Reactive versus anticipative adaptive management of Deltas: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Rhine-Meuse Delta compared

T.J. Vlieg, M. Zandvoort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleProfessional


In this paper Californian Adaptive Management (AM) and Dutch Adaptive Delta Management (ADM) are compared. The concepts are introduced in a policy context to deal with prevailing types of uncertainty in water management in the Californian Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Dutch Rhine-Meuse Delta respectively. While having the same objective, we show that adaptive management in these Deltas differs considerably, because the concepts address different uncertainties. Californian AM is primarily applied to ecosystem management while Dutch ADM is primarily developed for flood risk management and fresh water supply purposes. Californian AM is based on modeling the performance of different actions. It emphasizes that, once management actions are selected, formal and continuous learning is required to deal with uncertain effects and effectiveness of management actions. Thus it reacts on present states in a continuous fashion as adequately and flexible as possible. In contrary Dutch ADM anticipates on possible futures through projections of climate change and socio-economic circumstances. Different sets of measures to avoid or postpone projected problems are developed. In ADM uncertainty in projections is recognized, and possible rejection of projections over time is acknowledged. For climatic and socio-economic circumstances ADM aims to ensure that alternative adaptation pathways can still be opted. We argue that good Delta management should be based on long term projections, as in Dutch ADM, and scientific learning from implemented actions, as in Californian AM. A hybrid of both concepts can thus be created in order to strengthen adaptive management practice in the face of future uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-57
JournalWater Governance
Issue number05-06
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • water management
  • uncertainty analysis
  • risk management
  • governance
  • netherlands
  • california
  • comparisons

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