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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Approaches for Adaptive Water Management in the Tiber River Basin

Luca Di Mario

Approaches for Adaptive Water Management in the Tiber River Basin


Traditional water resource management relies on the ‘expert-based approach’ of predict and control, where historical data are used to forecast future conditions and employ those as parameters to plan dimension control measures. In this regime the management of water resources is entirely left to experts and politicians with a ‘top-down’ approach (Mysiak, et al., 2009). Although the traditional approach worked fairly well in the past, the sustainable allocation of water is now challenged by pressures such as climate change, population growth and environmental pollution which are all difficult to quantify. The increasing complexity of systems and the uncertainty associated with environmental and social (models) projections (mainly climate change and behaviours) make the traditional approach inappropriate in addressing contemporary and future challenges to sustainable water management (van der Keur & Lloyd, 2010). The Tiber River Basin (the most important river of Central Italy), similarly to other river basins, faces complex and uncertain challenges in the future. These challenges include decreasing availability of water resources, especially in dry periods when rainfall is at a minimum, and withdraws are at a maximum. Authorities and institutions struggle to address the complexity and uncertainty of the contemporary challenges such as the maintenance of minimum river flows, despite the adoption of different and innovative features to tackle water management issues in the Tiber River Basin. This suggests that the traditional approach to water management has to be revisited and reconsidered through the adoption of a different regime which is more flexible, innovative and which is able to deal with uncertain future obstacles. Moreover, it is necessary to actively engage all interested and affected stakeholders to address water issues successfully. Adaptive Water Management (AWM) is an innovative approach for the management of water resource. It has been studied and tested extensively in different cases in Europe, Central Asia and America. AWM aims to address the problems of traditional water management and the new complexity and uncertainties of current and future systems by employing stakeholder engagement, management and modelling. It can be used as a learning opportunity with the integration of experts’ and stakeholders’ knowledge. Case studies show that AWM is very successful in dealing with current management problems which are very similar to the ones faced by the Tiber River Basin (Sullivan, 2010). Therefore, the principle aim of this study is to evaluate the main characteristics and gaps that the current management of the Tiber River Basin has in common with the AWM model to get a better understanding of the (adaptive) gaps and better grasp the points of interventions that can be used to improve these gaps. In addition, preliminary conditions for the implementation of AWM in the Tiber River Basin will be assessed. According to this view, different solutions proposed (on the basis of previous case studies) will enhance the capacity to deal with the uncertainty and complexity of the Tiber River Basin water management regime. Background information and characteristics of the Tiber River Basin will be initially analysed together with the current challenges of water management in the area. A literature review will be then conducted to understand the major features, strengths and tools of the AWM. Thereafter the current management regime of the Tiber River Basin will be evaluated to understand its adaptive features and gaps. Preliminary recommendations will be provided to enhance the adaptive capacity of the River Basin. Finally, system dynamics casual loop diagrams and a stakeholders’ analysis are performed as preliminary approaches to improve adaptive management strategies and conduct first experiments.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.