EGU General Assembly 2022
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Getting to the crux(es) of the matter(s): Water quality and problem-setting in the Brantas River basin

Schuyler Houser, Reza Pramana, and Maurits Ertsen
Schuyler Houser et al.
  • Delft University of Technology, Water Resources Management, Netherlands (

Effective policy problem structuring – especially for ‘wicked’ environmental problems such as river pollution – involves the abstraction of governable elements of often diffuse ‘problematic situations’ through analysis and deliberation in order to identify tractable policy space. This involves facilitating some convergence around problem conditions, matching said conditions with available solutions, and mediating the diverse priorities and perspectives of large groups of stakeholders.

For large river basins characterized by multi-level governance and high population, industrial, and agricultural density – as in the Brantas River in East Java, Indonesia – the process of structuring water quality problems and formulating management plans is inevitably complex. Three shifts in water resource management, all aimed to improve efficacy, policy legitimacy, and representativeness, also present new challenges for problem structuring and planning. First, the evidence-based policy movement has been tempered by recognition of the political nature of science, driving inclusion of additional kinds of knowledge beyond hydrological, chemical, and biological science. Second, the mainstreaming of IWRM has encouraged a shift towards horizontally-arranged, multilevel governance networks of diverse actors across sectors, who bring their own problem perspectives and strategic preferences. Third, renewed interest in implementation studies has refocused attention on institutional, cultural, and capacity-related design requirements.

This research posits that the effective implementation of river environmental solutions depends largely on their responsiveness to administrative, social, and institutional factors as well as on their sympathetic alignment with stakeholders’ established priorities. Nevertheless, these important design factors often fall to the wayside in the design and selection of interventions, simply because they are not specifically and intentionally included in the processes of problem analysis and policy deliberation.

As part of a multi-stakeholder water quality management project in the Brantas basin, this research gathers and analyzes administrative and political knowledge inputs to complement technical inputs in the design of an Integrated Water Quality Management Plan. It combines two policy enquiries with hydrological science to support problem-structuring, namely perceptions survey research of water managers and systematic review of government agencies’ medium-term strategic plans. The survey research gathers perceptions of water managers across agencies and levels of government in East Java regarding the legal environment of water quality governance (legal basis, allocation of responsibilities, regulatory settings, conflict mediation), policy conditions (planning, coordination, monitoring, finance), and administrative and management arrangements, revealing differing perspectives on institutional opportunities and challenges amongst agency representatives within the same basin. The second identifies areas of strategic commonality centered on hydrological data management, community engagement, integrated solid waste management, industrial wastewater enforcement, and communal wastewater treatment. These findings are set out for consideration in two subsequent processes: the appraisal of feasibility and sustainability of interventions proposed for inclusion in the management plan, and to inform the nomination of implementing bodies for component activities within the plan.

How to cite: Houser, S., Pramana, R., and Ertsen, M.: Getting to the crux(es) of the matter(s): Water quality and problem-setting in the Brantas River basin, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-7276,, 2022.