Volume 10, Issue 5 e1661
Open Access

Deciding for resilience: Utilizing water infrastructure investments to prepare for the future

Wieke Pot

Corresponding Author

Wieke Pot

Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands


Wieke Pot, Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, P.O. box 47, Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Email: [email protected]

Contribution: Conceptualization (lead), Data curation (lead), Formal analysis (lead), Methodology (lead), Writing - original draft (lead)

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First published: 29 May 2023
Edited by: Nigel Wright, Senior Editor and Wendy Jepson, Editor-in-Chief


Governments are increasingly faced with climate change realities and have also committed themselves to international agreements with objectives to tackle long-term problems such as becoming climate neutral by 2050. Governments, therefore, will need to carefully consider how to contribute to combatting climate change, when investing in their water infrastructure that is reaching an end-of-lifetime due to technical aging or changing functional requirements. Such investments offer crucial windows of opportunity to create more resilient water systems, because large budgets are involved and lifespans of infrastructure are long and co-determine possible futures. Based on a literature review, this article develops key ways of how infrastructure operators could adopt a long-term perspective and choose water management strategies that increase absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities. With these perspectives and strategies, this article sets out a basis to help governments prepare for the future when they invest in water infrastructure.

This article is categorized under:

  • Human Water > Water Governance
  • Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
  • Engineering Water > Planning Water

Graphical Abstract

Investments in renovation, replacement and renewal of infrastructure can be utilized to become more resilient and prepared for climate change. The inner ring displays diverse ways for governments to adopt a more long-term view when investing; the outer ring displays different strategies that increase the resilience of the water management system.


Changing circumstances such as climate change, technological developments, economic and demographic changes, and sociopolitical trends will shorten the design lifetimes of water infrastructures. In response to these developments, governments will need to consider a change of water management strategies and functions of existing water infrastructure, for example adding energy production facilities to pumping stations and replacing an open storm surge barrier with a sea lock. The long lifespan of infrastructure requires governmental decision-makers to look into the far future to anticipate possible developments and to decide on water management strategies that can cope with changing circumstances over a long period. This is exacerbated by climate change: a problem that manifests itself today in the form of more frequent and intense extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, but is also very uncertain in terms of its pace, the success of actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and the concrete climate risks at specific locations. To address these climate risks, governments worldwide have committed themselves to international agreements, for example the Paris Agreement and Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference of 2022 (COP 27) to combat climate change as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Implementing these agreements requires national and local governments to utilize investments in end-of-lifetime infrastructure to achieve specific long-term objectives (Hueskes et al., 2017; Pinz et al., 2018). Also, irrespectively of changing circumstances, an increasing number of water management structures are already approaching their end-of-lifetime due to technical aging in many countries (Grigg, 2017; OECD, 2016). This will put decisions about end-of-lifetime infrastructure higher on the governmental agenda and create windows of opportunity for policy change (Kingdon, 2011): using the reserved budgets for water infrastructure renovation or replacement to choose for more resilient solutions that can cope with unexpected shocks and the underlying creeping crisis of climate change (Boin et al., 2020). However, it is not obvious that governments will always utilize these opportunities to choose more resilient water management strategies (Pot, 2021).

This article deals with this question: How can governments utilize planned investments in water infrastructure to become more resilient and prepared for climate change? Firstly, governments will need to adopt a long-term perspective to take into account uncertainties that could impact the long-term effectiveness of water infrastructure and water systems. Secondly, to create resilient water systems, governments should also consider strategies that help to absorb, adapt to, and transform in response to climate-related events such as droughts and floods. In the literature, many decision-support methods and resilient or adaptive strategies have been proposed that makes water infrastructure and water systems more future proof. This article aims to provide an overview of the long-term perspectives and water management strategies that governments can use to prepare for the future when investing in their water infrastructure. To do so, this article reviews and integrates different strands of literature on future anticipation, strategic planning, resilience of social-ecological systems, water management, and robust and adaptive decision-making. The next section discusses how governments can adopt a long-term view when preparing investment decisions. Section 5 discusses water management strategies that can become part of investment decisions to contribute to more resilient water systems. Section 9 offers a short conclusion and reflects on the implications for the decision-making process and discusses limitations and avenues for future research.


