XVI World Water Congress Special Session: Cancun Mexico 29 May to 3 June 2017

Sustainable watersheds: emerging economic instruments for water security

The XVIth World Water Congress “Bridging Science and Policy” to be held in Cancun, Mexico, is jointly organized by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), the National Water Commission of Mexico (CONAGUA) and the National Association of Water and Sanitation Utilities (ANEAS).

One of the special sessions is being presented by the Economic Instruments of Water Security Working Group of Water Future, will consist of four invited speakers followed by a panel discussion with the speakers and an additional three panellists representing diverse watershed sectors such as Non-Government Organisations, Government agencies and Citizen groups.

The overarching theme of this session is to explore emerging economic and financial instruments for enhancing water security worldwide in a changing climate, with a focus on understanding which instruments are the most suitable for a given watershed or basin.  Specific questions addressed by this session include:

(a) how can water security be achieved through targeted economic instruments adapted to local contexts?
(b) What institutional or other barriers hinder the successful implementation of economic instruments and how can those barriers be overcome?; and
(c) What approaches are available for monitoring the effectiveness of these economic instruments to better understand key indicators and drivers of program impacts?

Emphasis will be placed on understanding the challenges and opportunities of developing effective economic instruments for improving water resource management, especially emerging initiative such as national assurance schemes (NAS), water abstraction licenses (WAL), and payment for watershed services (PWS) schemes.  Successful application of these instruments requires a deep understanding of the interactions and feedback between the human and natural systems that determine watershed sustainability.  Although we emphasise economic strategies, related institutional and policy reforms would also be excellent contributions to this session.


  1. Explore the impacts, challenges, and opportunities of a range of different economic and financial instruments to enhance water security.
  2. Identify and discuss key emerging principles underlying promising economic and financial instruments across diverse political, cultural, socioeconomic, and environmental contexts as a foundation for developing guidelines for choosing and adapting the most appropriate instruments for local contexts.
  3. Develop an international network of scientists, practitioners, decision-makers, and interested actors to share resources and maintain dialogue related to effective economic and financial instruments for promoting watershed security.
  4. Identify approaches for engaging diverse actors in transdisciplinary research on the development and application of innovative economic schemes, and translating science into policy design and outcomes.

Managing watersheds for sustainable environmental and socioeconomic outcomes requires international and transdisciplinary collaboration to develop effective institutional and policy frameworks that work at the interface of human and natural systems.  Despite significant water policy advances in recent years (e.g., NAS, WAL, PWS), limitations remain, including a lack of science-based monitoring, insufficient stakeholder engagement, institutional barriers, insufficient understanding of the social and environmental trade-offs, and need for greater scalability and transferability.  This session addresses these gaps by synthesizing and documenting the results and lessons learned from past experiences, as a basis for identifying guidelines for designing context-specific economic instruments for promoting water security and building novel transdisciplinary research approaches build on strong partnerships between scientists and actors.

Projected Outcomes:

  • Synthesize the results from the session into a set of lessons learned and guidelines for economic instruments to enhance water security, along with recommendations for adapting these strategies to a range of different environmental and socioeconomic contexts worldwide
  • Further develop and strengthen an international network of diverse stakeholders within the Water Futures2 initiative to share knowledge and experience and forge new transdisciplinary research
  • Further develop and strengthen an international network of diverse stakeholders within the Water Futures2 initiative to share knowledge and experience and forge new transdisciplinary research

Incorporation of a science-policy dimension:
This session inherently bridges science and policy dimensions by assessing the performance of economic instruments in achieving water security.  Specifically, this session will provide in depth institutional, economic and ecological analysis of water policies validated by scientific data to help support informed decisions. Additionally, this session will establish the foundation for sparking new transdisciplinary research initiatives for integrating water policies, socioeconomic responses, and environmental outcomes.

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Dr. Regina M. Buono, Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
  • Dr. Dolores Rey, Cranfield University, UK
  • Dr. Alex Mayer, Michigan Technological University, USA
  • Dr. Robert Brouwer, University of Waterloo, Canada

Further Information: