Ecosystem services for watershed management and planning

Adem Esmail, Blal (2016) Ecosystem services for watershed management and planning. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

PDF - Doctoral Thesis


Human wellbeing in cities, often associated to availability of engineered structures, is increasingly linked to the conservation of ecosystems. This is the case of the urban water sector where the focus is shifting from adequate infrastructural arrangements to the key role of ecosystem services, thus offering a unique opportunity to achieve sustainability transitions. The urban water sector entails significant complexities and uncertainties, which no longer can be addressed effectively with traditional approaches. A new paradigm of “adaptation and integration”, emerging as a collective effort of stakeholders that engage themselves in a process of social learning, is needed. However, real-life implementation is arduous: it requires linking diverse stakeholders and knowledge systems, across management levels and institutional boundaries. Three innovative concepts can help face this challenge, namely, ecosystem services, boundary work and learning organizations. Ecosystem services provide a holistic approach for framing socio-ecological issues and for integrating different biophysical and socio-economic data. Boundary work, i.e. the effort put in place to facilitate transfer of knowledge into action, informs active management of the tension at the interface between stakeholders that have differing views on what constitutes relevant knowledge. A learning organization is one that is skilled at creating and acquiring knowledge and modifying its behavior to reflect new insights. In this study, these three concepts are jointly explored to build operative approaches to support the implementation of adaptive management. To this end, the work is driven by four specific objectives presented hereafter. The first objective is to frame the urban water sector from an ecosystem services perspective, synthesizing the most relevant aspects related to the exchange of water between watershed and city, and within the city. The proposed framework highlights the role of the urban water sector in (i) linking ecosystem service production and benefit areas, (ii) bridging spatial scales ranging from the watershed to the household level and (iii) adopting ecosystem service-based responses to drivers of water vulnerability. The second objective is to explore practices of boundary work in adaptive watershed management. Thus, an empirical investigation of how boundary work can facilitate knowledge co-generation and cooperative application in a case study of adaptive management in the Fuhrberg watershed (Germany) is conducted. The results suggest that scientific insights have been crucial for "enlightenment", "decision-support", and in "negotiations" between a water utility and stakeholders in Fuhrberg watershed management. The successful implementation of adaptive watershed management is attributed to boundary work deployed by the water utility and ultimately to its high institutional capacity. This study, which is one of the first empirical assessments of boundary work in practice, presents many promising approaches for initiating boundary work in the case of water utilities. Yet, more comparative research is required to understand the influence of contextual differences on appropriate methods and potential outcomes of boundary work. The third objective is to build and test an approach for designing and assessing impact of watershed investments, aiming to implement adaptive management. The proposed approach is structured to facilitate negotiations among stakeholders. Its strategic component includes setting the agenda, defining investment scenarios, and assessing the performance of watershed investments. Its technical component consists of tailoring spatially explicit ecosystem service models, generating future land use scenarios, and modeling impacts on ecosystem services. The approach is applied to a case study in a data-scarce context: Toker Watershed (Eritrea), considering soil erosion -related challenges. It produced spatially explicit data, which has been aggregated to assess quantitatively the performance of watershed investments, in terms of changes in selected ecosystem services, thus answering key management and planning questions. By addressing stakeholders’ concerns of credibility, saliency, and legitimacy, the approach is expected to facilitate the negotiation of objectives, definition of scenarios, and assessment of watershed investments. The fourth objective is to explore water utilities as learning organization implementing adaptive watershed management. A conceptual framework for evaluating the institutional capacity of water utilities is used to characterize the water utilities in Hanover and Asmara. In particular, the institutional capacity of the “Hannover Water Utility” and “Asmara Water Supply Department” is investigated based on the available information from documents, literature and the previous results, and an interview with a key informant. The results show that the institutional capacity of Hanover Water Utility can be classified as Level 5 – “Progressive water utility” and Asmara Water Supply Department can be classified as Level 2 – “Basic water utility”. An empirical pathway to test the results, by involving senior managers and informed scientists from both case studies, is proposed. In any case, the preliminary results highlight the attributes that determine the capacity of water utilities to become a central actor in the in the implementation of an adaptive watershed management. This research, by jointly exploring the innovative concepts of ecosystem services, boundary work and learning organizations, builds operative approaches that can support the implementation of adaptive watershed management. Further work is needed to address some of the complexities and uncertainties underlying the proposed approaches, including data resolution, model calibration, and above all participation of real-life stakeholders

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Environmental Engineering
PhD Cycle:28
Subjects:Area 08 - Ingegneria civile e Architettura > ICAR/20 TECNICA E PIANIFICAZIONE URBANISTICA
Repository Staff approval on:20 Apr 2016 10:21

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