NeWater - New Approaches to Adaptive Water Management under Uncertainty

Background and Goals

The central concern of the project is to investigate how the transition from prevailing water management practices to an adaptive river basin management in the future can be best achieved. This transition requires highly integrated management concepts for the management of water resources. For this purpose, the project identified the following key elements in water management: Governance, sectoral integration, (large) scales of analysis, information management, infrastructure, finances and risk mitigation. Research is focused on the transformation processes of these elements in the transition to adaptive integrated water resources management (IWRM). The main focus of the research activities of the project is the development of concepts and tools for an integrated analysis and to promote the transition processes in water management.

 The main objective is to understand and promote transitions to enhanced adaptive strategies for integrated water resource management. These strategies will be tailored to the institutional, cultural, environmental and technological conditions of river basins.

Results will be generated in the following key areas of IWRM:

  1. Governance in water management to arrive at a broader stakeholder participation
  2. Sectoral integration, to take spatial planning and climate change adaptation strategies into account through cross-sectoral optimisation and cost-benefit analyses
  3. Methods to resolve water resource use conflicts and transboundary issues through large-scale analyses
  4. Information management through multi-stakeholder dialogue, systems modelling, role-playing in decision finding and monitoring systems for decision systems in water management
  5. Adaptation of the infrastructure through innovative methods for calculating river basin buffering capacities, and for the role of water storage as an option for the adaptation to climate variability and climate extremes
  6. Financial and risk mitigation strategies in water management
  7. Stakeholder participation through promoting new ways of bridging science and politics

 In order to better analyse the role of the elements in this transition process, an integrated conceptual framework for management and change processes has been developed. A guiding principle was the joint development and implementation of knowledge and tools, for adaptive water management case studies. Seven river basins (of the Amu Darya, Elbe, Guadiana, Nile, Orange River, Rhine and Tisza) were selected as case studies, to establish a link between practical activities and advances in thematic research and the development of tools. The objectives and needs of affected and participating groups (stakeholders) in water management will be exhaustively examined, in cooperation with scientific partners and other experts. The project disseminates its findings and innovations through dialogues and publications, thereby supporting European research in the field of water management, as well as assisting the implementation of the Water Framework Directive and the objectives of the EU Water Initiative.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Bavaria
  • Brandenburg
  • Mecklenburg Western Pomerania
  • Lower Saxony
  • Northrhine-Westphalia
  • Rhineland Palatinate
  • Saxony
  • Saxony-Anhalt
  • Schleswig-Holstein
Natural spatial classification
  • coasts: North Sea-/Baltic Sea coasts
  • Low mountain ranges left and right of Rhine
  • North-East German lowland
  • North-West German lowland
  • South-Eeastern basin and hills
  • West German lowland bay

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

The climate change values according to the IPCC's 3rd Assessment Report (2001) are taken into account, as are other aspects of global change and changes in the stresses on ecosystems.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
  • Extreme precipitation (incl. hail, snow)
  • Dry periods
Further times 


Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

The consequences for the river run-off patterns and the water quality of river basins will be investigated.

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Approach and results 

The vulnerability of river basins will be examined. The developed strategies for an IWRM took the socio-ecological vulnerability and the adaptive capacity of the individual river basins into account. An adaptive management can contribute to increasing the adaptive capacity of river basins and reducing their vulnerability. To this end, a vulnerability matrix will be created, in which climatic, environmental and socio-economic stresses, together with the associated exposure units, such as natural resources (river ecosystems), economic infrastructure (power stations, private assets) and stakeholders, as well as the natural and social adaptive capacity will be linked.

Through the assessment of the vulnerability and resilience of river basins, the ability of the water management system to deal with the uncertainties of the climate change will be improved. Integrated water management serves to reduce vulnerability and increase the adaptive capacity.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

The development and implementation of an integrated water resource management has the following objectives:

  1. Improvement of governance in water management through stakeholder participation;
  2. Increase the sectoral integration in spatial planning, in climate change adaptation strategies and cost-benefit analyses;
  3. Development of methods for the solution of water resource use conflicts across borders;
  4. Improving the information management through multi-stakeholder dialogue and monitoring systems for decision systems in water management;
  5. Development of innovative methods for increasing river basin buffering capacities and water storage as a strategy for adaptation to climate variability and climate extremes;
  6. Implementation of financial and risk mitigation strategies in water management
  7. Finding new ways ways of bridging science and politics, in order to implement an integrated water resource management.

The synthesis of the results of the project has yielded the following products, among others:

  1. Prototype of a conceptual framework for management and change processes (Management and Transition Framework, MTF), including databases on management processes, learning processes and general system descriptions of the various river basins.
  2. "Uncertainty Guidelines", which detail the findings on approaches to dealing with various forms of uncertainty in adaptive management processes.
  3. Evaluation of water resource scenarios for the case study regions that take into account the latest results from climate projections.
  4. Comparison of the adaptation strategies in the different regions to illustrate the differences in the level of awareness and in the climate change strategies used.
  5. Special publication on civic participation, in which the diversity of participatory approaches in research and management practice will be presented.
  6. NeWater adaptive water management handbook, in which the benefits, results and experiences will be presented.
  7. Online academic curriculum for supplying teaching materials on the subject of the adaptive management of river basins.
Time horizon
  • 2071–2100 (far future)


Funding / Financing 

EU's 6th Framework Programme for Research, key issue "Global Change and Ecosystems"

Project management 

Institute of Environmental Systems Research (USF), University of Osnabrück


a total of 39 partners from 15 countries; German partners:

Science Center for Environmental Research, University of Kassel;

Ecologic - Institute for International and European Environmental Policy;

Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg;

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

secoon Ingenieure GmbH;

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ);

Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn


Universität Osnabrück, Institut für Umweltsystemforschung (USF)
Barbarastr. 12
D-49069 Osnabrück

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Fields of action:
 Raumordnung, Regional- und Bauleitplanung  Wasserhaushalt, Wasserwirtschaft