This section will discuss how governments can adopt a more long-term view when preparing investments in water infrastructure by discussing (1) different types of long-term perspectives and (2) different types of “futures.” It is important for governments to adopt a long-term perspective because water management strategies can last for decades once implemented. Think, for example, of a sea lock that lasts for 100 years and determines future growth potential of a seaport but also the maximum protection against sea level rise for citizens living in the region. On the other hand, it is especially difficult for governments to think beyond democratic decision-making cycles and pay attention to less urgent or even future problems (Boston, 2017). Climate change, especially, is a creeping crisis that unfolds over a long period of time with varying degrees of political and societal attention, without a clear beginning or end and with potential disruptive consequences (Boin et al., 2020). Climate change, therefore, requires public authorities with water management tasks to think about future climate impacts and how that affects water management strategies on the long run. Not thinking about the future when investing in infrastructure, can lead to cost overruns, disinvestments, an increase of technical lock-ins and maladaptation (IPCC, 2022; Roelich et al., 2015).

2.1 Adopting a long-term perspective

A first relevant long-term perspective is the lifespan of water infrastructure. The lifespan is also called design lifetime and can range from 30 years for wastewater systems in peat soils up to 100 years for a sea lock (Herder & Wijnia, 2012). During this multidecade lifespan, water infrastructure needs to remain effective: it needs to keep delivering its key functionalities such as water safety, shipping, water discharging, and recreation. Meanwhile, both the functionalities as well as the circumstances may change over the course of an infrastructure lifespan. New housing areas may be built that lead to more traffic or climate change may demand a heightened or more frequent closure of a storm surge barrier.

Secondly, besides choosing infrastructure that can remain effective over the course of its lifespan, decision-makers need to plan their investment decisions carefully because of the long lead time of deciding upon and building infrastructure. Lead-time refers to the time it will take from the start of the decision-making process to the realization of a new infrastructure (Meuleman, & in 't Veld, R. J., 2010). Also during this lead time, which can be up to 30 years for water infrastructure, changes in functional demands and new technologies are likely. This lead time implies that infrastructure investments have a long time lag between costs and benefits: benefits will occur in the future, whereas resources need to be extracted in the short term (Underdal, 2010). Infrastructure investments are therefore what Jacobs (2011) calls policy investments: a policy choice that combines short-term resource extraction with long-run social benefits.

Thirdly, when governments make decisions about investments in infrastructure, they need to consider the long-term challenges or problems that could impact these investments. Sprinz (2009, p. 2) defines long-term policy problems as “public policy issues that last at least one human generation, exhibit deep uncertainty exacerbated by the depth of time, and engender public goods aspects both at the stage of problem generation as well as at the response stage.” Long-term problems can be diverse, but many are based in the biophysical system and include adapting to global sea level rise, countering biodiversity loss, and moving away from fossil fuels towards low-carbon renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Foxon et al., 2009; Hovi et al., 2009). In the literature, long-term problems are also portrayed as grand challenges (Ferraro et al., 2015), meta problems (Seidl & Werle, 2018), and super wicked problems (Lazarus, 2008). According to Head (2022), wicked problems are characterized by: a great interdependency between different but related issues (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), deep uncertainty (e.g., about the pace of melting glaciers causing sea level rise), a different manifestation at different scales at the same time (for example, droughts and wildfire in California and Australia and floods in Western Europe and Florida), polarization and posttruth thinking where citizens question scientific facts (e.g., protests of farmers questioning the measurements of nitrogen by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), unclear and contested responsibilities for dealing with the issue (e.g., is climate change adaptation in cities a responsibility of citizens, insurers, or the government), discussions about fairness and social justice (e.g., the latest COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh involved a heated discussion on the responsibilities of rich countries needing to compensate for climate change-related damage in poor countries), connections to other—often more acute—crises that lead governments to insufficiently address the underlying wicked and more creeping issues (e.g., pressing issues such as a pandemic, higher energy prices due to the war in Ukraine, inflow of migrants or housing shortages use policymakers' resources and leave less room to also address climate change).

