New river management for the Tisza River Basin

The evolution of management paradigms in the Tisza River Basin in Europe is an example of how CAS thinking has supported change in approaches to river management.

With a mountainous catchment and broad, flat floodplain, the Tisza is vulnerable to water level fluctuations

J. Sendzimir

With a mountainous catchment and broad, flat floodplain, the Tisza is vulnerable to some of the most extreme water level fluctuations in Europe, exacerbated by a system of dykes and drainage canals to support industries and agriculture. Flooding, landscape modification and biodiversity loss reached crisis levels by the late 1990s, prompting a “shadow network” of scientists and local activists to form and engage in dialogues about alternative river management. The network used participatory science to develop a CAS understanding that recognised cross-scale drivers, uncertainty and the importance of incorporating multiple views into river management practices. Using participatory system dynamics modeling tools, the shadow network sought to understand the factors required to transform the historical focus of river management on transporting materials and flood mitigation to maintaining biodiversity and sustainable land management practices. Thus, a participatory forum was key to the development of a shared CAS worldview, and encouraged experimentation in water policy. However, despite the shadow network’s adoption of a CAS approach, only an ephemeral shift in policy has occurred, emphasising the barriers to the application of CAS thinking when policy implementation stalls. Therefore, while a CAS approach has helped to build shared understanding and create social capital, it is yet to lead to management changes in the Tisza River system.