip of the project “Towards integrative water governance”:

Tools for practice, elaborated by the project “Towards integrative water governance”, can be found on the website of "Wasser-Agenda 21":

Conference "Water overcomes boundaries - examples and opportunities in Switzerland":

National Research Programme "Sustainable Water Management" (NRP 61)
The National Research Programme “Sustainable Water Management” (NRP 61) develops scientific principles and methods for the sustainable management of water resources, which are under increasing pressure. NRP 61 explores the effects of climate and social changes on these resources and identifies the risks and future conflicts associated with their use. NRP 61 operates with CHF 12 million for a research duration of four years. Website of NRP 61 "Sustainable Water Management":
Prof. Bernhard Truffer
CH-8600 Dübendorf
Phone.: +41 58 765 56 70

Communication division | idw
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