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A meta-model of socio-hydrological phenomena for sustainable water management


Overemphasizing technological solutions in water management without considering the broader systems perspective can result in unintended consequences. For example, infrastructure interventions for drought adaptation may inadvertently increase flood risk, illustrating a socio-hydrological phenomenon. Here we propose a systems meta-model that reveals the complex mechanisms and feedback loops underlying the critical human–water interactions. We show that the unintended outcomes of water management decisions result from the lack of integration and coordination of the feedback loops. The insights highlight the importance of considering environmental capacity in water management, as well as the necessity for integrated assessment and coordinated solutions for long-term sustainability.

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Fig. 1: CHWS meta-model.
Fig. 2: Analysis of socio-hydrological phenomena with the CHWS meta-model.


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We thank J. Giambona for improving the readability of the paper. This research was funded by the CASYWat (Systems Water Management Framework for Catchment Scale Processes) UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project (grant NE/S009248/1) awarded to A.M. The President’s PhD scholarships provided by the Imperial College London funded L.L. B.D. acknowledges financial support from the CAMELLIA (Community Water Management for a Liveable London) NERC-funded project (NE/S003495/1).

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Authors and Affiliations



A.M. conceived the idea and designed the meta-model. A.M., L.L., J.O’K., B.D. and K.P.C. designed and carried out analysis and developed proposed principles. A.M. and L.L. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the findings and contributed to the paper.

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Correspondence to A. Mijic.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Elisabeth Krueger and Fuqiang Tian for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Mijic, A., Liu, L., O’Keeffe, J. et al. A meta-model of socio-hydrological phenomena for sustainable water management. Nat Sustain 7, 7–14 (2024).

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