Hydrology –Urban water management and flood mitigation


As growing urban communities seek to minimize their impact on already stressed water resources, an emerging challenge is to design for resilience to the impact of climate change, particularly in regards to ensuring flood protection, secure water supplies (including wastewater treatment and reuse) and the protection of water environments (Brown et al., 2009; Jha et al., 2012).

Additionally, while concepts such as integrated urban water management and water sensitive urban design offer alternative philosophical approaches to the traditional urban water paradigm, urban water strategists still lack a clear vision or goal for the attributes of a sustainable water city (Brown et al., 2009; Adabor, 2012).

To build-up urban resilience to climate change institutional practice of sustainable water management that prioritizes the protection of physical hydro-systems such as natural waterways is curial and any significant infrastructural change must be part of a new hydro-social contract. A hydro-social contract (Lundqvist et al., 2001) may be seen as an ensemble of stakeholder agreements on water management issues and is physically represented through multi-functional/sectorial water-related infrastructures.


What are the major threats on our cities?

Because climate change is affecting storm occurrence and intensity, our cities are severely facing since the 1980s relatively frequent flood events causing serious socio-economic impacts. In combination with climate change local urban change produces increased local runoff and higher flood frequency-magnitude-duration. Local urban change in our cities is expressed by alterations to the land surface and waterways due to constructions, paving, soil compaction, vegetation removal and the diversion of natural flows (Douglas et al., 2008).

Factors such as the lack of adequate waste management systems, the inability and unwillingness of governments to engage in the provision of integrated resilient systems as well as the ineffective and blatant disregard for physical development laws are aggravating the threats (Douglas et al., 2008; Adabor, 2012).


What actions for what adaptation?

  • Understand the scope of past-present hydro-social contracts in our cities to determine the capacity development and reform initiatives necessary to sustainably advance the transition to resilient stages.

  • Suggest hydro-social contracts expressed by spatially distributed multi-functional water sensitive infrastructures protecting natural waterways to increase resilience to flood and climate change impacts in general.

  • Suggest wastewater recycling and reuse systems for urban agriculture and sanitation to build-up an integrated urban water management system in response to increased urban demand for food and water supply.

  • Evaluate the socio-economic impact of potential future hydro-social contracts built on adaptive multi-functional infrastructures regarding wastewater recycling, drained water treatment, public health protection and flood mitigation.


What methodological approach suits our environment?

Is the ‘Urban Water Management Transitions Framework-UWMTF’ (Brown et al., 2009) and the analytical approach, the ‘New Institutionalism-NI’ (Powell and DiMaggio, 2012; Lowndes, 2010), suitable?

The UWMTF is a conceptual tool that sustains macro-scale urban water policy development and city-scale benchmarking. It helps investigate past-present-future hydro-social contracts attributes underpinned by sustainability principles.

The NI refers to a useful analytical tool for understanding time-dependent urban water hydro-social contracts. The figure below shows the transition stages in relation with cumulative socio-political drivers (normative and regulative development) as well as service delivery functions drivers (cognitive development).

Adapted UWMTF from Brown et al. (2009)


  1. Adabor, E., 2012. Climate change and city dwellers adaptive capacity: the case of flooding in the Kumasi metropolis. Bsc. Thesis. Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.

  2. Brown, R.R., Keath, N., Wong, T.H.F., 2009. Transitioning to Water Sensitive Cities: Historical, Current and Future Transition States. Water Science & Technology 59(5): 847–855. doi:10.2166/wst.2009.029

  3. Douglas, I., Alam, K., Maghenda, M., Mcdonnell, Y., Mclean, L., Campbell, J., 2008. Unjust waters: climate change, flooding and the urban poor in Africa. Environment and Urbanization 20:1 187-205. doi: 10.1177/0956247808089156

  4. Jha, A.K., Bloch, R., Lamond, J., 2012. Cities and Flooding : A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century. World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/2241 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

  5. Lowndes, V., 2010. 'The Institutional Approach' in "Theories and Methods in Political Science". D. Marsh, G. Stoker. (eds.) Basingstoke: Palgrave. P.65

  6. Lundqvist,  J., Turton, A., Narain, S., 2001. Social, institutional and regulatory issues. In C. Maksimovic and J.A. Tejada-Guilbert (Eds.), Frontiers in Urban Water Management: Deadlock or Hope, Cornwall, IWA Publishing: 344-398.

  7. Powell, W.W., DiMaggio, P.J. (Eds.). 2012. The new institutionalism in organizational analysis. University of Chicago Press.