Lausier, Jain develop framework to evaluate equitable stewardship of water resources

Water is essential for life. And Anne Lausier and Shaleen Jain say a reevaluation and refocusing of the ways that water resources are managed are urgently needed.

Equity should be a foundational tenet of management, they say, especially today when there are unprecedented pressures on Earth’s freshwater resources and ecosystems.

Toward that goal, Lausier and Jain put forth a Water Resources Stewardship (WRS) framework that includes six interlinking elements to comprehensively evaluate water management. 

They shared the framework in August 2019 in their research article “Water resources stewardship in an era of rapid change” in the journal Water Security. 

And they penned an invited article based on their research titled “Water resources stewardship: Changes, extremes, and equity,” posted in June 2020 in Global Water Forum, a United Nations global portal for water-related issues and knowledge.

Lausier conducted the research when she was a civil engineering doctoral student and a U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Maine. She’s now a physical scientist at the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Jain is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UMaine and holds appointments with the School of Policy and International Affairs and the Climate Change Institute.

They wrote in their Global Water Forum article that broadly they view Water Resources Stewardship “as a societal imperative” that demands carefully devised solutions toward “our shared human responsibility for the environment under changing conditions.”

This type of stewardship, they say, “requires that the inclusion and respect of peoples, their values and knowledges, and diverse relationships with ecosystems, are promoted for the shared production of solutions in support of equitable and sustainable futures.”

The six elements of WRS draw explicit attention to aspects of equity and can be used as a lens to appraise water management. 

Interlinkages across scales in space and time value a holistic, rather than a narrow, view of human relationships with nature, including those that support health and livelihoods. This approach represents progress toward identifying more equitable trade-offs between people and the environment.

Inclusion of people, places and values ensures “that a broader set of priorities are considered, and consequences are not overlooked.”

Diverse knowledges, including Indigenous and experiential knowledges, create opportunities to “foster new understandings of human-environment interactions, address local needs, values and aspirations, and empower individuals in decision processes.” Knowledge is defined by ways of understanding the world around us and informs values, perspectives, and underlies decisions.

Governance and institutions structure how we make decisions. Arrangements that enable higher-quality engagement with affected populations “is critical to address change and uncertainty in an equitable manner.”

Co-produced solutions that result from collaborative decision processes among decision-makers, researchers and stakeholders, “offer opportunities for knowledge-sharing, locally responsive management approaches, and increased capacity.”

Adaptive risk management combines the likelihood and consequence of an event. Taking into account interlinked events, such as a simultaneous drought and heatwave, “can produce compound extremes that otherwise may not be extreme individually.” These events “impact water supply, water quality, infrastructure, and ultimately health and livelihoods.”

Lausier and Jain say that acknowledging and addressing inequity are important because “consequences are not equally experienced across populations.” 

Therefore, governance structures and management strategies “must be responsive to change from emerging needs and populations, as well as new knowledges, and evolving values and priorities to better contend with unexpected consequences and challenges.”

Lausier and Jain used WRS to analyze Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) case studies. IWRM has been implemented internationally at river basins and at national levels for sustainable and equitable management of water resources in the face of conflicting water demands. 

They said that prominent water management approaches, including IWRM, promote goals such as stakeholder participation, adaptation, and balancing human and ecosystem needs that are difficult to appraise without addressing equity. 

Lausier and Jain found that IWRM could be strengthened in several areas, including “inclusion of people, places, and values and greater emphasis on co-produced solutions.”

They wrote that optimistically, a water-focused approach that works for all of nature and society has the potential to overcome the piecemeal attention to equity in current approaches to water management.

Contact: Beth Staples,