Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Understanding and Managing Urban Water in Transition

Quentin Grafton, Katherine A Daniell, Céline Nauges, Jean-Daniel Rinaudo, Noel Wai Wah Chan (editors)

Springer Netherlands



The goal attempted in this book is to develop a single framework, applicable to both rich countries and developing economies, for understanding and acting on urban water issues, despite the manifold shifts and transitions underway. In general, the book analyses how urban water is valued, supplied, managed, delivered, consumed and treated. The book consists of 51 contributions, covering a range of insights, case studies, summaries and analyses of urban water from a global perspective. These are divided into three extensive sections: water supply and sanitation cases (review of urban water services in Western Europe, Australia, US, Zimbabwe, South Africa), water demand and water economics examples (Australia, France, Egypt), and water governance and integrated management  (Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Netherlands).

The premise of the editors was that there is a range of changes and transitions occurring in the way water is being managed in many urban settlements around the world. These are taking place as development patterns, the climate, social preferences and values are changing. As noted in the book: “The concept of transition is used to convey the idea of a progressive adaptation or transformation of a system in response to a particular stimuli (drivers)”

In response to the situations driving change in urban water systems, the authors have identified changes in urban water systems, such as:

·         Improvements in public health and equality of service: These include transitions to centralized water supply and sewerage systems. Water piped into individual homes (Chapter 6) that are facing resource scarcity and alternative water governance systems lead to alternative water systems, and in turn to less quality and equality.

·         Protection of life, livelihoods and wellbeing (of humans and the environment): Some chapters illustrate how initial hydro-technic modifications in urban environments at risk of flooding have been replaced by non-structural, adaptive measures such as “dry-proofing” to reduce flood risk. Other authors acknowledge the need to leave room for floodwater and reduce the risks associated with the failure of flood defence infrastructure in more extreme climate events, through the implementation of a range of both structural and non-structural measures.

·         Encouraging the resource efficiency of “doing more with less”: This includes water education efficiency programmes and water metering and pricing.

·         Commodification and economic valuation of water: With the acknowledgement of the social and environmental values for water, as well as the limits to water access, comes the possibility and often the need to monetize the purchase of water.

·         Low-impact development:  Water academics and stakeholder groups have highlighted the need for forms of lower-impact development or “water-sensitive urban design”.

·         Integrated system approaches: These imply that all resources and issues within a specific territory will be managed holistically with the aim of achieving the most sustainable and self-sufficient system possible. Topics related to this aspect are founded in Chapters 10, 22 and 28.

·         Resilient and adaptive systems: A transition to developing more resilient systems can occur by ensuring a variety of water systems and the capacity to respond effectively under such pressures as population changes, political shifts and natural disasters. Related to this subject are Chapters 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19 and 25.

·         Participatory democracy: The transition to a more inclusive and participatory democracy approach is manifested through the integration of a wide range of actors in decision-making and engagement processes around water management.

·         Decentralization, diversification and hybridization of water systems: Combinations of decentralized and centralized systems are increasingly being adopted, as well as a range of public/private and even community-financed, managed and operated systems. These aspects are discussed by a number of authors in the book. Cases are presented in Chapters 20, 21, 24 and 27.


Book note prepared by Dora Catalina Suárez

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