Fourth, thinking about long-term problems and solutions requires adopting a long-term time horizon. A time horizon is a fixed end-point in time to look back in time or forward in time, and that end-point can be a deliberate choice of actors. In the literature, there is no generally accepted standard time horizon for addressing long-term problems, or consensus about the meaning of terms such as short term, long-term, or future generations (Bauer, 2018; Eshuis & van Buuren, 2014; Tonn, 2018). Time horizons can differ per individual and the role individuals fulfill within organizations (Segrave et al., 2014). A long-term time horizon for policy advice is typically between 10 and 20 years (Bauer, 2018). The time horizon of politicians is likely to be shorter because they need to remain responsive to their current constituents and therefore do not look beyond their legislative period. The limited time horizon of legislative periods has given rise to discussions about the myopic view within governments (Bonfiglioli & Gancia, 2013; Boston, 2017; Bührs, 2012). Because long-term problems can last for generations, time horizons to address these problems need to cross the regular organizational cycles of elections, decision-making, planning, and budgeting (Pörtner et al., 2019). Increasingly, preparing for the future and making investment decisions is discussed in the literature as safeguarding needs of future generations (González-Ricoy & Gosseries, 2016): hence, the time horizon of a generation, or even multiple generations (e.g., the seventh generation principle in Roman Krznaric's book ‘Good Ancestor’ [Krznaric, 2020]) is now mentioned as necessary for thinking about the consequences of today's actions and about the need for action to tackle creeping crises and sustainability transitions.

Fifth and finally, and related to adopting a well-defined time horizon, governments often formulate long-term objectives with regards to climate change. According to Meuleman and in ‘t Veld (2010, p. 260), long-term objectives are “objectives concerning the future that must be reached by taking decisions today.” Objectives are therefore about the benefits of investment decisions: the outcomes that actors desire to achieve (Marchau et al., 2019). Long-term objectives can come from (political) stakeholders, organizational strategic plans and visions, as well as from inter-governmental agreements, and often need to be translated into investment decisions. Well-known long-term objectives are the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of the UNFCC Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Long-term objectives are often formulated with a specific target year (e.g., “we will be climate neutral in 2050”) (Hansson et al., 2016).

2.2 Applying futuring methods

Long-term problems are obviously characterized by high levels of uncertainty about what the future will look like and about what actions to take to deal with the future (Foxon et al., 2009). Brugnach et al. (2008, p. 4) define uncertainty as “the situation in which there is not a unique and complete understanding of the system to be managed.” To support investments in water infrastructure and grasp uncertainties involved, governmental actors can develop and use ideas about what the future will look like.

A future can be understood as everything that has not happened and may or may never happen (Anderson, 2010). The future includes expectations, concerns, and hopes about what can happen (Hodgson, 2013). The future can be differentiated into probable, plausible, possible, and preferable or desirable futures (Bai et al., 2015). Probable futures are those futures that are deemed likely to happen; plausible futures are ranges of possible futures with specific assumptions; possible futures are those futures that “can happen” and are therefore infinite; preferable futures are those futures that actors desire to happen.

