Water Resources Management

, Volume 30, Issue 7, pp 2161–2177 | Cite as

A Comparative Analysis of Water Governance, Water Management, and Environmental Performance in River Basins

  • Christian Knieper
  • Claudia Pahl-Wostl


River ecosystems are facing a diversity of threats in many parts of the world. To restore and preserve riverine environments, human societies have established water governance and management responses. However, the means by which a satisfactory environmental state can be achieved in light of different regional contexts is still poorly understood. This article explores whether or not good environmental performance can be achieved through water governance and management in combination with further context factors. To this end, we applied fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis to examine data on water governance, water management, and environmental performance from a recent international study together with context data on per capita income, corruption, hydro-climate, and use pressure from other datasets. Results demonstrate that the combination of polycentric governance, high per capita income, and low levels of corruption is sufficient for achieving good water management practice. However, a good environmental state in river basins seems to primarily depend upon the overall level of pressure from human use rather than the quality of water management. This demonstrates that water governance and management should be seen as part of a broader societal transformation towards sustainability that focusses on a reduction of pressures in river basins instead of mitigating their impacts.


Polycentric water governance Water management Fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) River basins Environmental state 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 226571. The Rüdiger Kurt Bode Foundation provided co-funding, which facilitated the follow-up research presented here. We thank Christof Schneider (University of Kassel) for providing two useful spatial datasets (Environmental Stress induced by Flow Regime Alterations, coefficient of variation of annual flow) and Luzma Fabiola Nava Jiménez (now International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg), who contributed data on the Rio Grande case. Finally, we thank our colleagues from Osnabrück University for helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper.

Compliance With Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Systems ResearchOsnabrück UniversityOsnabrückGermany

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