Defining meta-governance and institutional capacity for integrated water management

The purpose of this project is to examine the governance and institutional dynamics supporting the implementation of integrated and sustainable urban water systems (hereafter IUWM).

With Australia’s urban population and associated water demand forecast to increase by over 70% by 2050 (WSAA 2010), implementing sustainable, long-term solutions for water security looms as a significant economic, social and environmental imperative. It is widely suggested (nationally and internationally) that a more integrated approach is required (Speers 2008: 450), which, at its simplest, is best understood against the backdrop of historically disparate institutional arrangements where the traditional urban water paradigm is ‘structured in a  way that reflects the evolution of service delivery over the last century, when first the demands were for water, the next for sewage disposal, the next were for drainage and the most recent were for waterway health and environmental flows’ (Bonacci 2011: 121).

These four urban water systems, each with distinct policy objectives, management paradigms, infrastructure and governance arrangements are defined here as separate urban water institutions. Integrated urban water management (IUWM) therefore, represented most simply, is the institutional re-integration of these historically disparate urban water sub-systems. Additionally, with a broader emphasis on urban sustainability, it encompasses an intentional systemic linkage with related urban systems including, inter alia, urban design and land use planning, energy use, and carbon footprints – where more energy efficient and sustainable urban water supply solutions would be achieved by management of the total urban water cycle, utilising recycled water and stormwater harvesting (Hussey and Pittock, forthcoming; Hussey and Schram, 2011; Kenway et al 2008).

Furthermore, at both the federal and state/territory government levels, there is policy confusion and conflicting policy objectives in the sector. Issues of sustainability and integration (both intra-sectoral - between the various urban water sub-systems and inter-sectoral (eg. between water-energy-landuse)) are presently poorly accommodated.  Current trajectories would suggest continuing development of institutional silos, further entrenching fragmentation within and between sectors. A key driver in these current institutional dynamics is the dominant emphasis on economic efficiency (ie operational efficiency, costs, customer service).

In short, urban water institutions (at each jurisdictional level in Australia) have not intentionally been framed to foster and accommodate longer term sustainability, innovation and purposeful integration. The existing governance paradigm is inadequate for this task (planning, operations, pricing, cost sharing, regulation, incentives, reporting).

The project will be conducted in three components, each with a discrete deliverable:

  • Defining dimensions and trends in urban water integration and sustainability
  • Conceptually framing integration (governance and institutional dynamics)
  • Re-shaping urban water institutions: future challenges


This project is carried out with financial support from the CSIRO Flagship Collaboration Fund, specifically through the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship.

Updated:  25 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director Fenner School/Page Contact:  Webmaster Fenner School