So what's with this post? Sounds like something that might be less than laudatory of the IWRM paradigm, which is promoted by organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, the EU, and the Global Water Partnership.
It comes from someone who convened and chaired a conference titled, Integrated Water Resources Management: The Emperor's New Clothes or Indispensable Process? and is serving as technical chair for an upcoming IWRM conference this June, Integrated Water Resources Management: From Theory to Application. That same person also supported AWRA's efforts to promote IWRM during his presidency in 2011 and worked on behalf of IWRM at the 6th World Water Forum.
That person sounds like a hypocrite, right?
That person is yours truly.
I've actually maintained a healthy skepticism about IWRM (especially as it relates to groundwater resources). That's why I was anxious to read the thoughtful paper by Mark Giordano and Tushaar Shah, 'From IWRM Back to Integrated Water Resources Management', published in the International Journal of Water Resources Development. Thanks to Michael van der Valk for alerting me to this paper.
Integrated water resources management provides a set of ideas to help us manage water more holistically. However, these ideas have been formalized over time in what has now become, in capitals, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), with specific prescriptive principles whose implementation is often supported by donor funding and international advocacy. IWRM has now become an end in itself, in some cases undermining functioning water management systems, in others setting back needed water reform agendas, and in yet others becoming a tool to mask other agendas. Critically, the current monopoly of IWRM in global water management discourse is shutting out alternative thinking on pragmatic solutions to existing water problems. This paper explains these issues and uses examples of transboundary water governance in general, groundwater management in India and rural–urban water transfer in China to show that there are (sometimes antithetical) alternatives to IWRM which are being successfully used to solve major water problems. The main message is that we should simply get on with pragmatic politics and solutions to the world's many individual water challenges.
The take-away for me? You can certainly (and should) support and practice integrated water resources management without buying into the IWRM juggernaut. If you want to call what you do IWRM, I don't have a problem with that. To me, IWRM is an abbreviation describing a process.
I like how Giordano and Shah conclude their paper:
"As Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues concluded a decade ago: (1) there is no one best system for governing water resources; and (2) many more viable options exist for resource management than envisioned in much of the policy literature. (Ostrom, Stern, & Dietz, 2003). We need to put the problems first and then work to find pragmatic solutions, whether they use IWRM principles or not." - Mark Giordano and Tushaar Shah