Management, Economics and Policy

21st Century Water Management: Restoring the Commons

Publication Date: December 2010
Cooperating Institution:
Coalition for Alternative Wastewater Treatment (CAWT)
Principal Investigator: Valerie Nelson
Project Budget: $136,500
Project Identifier: DEC8SG06


The tragedy of the commons is a powerful metaphor for understanding how rational individual choices can unravel an ecosystem, a community, and a culture. Is water a transcendent commons that requires an integrated approach? What are the global thresholds that threaten the resilience of nature’s systems? What role does water play in them? How can we learn from nature’s ways to inform our thinking? If we truly begin to understand the threats we face and some of the tools to address them, how can we manifest solutions in our governments, regulations, and communities?

In two meetings held in 2010, a group of experts was challenged to address these and other questions. Over these working sessions, multiple perspectives with an emphasis on science, the arts, and change management were tapped. The sessions focused on how water is connected to the multiple planetary boundaries, and how water infrastructure and urban planning experts should think about redesigning the “paradigm” of urban management and urban design. Participants considered how new infrastructure designs can “mimic” natural processes and they developed a policy and “market transformation” agenda based on their discussions.

Products from the project include a final report Restoring the Water Commons: A Facilitated Dialogue About Ecological Thresholds, Biomimicry, Water Governance, and Society based on the results of the working sessions, a brochure highlighting key elements of the sessions, as well as the development of an outreach website with outreach videos.

Associated Documents:
Final Report
Outreach Website