Future studies scholars have developed different types of tools to grasp these futures and deal with deep uncertainties involved. To analyze probable futures, probabilistic models and cost–benefit analyses can be used for assessing expected risks, impacts and associated costs and benefits (Ranger et al., 2013). When trying to deal with wicked problems, these methods usually fall short in understanding the uncertainties and unavoidable trade-offs involved. To imagine plausible futures, scenario planning approaches can prove helpful (Healey & Hodgkinson, 2008). Scenario planning leaves room for the input of many stakeholders and can help to think about very different futures, but has the disadvantage of potentially producing (very) unrealistic scenarios. To explore many possible futures, models for decision making under deep uncertainty are proposed (Marchau et al., 2019). These methods, for example, include robust decision-making and dynamic adaptive policy pathways. Robust decision making can be used to identify possible, diverse and complementary future scenarios and stress test different strategies against large ranges of uncertainties (Steinmann et al., 2020). Dynamic adaptive policy pathways allows to study until when, depending on changing future circumstances such as temperature rise, a particular strategy is effective and when alternative or complementary strategies are needed (Haasnoot et al., 2013). Methods for decision-making under deep uncertainty are quite complex modeling tools and not designed for direct application by decision-makers. Still, outputs can aid decision-makers with grasping the involved deep uncertainties and analyzing which strategies are better able to deal with many different circumstances. Finally, to develop preferable or desirable futures, backcasting and envisioning processes have been developed (Neuvonen & Ache, 2017). Narratives and storylines are often part of such envisioning processes and help to both involve different stakeholder perspectives as well as to find common ground about desired future directions. Often such desirable futures are developed in a participatory process that involves dialogues and workshops with many stakeholders. If one particular vision is chosen, the risk can be that people tend to forget about different future outcomes and unexpected events that may alter that vision completely. Hence, different types of futures serve different purposes and a combination of using visions and scenarios seems to be a recommended practice for dealing with the future (Karlsen & Karlsen, 2013).


To ensure the effectiveness of infrastructure over the course of its lifespan, scholars in urban planning and engineering propose to apply related concepts such as resilience, robustness, and adaptation. The basic definition of resilience refers to the ability of systems to absorb change and disturbance so as to maintain the same functions (Holling, 1973). This definition of resilience has been broadened to combine social and ecological systems (Ferro-Azcona et al., 2019). The broadened definition includes the capacity to absorb shocks (absorptive capacity), the capacity to adjust responses to changing circumstances (adaptive capacity), and the capacity to create a new, less vulnerable system when changed conditions make the existing system untenable (transformative capacity) (Folke, 2016; Mao et al., 2017).

This section will use the resilience concept and operationalize its specific elements of shock absorption, adaptation, and transformation in terms of more concrete water management measures that are derived from the literature.

3.1 Shock absorption

Absorptive capacity is the capacity to withstand shocks and bounce back and involves choosing strategies that can withstand shocks and remain functional under the full range of plausible futures. For water management strategies to be able to cope with turbulence and unexpected shocks, there are two main recommendations that can be drawn from the literature.

Firstly, climate stress tests are focused on knowing what the impacts of possible extreme-case scenarios are on the local area level. Examples of stress tests mentioned in the literature are scenario analysis (Fletcher et al., 2017), extreme shower simulations (Urich & Rauch, 2014), and climate change impact assessments (Zhou et al., 2012). Climate stress tests need to involve the most important climate impacts such as heat stress, drought, flooding from rivers and seas, and extreme precipitation. Climate stress tests help to make the future scenarios, discussed in the previous section, more specific and help to explore local climate risks. In 2022, the European Central Bank has also announced an obligatory climate stress test for banks and this will mean that climate risks on the object level need to be considered ever more seriously and can impact funding ability.

Second, shock absorption is closely related to crisis management in the sense of being able to adequately deal with unexpected disruptions. Therefore, shock absorption also requires early warning systems and evacuation plans (Lumbroso et al., 2017). Furthermore, thinking about accessibility of areas as part of spatial plans and emergency plans is also important to be able to evacuate people but also to allow emergency services to provide immediate help when necessary. To prepare for the future, therefore, water managers also need to know how they will deal with sudden extreme weather events when they occur. Resilience and crisis management are different strands in the literature but they are related: dealing with unexpected shocks and recovery from these events is crucial in both. Also organizationally, water managers could work more closely together with the safety officers and other people that are responsible for crisis management within their region. Knowing the exact water system in combination with using knowledge about evacuation, early warning systems and having a mandate to involve emergency services is crucial. This also connects to the—in the Netherlands invented—concept of multilayer safety. This concept integrates the related actions of preventing shocks through defensive flood measures such as of dykes, use of resilient spatial planning measures such as realizing water retention areas, and effective crisis and management measures (Bosoni et al., 2021).

