Water and climate

Logo of the Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean water and sanitationWithin the water management and governance theme we seek to understand and advance scientific and societal efforts in ensuring the sustainability and resilience of water resources and water services. Our research brings together cutting-edge and interdisciplinary studies across three main topics, covering both the Global South and the Global North: (1) nature-based solutions to water and climate change challenges, (2) assessment of water governance regimes and water policy instruments, and (3) climate change adaptation and resilience.

The diversity and interdependency of sectors, scales and timeframes that characterize societies prevail in all water systems. The question of how to cope with these complexities and dynamics by governance strategies enabling boundary spanning and collaboration is the core of the scientific focus of this research theme. This manifests in research projects on behavioural, organizational and institutional drivers for transitional change in water systems, water uses and water technologies. We engage with multiple theoretical frameworks and concepts, including theories on the policy process, network analysis, institutional analysis, multi-level governance, innovation and diffusion theory, and public participation.

Adopting a transdisciplinarity approach, our research projects often involve collaboration with governmental authorities, communities and the industry. We cooperate with internal and external stakeholders making the UT a ‘civic university’, through regional experimentation and innovation with stakeholder platforms and similar configurations in local, national, regional and international networks. 

Our educational commitment involves training next generation change agents in the water track of the international Master’s in Environmental and Energy Management (MEEM), with students from all over the world. This contributes to capacity development for responsible and sustainable solutions, building on UT Shaping 2030 mission and targeting both urban and rural water management from a multi-level, multi-sectoral approach.

Key publications

Aukes, E. J.Lulofs, K. R. D., & Bressers, H. T. A. (2020). (Mis-)matching framing foci: Understanding policy consensus among coastal management framesOcean and Coastal Management, 197, 105286https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2020.105286

Özerol, G., Dolman, N., Bormann, H., Bressers, H.Lulofs, K., & Böge, M. (2020). Urban water management and climate change adaptation: A self-assessment study by seven midsize cities in the North Sea RegionSustainable Cities and Society55, 102066. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2020.102066

Lordkipanidze, M.Lulofs, K., & Bressers, H. (2019). Towards a new model for the governance of the Weerribben-Wieden National ParkScience of the Total Environment648, 56-65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.08.121

Current projects

  • Horizon SpongeWorks - Co-creating and Upscaling Sponge Landscapes, 2024-2028

    SpongeWorks' main objective is to demonstrate practical, effective, economically feasible and socially inclusive integrated approaches and sustainable solutions that enhance the sponge functioning of interconnected ground-water, soil, and surface water systems at the regional scale. There are 28 knowledge institutes, governmental organizations and NGOs involved in Germany, Greece, France, Netherlands and UK involved in ‘’SpongeWorks - Co-creating and Upscaling Sponge Landscapes by Working with Natural Water Retention and Sustainable Management’’. The evaluation and implementation of sponge measures in three large demonstrators (the Pinios (GR), Lèze (FR) and Vecht (NL/DE) River Basins and transferring approaches and lessons learnt through an action plan and roadmap to at least eight associated regions and beyond to the wider EU SpongeWorks Academy is aimed at.

    Despite recognition that improving the water retention capacity of landscapes – here called ‘sponge functioning’- is a suitable method to help make society more resilient to climate change, implementation of such a methods is still lagging. This is due to a lack of system understanding and proof, a lack of knowledge at the stakeholder level on the potential impact and direct and indirect socio-economic benefits, a lack of effective and sustainable governance in close collaboration with all stakeholders involved in landscape and water management, and a lack of well-functioning institutional settings that stimulate integrated adaptive planning, design and implementation.

    It is therefore imperative that active demonstration of the potential benefits of increasing the sponge functioning of landscapes is needed. SpongeWorks emphasizes the need for planning, implementation, and management together with all relevant stakeholders. CSTM is facilitating the work upon effective and sustainable governance, stakeholder management and appropriate institutional settings that stimulate integrated adaptive planning, design and implementation of the needed measures.


  • Governance innovations for a transition to sustainable and equitable water use in Europe (GOVAQUA), 2023-2027

    A transition towards sustainable and equitable water use in Europe is urgently required to reconcile water uses and environmental needs. The Horizon Europe-funded GOVAQUA project conceptualises for the first time sustainability transition in water governance.

    The project systematically analyses and compares existing water governance systems across Europe, focusing on water use and its impacts in agriculture, industries, energy production, water utilities and the role of citizens. GOVAQUA covers niche governance innovations in legislation and regulation, multi-stakeholder participation and collaboration, economics and finance, and digital solutions for information sharing.

    CSTM analyses participatory and collaborative innovations for multi-stakeholder collaboration across levels and sectors as well as for the empowerment and involvement of citizens to develop recommendations and action perspectives to effectively implement participatory and collaborative approaches that contribute to sustainable and equitable water use at the EU and national levels. Good practices related to these are systematically reviewed, analysed and compared, and further co-developed, assessed and validated together with key stakeholders.

    Six living labs participate in GOVAQUA: Crau aquifer (France), Kokemäenjoki river basin (Finland), Axarquía region (Spain), River Thames/Oxfordshire (UK), Dunavat/Danube Delta (Romania), and transnationally between Finland and Sweden. GOVAQUA delivers new knowledge, participatory tools and good practice guidelines laying out pathways towards sustainable and equitable water future.

