IWAGO: Towards integrative water governance


Water is one of the most valuable natural resources provided by our environment. Man exploits water, distributes and treats it and has to avert floods. Sustainable water management, in terms of a task of prime importance in politics and society, attracts diverging interests that need to be optimized.

Project description (completed research project)

The project "Integrated Water Governance with Adaptive Capacity in Switzerland" (IWAGO) analysed processes and structures with the potential of strengthening a more holistic and collaborative approach to water management in Switzerland. In the last few decades, water management in Switzerland has become fragmented into specific sectors such as the supply of drinking water, waste water treatment, rules relating to the environmental impact of hydraulic energy production and ecological improvements in the context of flood prevention measures. The possible synergies between the sectors were often ignored. The starting point of this project was the assumption, widely held among experts, that integrated and streamlined water management focusing on catchment areas would produce better solutions that are also more cost efficient and more flexible. IWAGO identified and measured the potential synergies, and derived strategies for the future development of water management in Switzerland.


IWAGO was a use-inspired and practice-oriented research project with a transdisciplinary approach. On the one hand, it collected qualitative empirical data by analysing literature and documents and conducting expert interviews. On the other hand, the project involved stakeholders and practitioners at local, cantonal and federal level. The project made a conceptual distinction between integrated water management (IWM), which is relevant to the analysis and development of specific water projects, and integrated water governance (IWG), which refers to the development of legal requirements, administrative structures, instruments and platforms fostering an integrated approach. IWM and IWG mutually impact each other in many ways.


To highlight the different aspects of IWM, the researchers conducted six case studies, including the third Rhone correction, MultiRuz and the water strategy of the Canton of Berne. IWG strategies and structures were examined in nine cantons. Additionally, researchers analysed specific political instruments of Swiss water management in five different cantons. The analysis of IWM and IWG structures in Switzerland showed that an integrative approach is generally successful. It leads to clearer priorities and more efficient and sustainable solutions than a sectorial approach. There is, however, no perfect IWM. The ideal form depends on the objectives and the regional context. For this reason, IWAGO does not propose maximum integration in Switzerland but a balanced solution which leaves plenty of room for cantons and local authorities to adapt it to their priorities and the local context. Integration within catchment areas does not need to be implemented across the country, but the analysis of where IWM is necessary and useful must cover the entire country. A selection has to be made on the basis of a national and cantonal screening.

Relevance for research and practice

Cantons with a more integrative water policy can adapt more easily and reliably to changes. There is no single perfect solution but many possible ways of integration. The project identifies a lack of awareness about possible reforms and little cooperation between cantons. It recommends fostering such cooperation. In addition to general recommendations in the synthesis report of NRP 61, the project is developing so-called practice tools for water experts in collaboration with Wasser-Agenda 21. This approach should make it possible for recommendations to be taken up by federal, cantonal and local authorities without delay.

Original title

Integrated Water Governance with Adaptive Capacity in Switzerland

Project leaders​

  • Prof. Bernhard Truffer, Cirus, Eawag
  • Dr. Andreas Klinke, Cirus, Sozialwissenschaftliche Abteilung, Eawag
  • Dr. Jörg Balsiger, Institut für Umweltentscheidungen, ETH Zürich
  • Olivier Chaix, BG Ingénieurs Conseils SA
  • Prof. Dr. Stefanie Engel, Institut für Umweltentscheidungen, ETH Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Hammer, Interfakultäre Koordinationsstelle für Allgemeine Ökologie (IKAÖ), Universität Bern
  • Roger Pfammatter, Ernst Basler + Partner AG
  • Prof. Dr. Alain Thierstein, Lehrstuhl für Raumentwicklung, Technische Universität München
  • Felix Walter, Economic Research and Policy Consultancy (ECOPLAN)
  • Dr. Andreas Zysset, Ernst Basler + Partner AG