Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 311–326 | Cite as

Management of catchments for the protection of water resources: drawing on the New York City watershed experience

Original Article


Primary purposes for catchment management are to establish a cost-effective allocation and use of its water resources and to most effectively apply measures to protect the quantity and quality of the water produced by the catchment. For the latter purpose, diffuse sources of contamination are the greatest difficulty. Diffuse (or non-point source) water pollution poses challenges for public policy and requires innovative management approaches. Solutions ultimately require behavioural change and a broad societal response, and must be flexible and adaptive to stochastic catchment conditions and to long-term trends. Internationally, new models of governance for difficult land and water resource management problems are developing. This paper reviews the characteristics of ‘wicked’ environmental management problems and the specific policy challenges posed by diffuse water pollution. A framework for action is derived and compared to the activities and outcomes of water protection in the New York City watershed. Successes to date in this case indicate that because land management and diffuse sources of pollution have a local basis, protection of water at source necessitates the fostering of local instruments for an adaptive and twin-track strategy of applied research and stakeholder deliberation, supported by multi-level partnerships and an enabling regulatory environment. Although long running, evidence from this case alone is insufficient to establish whether potential trade-offs between water protection and the economic vitality of catchment communities can be fully resolved.


Wicked problems Catchment management Diffuse pollution Adaptive management Water quality 



Research informing this paper was undertaken under a Capacity Building Award and subsequent Research Project Award from the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU) which is a collaboration between the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Additional funding of the RELU programme is provided by the Scottish Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The authors acknowledge the contributions made by Kevin Hiscock, Hadrian Cook, Alex Inman, Jon Hillman, Patricia Bishop, Dean Frazier, Mary Jane Porter, David Benson and Andrew Jordan, but bear sole responsibility for any errors or omissions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, School of Oriental and African StudiesUniversity of LondonWye, Ashford, KentUK
  2. 2.Cornell University Law SchoolIthacaUSA

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