3.2 Adaptation

Adaptive capacity is the capacity to change strategies over time or switch to another strategy if conditions change to ensure the long-term effectiveness of water management strategies (Maier et al., 2016; Walker et al., 2013). For increasing the adaptive capacity of the water system, two types of strategies are crucial: one is to develop different, parallel and complementary strategies and to be able to switch to another strategy when circumstances require to do so. For example, with more intense rainfall, increasing the height of dykes may no longer suffice and water retention areas close to rivers are needed in addition. To enable a timely change of strategy, such complementary water safety strategies should be supported with monitoring the effectiveness of the existing water management system (Kwakkel et al., 2016). Adaptation also implies that water managers use a cyclical decision-making process in which they re-evaluate and adjust water management strategies in line with new information about changing circumstances and system performance (Van der Brugge & Roosjen, 2015). Short-term decisions are often part of adaptive strategies, as they can form a first step (such as more efficient water use) before more drastic measures are needed (such as increasing water levels in freshwater basins to cope with droughts) (Haasnoot et al., 2013).

Secondly, adaptive capacity can also include the application of a multi-functional use of spaces. The room for the river program in the Netherlands is a clear example of this: the connected projects involved both dyke strengthening measures as well as allowing rivers to flood predesignated spillover basin areas when water levels become too high. The spillover basin areas can be used for grazing cattle or recreational activities when water levels are low (Pot et al., 2022). Also within urban area environments, there is an increased application of the use of green spaces such as parks or small nature areas as, for example, water retention areas (Carter et al., 2018; Porse, 2013). This is also referred to as blue-green infrastructure. The advantages of applying blue-green infrastructure are twofold: it has multiple functionalities but can also contribute to multiple long-term problems. For example, greening cities can contribute to improved public health, limit heat stress, increase water storage capacities, and stimulate biodiversity.

3.3 Transformation

Finally, there is transformation: this involves the capacity to transform the fundamental attributes of a system—including technological and institutional systems—and create a fundamentally new way of living (Folke, 2016; Nightingale et al., 2022). A transformative approach to climate change, therefore, involves reconsidering the existing land use. A clear example of transformation is managed retreat or relocation as a strategy to deal with floods. Mach and Siders (2021) suggest that managed retreat will be part of many climate-driven transformations that will also cause fundamental societal shifts. Another example is to increase water levels so that farmers will need to switch to different crops or apply a business model that relies more on climate-related ecosystem services such as water storage, compared to traditional agriculture. A transformative strategy for farmers and water authorities close to rivers or seas could be to go back to flood-water farming where the growth of crops depends on sporadic flooding (Bryan, 1929).

Another approach that can increase transformative capacities is when water as an issue becomes integrated with other policy objectives and transitions. Because regions are faced with multiple challenges and these challenges are interconnected (Head, 2022), it becomes apparent that governments will need to work together to make a particular area more future proof. The idea of multiple interconnected sustainability challenges also gave rise to nexus thinking: where actors focus on the interactions between issues and aim for coordination instead of approaching issues from a sectoral perspective (Pahl-Wostl, 2019). Coordination implies that adverse consequences of investments in water or green infrastructure for other decisions that are part of the same context or region are to a degree avoided, reduced, counterbalanced, or outweighed (Lindblom, 1965). Coordinating investment plans and strategies for particular regions, helps to avoid disinvestments of involved actors and will be crucial to support regional transitions by creating win-win opportunities. From a governance perspective, the nexus approach requires multiple actors (e.g., drinking water companies, water authorities, municipalities, nature conservation agencies) to coordinate their activities and investments in a particular region to be able to achieve common goals and connect multiple challenges. For example, when regions are more often confronted with periods of severe droughts, governments can realize that they need to change from rapidly discharging water during winter to storing water. They can then jointly start to invest in reducing pavements (municipalities), increasing water levels (regional water authorities) and improving soils (farmers) so as to create “sponge cities and areas” by increasing water absorption capacities of the soil (Chan et al., 2018). This sponge city serves both periods of drought (higher ground and surface water levels) as well as periods of intense rainfall, because it slows the water that falls on the ground. Furthermore, storing water can also help to increase biodiversity in a particular region by creating wetter nature areas and can help to improve water quality. Without coordination, and once a decision of one of these actors is made to reserve a particular budget for replacing or renovating existing road or water infrastructure, it can become difficult to change budgets. Also, decided upon and implemented infrastructure investments cause lock-ins that confirm the existing system and leave less room for change. These lock-ins can even lead to maladaptation: situations that increase instead of reduce vulnerabilities to climate change (Schipper, 2020).


