This paper analyses how scientists, policy makers and water users engage with scientific knowledge and uncertainties during a lengthy and complex decision-making process (2000–2014) about water quality, freshwater resources and climate adaptation in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt estuaries. The research zooms in on lake Volkerak-Zoom. Interviews confirm that ‘negotiated knowledge’ shaped by the agricultural sector, NGO's and water managers can lead to strategies to improve water quality problems. One such a strategy, based on negotiated knowledge, is to create an inlet to allow limited tides and inflow of saline waters in Lake Volkerak-Zoom. Meanwhile, during negotiations, monitoring showed an autonomous decline in the annually returning algal blooms, leading to new uncertainties and disrupting the negotiations. At another negotiation arena, water users and policy makers repeatedly disputed scientific assessments about costs and benefits regarding additional freshwater supply for agriculture and the knowledge underlying proposed decisions was still considered uncertain in 2014. Several strategies have been observed to deal with uncertainties in decision making, such as deconstruction of certainties, creation of deadlines for decisions and selection of preferred solutions based upon the ‘No-regret principle’. The risk of a lengthy decision making process can be reduced when the responsible authorities recognize, acknowledge and give an equal role to these behavioural strategies to address uncertainties. Tailor-made strategies are needed to make knowledge use more efficient, for example, joint-fact-finding (in case of disputed knowledge and ambiguity), additional research and monitoring (in case of epistemic uncertainty) or commissioning research whereby temporarily a protected environment is created to allow research without political interference (in case of ontic/structural uncertainty).
- Climate change
- Problem framing