The EU Water Framework Directive has introduced an advanced system of integrated water resources management aimed at preventing further deterioration and achieving a good ecological status of all surface water bodies on the basis of river basin-wide, integrated management. This quality-oriented, integrated management approach seems to be particularly appropriate to implement the idea of sustainable land-use development. However, it implies great cognitive demands regarding, e.g. the current status and functioning of respective aquatic ecosystems, the ecological baseline development including, in particular, the impacts of climate change and invasive species, the anthropogenic baseline development, the impacts of diverse human activities and their interplay and the beneficial effects, side-effects and costs of management options.
The WFD provides some specific instruments and requirements with regard to knowledge generation, such as status and pressures analysis, economic analysis and monitoring obligations. Moreover, EIA schemes apply to both planning and project levels, as well, and water-related projects need to also be assessed as to their compatibility with the quality objectives and deterioration ban. However, most authorities are heavily overburdened with the cognitive demands of these assessment and management assignments -- for a number of reasons. First of all, there is still a significant lack of knowledge regarding the functioning of aquatic ecosystems and the impacts of diverse human influences. Much of the requisite knowledge is simply not yet available, and, therefore, management has to deal with a considerable degree of uncertainty. Moreover, there are only very limited scientific capacities within the water administrations. The water sciences are, on the other hand, mostly geared towards high end research and not directed to generating applicable knowledge and management guidance. Thus, what we find in current management plans is much more of a "muddling through" than profound, knowledge based action.
Against this backdrop, we analyse, together with natural scientists, the institutional framing of the science-policy and science-administration interface in water management with a view to identifying options for improved knowledge management. To that end, we to look at the entire system, i.e. at all "levels" of water management, from the overall assessment and planning stage to the project level, and we study the effectiveness and interplay of the various levels and assessment instruments. We look closely at knowledge gaps and the demands placed upon the implementing agencies, and identify needs and indicators for the translation of scientific knowledge into operational, practically applicable knowledge. In order to do this we take the following steps:
Step 1 -- Depicting the "legal" knowledge demands of the WFD: Through this first step we want to develop a clear picture of the knowledge and assessment requirements set out by the WFD. This step includes, firstly, a legal analysis of all knowledge dependent obligations and decisions, as well as legal requirements regarding the scope and depth of the knowledge basis. In this step we will also identify up to five prominent cases that will serve as samples to be used in subsequent research steps.
Step 2 -- Reality check 1: Comparing the legal knowledge demands with state of water sciences: Secondly, we will undertake a basic evaluation of how the legal demands relate to today's state of water sciences. This will be done in cooperation with our in-house experts from natural water sciences.
Step 3 -- Reality check 2: Mirroring the legal knowledge demands against administrative capacities and practice. Thirdly, we will undertake a basic evaluation of how the cognitive demands of the WFD relate to the capacities and management practice of the relevant administrations. This will be analyzed using surveys and interviews in cooperation with partners from the relevant authorities in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Sachsen and Hessen.
Step 4 -- Institutional approaches to knowledge generation: Through this step we analyze how legal instruments can contribute to the generation of requisite sustainable management knowledge. In this regard, we focus in particular on existing assessment instruments and on the distribution of assessment and monitoring assignments between the general, area-wide, and the specific project related levels, as well as the distribution between public and private polluters. We study the legal reception of the scientific and private consultant market and analyze legal approaches to ensuring a reliable quality of knowledge.
Step 5 -- Conclusions: Institutional and scientific approaches to deal with knowledge and capacity gaps: In this step we will consider advanced ways of effectively managing knowledge gaps and limited technical and scientific capacities. We will search for and aim to identify adequate instruments, for example indicators, thumb rules, a burden of proof and other proxies which could be utilized to ensure reasoned, justified, legal decision making under conditions where uncertainty and lack of specialist knowledge may pose challenges.