    More information

    Programme website: https://www.syke.fi/projects/govaqua


  • CAtchment Strategies TOwards Resilience (CASTOR), 2021-2026

    Functions of sandy-soil landscapes of the East and South Netherlands are threatened by climate change. The researchers identify climate-robust landscapes for the future, and design, together with government and societal partners, pathways towards these. CSTM reviews and redesigns relevant institutional rules contextualizing decision-making. An empirico-legal lens to analyze relevant decision contexts is used. The impact of applicable rules (laws, regulations and procedures) on decision-making upon steps towards sustainable and resilient water-land systems are assessed, and new institutional contexts are designed facilitating climate-resilient futures for sandy soil landscapes.

    Boundary judgments and boundary-spanning capacity will be assessed. The project aims to design new institutional contexts that facilitate development and implementation of pathways of sequential steps towards climate-resilient futures for sandy soil landscapes.


  • Scoping study for the knowledge base of the transboundary Vecht(e) River Basin, 2023-2024

    The ‘’Scoping study for the knowledge base of the transboundary Vecht(e) River Basin’’ is done in the context of JCAR and ATRACE. The mission of this Joint Cooperation programme on Applied scientific Research (JCAR) is to improve the cooperation on flood and drought management and research in order to Accelerate Transboundary Regional Adaptation to Climate Extremes (ATRACE). To achieve this, the ambition of JCAR-ATRACE is to foster long-term international research partnerships to enhance the knowledge base and knowledge network on flood and drought risk management in transboundary regional river basins. The transboundary Vecht(-e) basin is one of the basins, the scoping study Aim of the scoping study is to assess and report the current status of the knowledge base of the Vecht Basin (baseline report) and answering questions on what do we already know, what is done in this basin and first outlook on what is missed. It will act as knowledge base for the JCAR-ATRACE program and actions. Deltares took the initiative to plan and conduct the scoping study, and connected several knowledge partners and experts at both sides of the border.  

    CSTM contributes to the work upon water management, water governance and institutional regulatory and procedural settings, relevant for water planning, IRWM, adaptive planning across the Vecht water basin with regard to mitigation of flood risks, drought risks, and crisis-management of extreme water events. The scoping study is cross boundary, making inventory of practices upon Dutch and German territory of the Vecht basin.

    More information

    Project website: https://jcar-atrace.eu/ 

    Key publications

    Scoping study, presented in 2024.


  • Delta Lady: Floating Cultures in River Deltas (Interreg Europe programme) 2018-2023

    The Delta Lady project focuses on river deltas in Europe and their potential to develop innovative activities aiming at utilization of local natural and cultural heritage.  The aim is to improve the regional policy instruments that foster the capabilities of using ecosystem services in river deltas to strengthen regional economy.  The delta regions are rich in biodiversity but poor financially. The challenge is how to foster the natural and cultural capabilities available from the past and to develop new experiences based on ecoservices in river deltas to boost regional economy. Six delta regions participate: Rhine delta (NL), Danube delta (RO), Camargue delta (FR), Albufera delta (ES), Po delta (IT) and River Blackwater delta (IE). Nine partners from six countries represent a mix of regional and local public authorities as well as education and research institutes.

    More information

    Project website: https://www.interregeurope.eu/deltalady/

    Key publications

    Krozer, Y. , Coenen, F., Hanganu, J. , Lordkipanidze, M., & Sbarcea, M. (2020). Towards innovative governance of nature areasSustainability (Switzerland)12(24), [624]. https://doi.org/10.3390/su122410624


  • How to explain instrument selection in complex policy processes?

    In 2010, the United Nations (UN) recognized the human right to water and sanitation (Resolution 64/292). This UN decision fortifies that water is a public good and that nobody can be excluded from its use. While it is in every individual’s interest to use water for drinking water purposes, for irrigation, as a sink for wastewater, a means of transport, or for leisure activities, its overuse is an inherent collective action problem that affects us all. Public policymaking takes a particularly important role regarding the protection of water quality, as it can help to overcome problems of collective action. The present study therefore analyzes the way in which the political realm handles a new challenge of water protection policy, namely aquatic micropollutants.

    Micropollutants are chemical substances present in very small concentrations in waters. The significance of reducing emissions into waters can be attributed to the fact that even very low concentrations of micropollutants can cause severe environmental impacts, and further impacts on humans can be expected. Finding ways to reduce micropollutants in waters is a relevant— but also a complex—political task because of the diversity of substances, uses, discharges, and effects. Due to the complexity of the issue, finding political solutions that comprehensively reduce micropollutants in waters is challenging. In order to understand how different countries respond to this challenge, this project compares the politics of water protection policies in the Rhine riparian countries, i.e., Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

    Key publications

    Schaub, S. , & Metz, F. A. (2020). Comparing Discourse and Policy Network Approaches: Evidence from Water Policy on MicropollutantsPolitics and Governance8(2), 184-199. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i2.2597

    Ingold, K., Varone, F., Kammerer, M., Metz, F. A., Kammerman, L., & Strotz, C. (2020). Are responses to official consultations and stakeholder surveys reliable guides to policy actors positions? Policy Politics, 48(2), 193-222. https://doi.org/10.1332/030557319X15613699478503


Selection of past projects