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Miami Vice as the decor for IWRM

By Arjan Hijdra. If it are the words ‘Miami Vice’ that drew your attention, just keep reading, I will work my way from IWRM all the way to this famous 80s TV series. As a practitioner in the field of waterway development I currently have the great pleasure of submerging myself in the rich world of ‘water governance’. I’m working on my PhD dissertation and currently I’m staying at the Urban Studies and Planning dept. at MIT, Boston, to focus on the US context.

New concepts unfold for me and at the same time, familiar concepts get new depths. However, the concept of IWRM is one I’ve been long familiar with, although I never really could grab the significance of it on the day to day work I do.  Maybe that last point needs some extra clarification. My work, before doing this PhD, was preparing construction projects for waterways. Examples are navigation locks, weirs, capital dredging, bank protection etc. And although these works are typically influencing water systems in a significant way, there does not seem to be a lot of IWRM to it. Of course the obligatory paths of environmental impact assessments have to be followed, together with the public hearings which belong to that process. But as surprising as it may seem, most of these projects are very specialized.

Now I had the pleasure, as said, of diving deeper into the literature. I ran into the article of Biswas  (Biswas, 2004)⁠. It is a critique on the IWRM concept, and one of his main arguments is that IWRM has hardly found any practical application approaches. I couldn’t agree more, considering my own experience, but it certainly makes me wonder whether this is a) still valid in 2012, and b) if still valid, how can a concept like IWRM continue to have such resonance by all major institutions and the academic community? Step by step I am trying to find answers on this by investigating cases in the US and Europe.

Yesterday I came back from a field trip visiting the Miami River and its related institutions. This river is not well known, even not to people living in the city itself. But it is indeed a fascinating case from both the perspectives of the immense turnaround that took place for the river itself, and in terms of how the multitude of organizations and private parties have been working on this together. Over 30 agencies had, and still have some kind of authority over this river. Since 1998 more than 100 million was jointly invested and the work is still in progress. The river used to be a place which could have (and probably had) inspired the famous TV series of the ’80s, Miami Vice. Derelict vessels, parking garages along the embankments, deprived neighborhoods, and the major hub for marine trade that was preferred to be done at night. It was basically an open sewer and the main source of pollution for the entire precious Biscayne bay. The contrast to what I heard and saw last week could not have been bigger. This certainly does not mean I do have all my answers now, but piece by piece I hope to fit the puzzle. On first glance however, I can’t deny I saw some real and practical IWRM implementation, although no-one I spoke ever used the word.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.watergovernance.eu/science-and-policy/miami-vice-as-the-decor-for-iwrm/

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