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Multi-level water governance – the case of the Morsa River Basin in Norway

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Management of fresh water resources meets a range of often conflicting interests. Waterways usually run across political and administrative borders and hence make management difficult and collective action politically challenging. In order to meet these challenges, multi-level bioregional approaches to water management have been called for. Such an approach is institutionalised in the EU's Water Framework Directive (WFD). This paper presents the experiences of the Morsa water sub-district in southern Norway, a pilot for implementing the WFD. The paper discusses Morsa in the light of four principles for multi-level water governance: management on a bioregional scale; polycentric governance; public participation; and an experimental approach to water governance. Contrary to widely held assumptions that collective action in polycentric networks will be difficult because actors will follow their own narrow interests, the findings demonstrate how this is not an absolute truth, and how social action cannot be fully explained by rational action theories. The analysis concludes that the relative success of Morsa relates to a complex of factors, including openness of practices and active involvement of key actors, strong but including leadership, and a knowledge based ‘hybrid’ type of multi-level network combining horizontal and vertical network governance.
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Keywords: Water Framework Directive; leadership; local government; multi-level governance; water management

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Gaustadalléen 21 Oslo, N-0349, Norway

Publication date: May 4, 2015

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