Anticipating the Future in Urban Water Management: an Assessment of Municipal Investment Decisions

Wieke Pot*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Municipalities are confronted with future uncertainties when they need to take decisions about their ageing water infrastructure. Previous work that addressed future challenges of urban water management focused mainly on climate change. This article develops a comprehensive index for forward-looking decisions about urban water management, to assess the extent to which, and how, Dutch municipalities anticipate the future with their investment decisions on urban water infrastructure. Results are based on a systematic comparison of investment decisions of 40 Dutch municipalities (about 10% of the population). Findings show that: 1) the extent to which municipalities anticipate the future differs largely; 2) only half of the municipalities adopt a long time perspective; 3) there are no commonly applied robustness tests; 4) flexibility is not explicitly adopted; rather, different flexible measures are applied; and 5) a minority of municipalities develop strategic visions or scenarios for urban water management to support decisions. These results highlight important areas of attention for municipalities worldwide. First, the need to invest in ageing water infrastructure can be seized as an opportunity to establish futureproof urban water management. Furthermore, climate change should be integrated with other future uncertainties into water management decisions. Third, transboundary cooperation could potentially increase municipalities’ capacity to address uncertain futures and enhance learning. And last, increasing the use of scenario analysis and envisioning could help municipalities to prepare for the future. The index provided can be used for ex ante development and ex post assessment of investment decisions, to increase municipalities’ preparedness for the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1297-1313
JournalWater Resources Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Ageing infrastructure
  • Forward-looking investment decisions
  • Future anticipation
  • Municipalities
  • Urban water management

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