Water Resources Management

, Volume 26, Issue 11, pp 3153–3171 | Cite as

Water, People, and Sustainability—A Systems Framework for Analyzing and Assessing Water Governance Regimes

  • Arnim WiekEmail author
  • Kelli L. Larson


Freshwater resources might become the most limited resource in the future due to rising demands, climate change, and the degradation of aquatic ecosystems. While the urgency of this challenge is uncontested, water governance regimes still struggle to employ suitable responses. They lack of: taking a comprehensive perspective on water systems; focusing on social actors, their actions, needs, intentions, and norms as drivers of water systems; engaging in a discourse on tangible goals to provide direction for governance efforts; and promoting a comprehensive perspective on water sustainability that equally recognizes depletion, justice, and livelihood issues in the long-term. We present an approach that intends to overcome these limitations by putting the focus on what people do with water, and why, along with the impacts of these doings. First, we outline an integrated approach to water governance regimes, and then, we present a holistic set of principles by which to evaluate sustainable water governance. Solution-oriented research applying this approach integrates natural sciences and engineering perspectives on water systems with social science studies on water governance, while also specifying and applying normative principles for water sustainability. The approach we develop herein can be used to reform and innovate existing water governance regimes as well as stimulate transformative governance research.


Water system Governance analysis Sustainability principles, sustainable water governance Sustainability assessment 



The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers helpful comments on previous versions of the article. We also would like to thank Lauren Withycombe, Danielle Shaffer, Sandra Rodegher, Adrienne Uphoff, and Christopher Kuzdas (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University) for research assistance. This article is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant SES-0345945, Decision Center for a Desert City. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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