To enable that governments utilize their water infrastructure investments to prepare for the future and become more resilient, this article offers theoretical guidance on how to incorporate a long-term and futures perspective and on how to select water management strategies that ensure that the water management system is able to deliver its primary system functions despite changing circumstances. Adopting a more long-term perspective is important because many water infrastructure assets are reaching their end-of-lifetime due to technological aging and changing functional demands, while climate change requires a reconsideration of the effectiveness of existing strategies to deal with climate impacts.

4.1 Long-term perspectives and strategies

The article introduced five ways of developing a more long-term perspective, considering: the lifespan of infrastructure, the lead-time of implementation, long-term problems, a long-term time horizon and long-term objectives. It then discussed different futuring techniques for developing ideas about how the future could look like and how different futures may impact the lifetime of infrastructure: working with plausible, preferable and possible futures through methods and techniques such as scenario planning, backcasting workshops, or dynamic adaptive policy pathways. These ways of developing a long-term perspective and futuring techniques can enable governments to not just renovate, renew or replace existing infrastructure but to critically reflect on the future role and functionalities of that infrastructure and the surrounding system in response to long-term challenges such as climate change.

The article also offered strategies to increase resilience of the water management system by investing in strategies that increase the absorptive, adaptive and/or transformative capacities: employing climate stress tests, investing in crisis management, developing complementary strategies for dealing with climate risks, creating multifunctional land use, reconsidering and changing existing land use, and linking different transitions at the local/regional level (i.e., biodiversity and drought or energy and water infrastructure or water quality and agriculture). The perspectives and strategies proposed assist governments in integrating a long-term perspective and future-proof solutions into their investment plans and decisions and to implement solutions that contribute to resilient water systems. But doing so has implications for the decision-making process.

4.2 Implications for the decision-making process: discussing the when and who

Preparing for the future and choosing strategies that increase resilience does not imply a rational decision-making process in which evidence or the application of futuring techniques leads to the selection of an optimal policy choice, in the sense of maximizing resilience (Dahlberg & Lindström, 1998). Instead, adopting a long-term perspective when preparing decisions to replace, renew or renovate water infrastructure is anything but rational because of the many uncertainties, the large range of possible solutions, the plurality of actors, and the competing objectives involved. To utilize investments in water infrastructure, participation and coordination and a good sense of timing are particularly important. This requires a more active role of public sector authorities when preparing decisions to invest in water infrastructure. The next paragraphs reflect on the when and who of the decision-making process for utilizing investment decisions to prepare for the future.

When we use the three capacities of resilience, the following can be said about whom to involve. For increasing the absorptive capacity, a more intensive cooperation with crisis and safety managers at the municipal or regional level will be important to signal potential disasters at an early stage. Water management should embrace contingency planning and response as part of a world where extreme weather events become more frequent and severe. Crisis managers and water managers can strengthen each other's core capabilities: anticipation and preparedness for crises from the field of water management, and crisis response, evacuation, and communication from crisis and safety management (Kox et al., 2018). For increasing the adaptive capacity, it becomes especially crucial to jointly develop strategies for water systems with involved actors at a regional scale to develop complementary and parallel strategies for which investments of other actors are (also) needed. Also designing legal and policy pathways toward adaption, for example, for enabling cooperation, could become part of this participatory and regionally embedded exercise (He, 2018). For increasing the transformative capacity, it becomes crucial to organize dialogues with stakeholders within regions to develop a future vision and to discuss possible win-wins but also unavoidable clashes of stakes. Involving (vulnerable) citizens and underrepresented stakeholders also increases the justness and fairness of planned decisions (Shi et al., 2016).

