Engaging stakeholders for healthy and resilient waterways

Engaging stakeholders for healthy and resilient waterways

To mark World Rivers Day in 2017 Capacity Development, Training and Applied Research Program Manager Declan Hearne and Communications Officer Sinéad Lehane discuss the importance of stakeholder engagement for integrated river management.

Engaging stakeholders for healthy and resilient waterways

Engaging stakeholders for the world’s rivers

“Rivers are the arteries of our planet,” says internationally renowned river advocate and Founder of Rivers Day Mark Angelo. As we discussed earlier this year, demand for clean fresh water continues to grow, and water security and how water is currently managed concerns all areas of society. Water user groups are increasingly reflecting on how our rivers are being managed and whether all groups are being responsible water stewards.

World Rivers Day, celebrated on 24 September in 2017 is a celebration of the world’s waterways and an opportunity to highlight the many values of our rivers. It is also an opportunity to advocate for the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world. Water Stewardship offers a framework that champions multi-stakeholder solutions to complex water challenges. Stakeholder engagement in environmental water management is critical to formulate solutions and systems to tackle water insecurity and work towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The state of the world’s rivers

Rivers are a part of our communities. As World Rivers Day highlights, we cannot impact our local river systems without ultimately impacting our own health and well-being. These issues go beyond being just that of rivers and are issues for our communities, both now and into the future. The decline of fish populations, dam construction, pollution, deforestation in watersheds, water extraction, drought, climate change and invasive aquatic species are just some of the threats impacting the health and future of our rivers. Addressing these threats will require improved stakeholder engagement to develop effective policy, planning and management of our river systems.

Stakeholder engagement and environmental water management

Stakeholder engagement has often been conducted on an ad hoc basis, and primarily as a tokenistic measure rather than as meaningful and institutionalised engagement.[1] If we are to achieve the necessary reforms in water management, to deliver healthy and resilient management of water and waterways as aspired for under the SDGs, then participatory approaches need to move beyond tokenistic gestures to stakeholder engagement that is institutionalised in our governance systems. This will require a greater focus on trust and ownership of both the processes and outcomes.[2] Trust is a key influence on the willingness of individuals and groups to collaborate, and it is yet to be effectively incorporated within many participatory processes. This is described in further detail in the recently published book Water for the Environment.

The book defines stakeholders as individuals or groups who have some sort of stake or interest in the issue or object under consideration. Who can be defined as a stakeholder or what is identified as a stake are not always straightforward, and thus are important to consider when developing stakeholder engagement strategies (Conallin et al., 2017).

In Chapter 7, Conallin (et al., 2017) discuss the importance of stakeholder engagement in environmental water management. The Chapter reflects on Integrated Water Management as a paradigm that holds stakeholder engagement and adaptive management as central characteristics. It further explores the concept of stakeholder engagement, within the context of wider resource management and outlines 10 principles, five key steps and example techniques that can be used to guide stakeholder engagement approaches in environmental water management. Three case studies from the Rio Chalmer Valley of Northern New Mexico, the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia and environmental flows in the Lesotho Highlands are used to illustrate the frameworks and guides provided.

Water for the Environment

Water for the Environment: From Policy and Science to Implementation and Management (Horne et. al 2017) exands on the concepts described above and provides a holistic view of environmental water management, offering clear links across disciplines that allow water managers to face mounting challenges. The book highlights current challenges and potential solutions, helping define the future direction for environmental water management. In addition, it includes a significant review of current literature and state of knowledge, providing a one-stop resource for environmental water managers. Declan is a contributing author to Chapter 7: Stakeholder engagement in environmental water management.

You can find more information about the book, including chapter topics and authors, and how to purchase here

More information

For more information on any of the above concepts or resources please contact:

Declan Hearne

Capacity Development, Training and Applied Research Manager


T +61 7 3028 7600



[1] Reed et al., 2009

[2] Cook et a;., 2013 a,b

[3] Horne et. al 2017 Water for the Environment, From Policy and Science to Implementation and Management. 1st Edition. Academic Press

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