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Hydraulic engineering in the social-ecological delta: understanding the interplay between social, ecological, and technological systems in the Dutch delta by means of “delta trajectories.”

Martijn F. van Staveren, Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University
Jan P. M. van Tatenhove, Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08168-210108

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Abstract

Several of the world's largest deltas have recently been conceptualized as social-ecological delta systems. Although such conceptualizations are valuable in emphasizing complex interaction between social actors and ecological processes in deltas, they do not go into specific dynamics that surround technological developments in the hydraulic domain. By drawing from concepts originating in socio-technical systems research, we stress the importance of technology, particularly the domain of hydraulic engineering, in shaping a delta’s future. Based on two geographically distinct cases of flood management infrastructure in the Dutch delta, we demonstrate the influence of existing hydraulic works, in mutual interaction with social responses and environmental processes, on the development of the congregated delta system over time. The delta trajectory concept is introduced as a way to understand the interplay between social, ecological, and technological systems in deltas. We discuss options to realign unsustainable pathways with more desirable ones. Adaptive delta management presents a policy environment where these messages may be picked up.

Key words

adaptive delta management; delta trajectory; flood management; hydraulic engineering; path dependency; social-ecological systems; technological lock-in

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087