Not only the who but also the when is relevant: there are three key windows of opportunity to utilize investments in water infrastructure to prepare for the future: (1) the signaling of a functional or technical end-of-lifetime of water infrastructure; (2) planned water management investments; and (3) extreme weather events. First, the end-of-lifetime of water infrastructure can be recognized due to monitoring and early warning sensors, projections and scientific knowledge on the lifetime of building materials, and because of other feedback loops such as, for example, complaints about increased river traffic causing congestion (Soga & Schooling, 2016). Second, governments should consider their full portfolio of investments and the relationships between different investments. Infrastructure objects (such as a water pumping station) belong to a larger interconnected system that serves a particular function for society (such as managing water levels) (Roelich et al., 2015). An investment in the electrification of one pumping station may determine the entire water management regime at a local area and future investments in related pumping stations. Decisions about one infrastructural object can therefore impact the decisions about other related objects that fulfill the same function. Therefore, utilizing water infrastructure investments to prepare for the future requires a careful consideration of planned investments in different objects belonging to the same system, as well as across domains (e.g., water sanitation and water safety). Third, experiences with the changing climate in the form of extreme weather events (such as hurricane Ian in 2022 or the Meuse floods in 2021) can create political momentum to not just continue with preparing planned investments, but to think about how these investments can also contribute to increasing resilience. Actors should then be ready to connect the event to the underlying and creeping issue of climate change and to propose water management strategies that enhance resilience (Kingdon, 2011).

4.3 Limitations

The article, of course, has its limitations. Firstly, many examples are derived from a European, and even Dutch, context. The Netherlands is often regarded as an example when it comes to water management strategies and is a low-lying Delta that already is experiencing climate change impacts, with enduring droughts in the summers of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022 and a severe flood in 2021. The application of the perspectives and strategies in other country contexts, and in, especially, the global South, is something that should definitely be further studied as practices of water infrastructure planning, long-term perspectives and lifespans of infrastructure can differ significantly. Secondly, the article has focused primarily on three climate change-related perspectives of resilience. As a result, the article did not focus on other shocks like earthquakes or pandemics and has focused primarily on the contribution of water management strategies and infrastructure and less on the social aspects, like reflexivity and learning (Maclean et al., 2014).

4.4 Future research directions

To assess the resilience of the water management system on a regional scale (Boyd et al., 2015) and to further discover the implications for the decision-making process, future research is recommended to compare investment decisions about different but related objects within the same region that apply one or more of the proposed strategies. Secondly, it would be very interesting to conduct multiple case studies across governance contexts to see whether the same long-term perspectives can be applied across contexts and what actors encounter when they purposefully adopt the perspectives and apply the strategies offered. Furthermore, future research comparing decisions by the same government across different but related domains (e.g., roads, green, water, and safety) would provide greater insight into the general resilience capability of governments and a potential further conceptualization of the long-term perspectives for each domain. Finally, another avenue for future research would be to also look at the implementation process of water infrastructure over time and consider the long-term effectiveness in terms of the absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities of chosen strategies. An example in which the resilience of the system decreases over time is when adaptive strategies are chosen that are, however, left in place for a long period of time and are not adapted to changing circumstances (Nair & Howlett, 2017). The question that future research could address is the extent to which chosen strategies remain effective over long periods, even when functionalities of water infrastructure change to serve the needs of future citizens.


Wieke Pot: Conceptualization (lead); data curation (lead); formal analysis (lead); methodology (lead); writing – original draft (lead).


This research was made possible thanks to the funding of the 4TU.HTSF DeSIRE program of the four universities of technology in the Netherlands and NWO, the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research, under grant number 869.15.012.


The author does not have affiliations with, or involvement in, any organization or entity with any financial or nonfinancial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.


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Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analyzed in this study.