Water Governance in Cities – conference report

The international conference “Water Governance in Cities” was held in Ptuj on Thursday, 17 October 2019. Its purpose was to spark a debate on how prepared Slovenian cities are for weather phenomena caused by climate change and to learn from foreign practices emphasizing the significance of a comprehensive and interconnected planning and organization. The conference was organized by the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning RS, IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies, and the Association of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia and it drew around 80 attendees from various municipalities, state and professional services. Encouraged by domestic and foreign examples of good practices, the Slovenian experts on water management concluded in the discussion that the Slovenian system of water governance is lacking and that it requires competent dialogue partners at the level of the municipalities, the state, as well as other complementary fields, like urban planning, architecture, and others.

The conference was opened with an address by the mayor of the City Municipality of Ptuj, Nuška Gajšek. The organizers chose to hold the conference in Ptuj after the city had been affected by a severe storm, flooding numerous yards and cellars. The mayor explained that the municipality is very aware of these problems and that it is already following professional recommendations on the advanced hinterland and stormwater management. She also stressed that municipalities need and expect tangible assistance from the state for planning and carrying out water governance measures. Spatial planning state secretary Aleš Prijon emphasized how current the conference topic is and informed the attendees that the ministry will also be strategically addressing climate change and other pressing urban development issues with a proposal of the new Spatial Development Strategy of Slovenia and invited the participants to join the discussions that will be organized during the public debate period.

The occurrences of heavy downpours have been the trigger to why political leadership, management, and professional services in many cities around the globe decided to implement radical changes in their water governance management. IPoP had already addressed the pressing issue of urban water governance last year in a publication Berilo, in which we presented good sustainable spatial management practices based on a special report by an expert focus group studying water governance in Graz, Austria. In 2007, Graz experienced a downpour that triggered strategic changes in water governance; the town has been consistent in implementing measures to connect the city’s professional services, to ensure the inhabitants the best possible flood protection, and to improve the ecological quality and recreational value of the urban water environment.

It turns out that strategic, organizational, and operational measures similar to the ones in Graz are also being practised elsewhere and new and effective practices of water governance are being developed. Both foreign guests, Ronny Van Looveren from Antwerp and Giovanni Fini from Bologna, presented their work on measures for climate change adaptation and more effective water governance. They stressed the significance of strategic planning by including a wide spectre of stakeholders, which must start with a solid understanding of the conditions, the natural features of urban and hinterland water, the history of sewerage management and the water management area, as well as the movements of the hinterland and urban waters during heavy rainfall. Cities are also looking for innovative solutions for managing excess water during downpours and for water shortages during droughts. They are creating possibilities in urban planning for opening regulated watercourses, water retention, and establishing new green areas. When planning and implementing the measures, cities often utilize European projects, as well as include the inhabitants into the planning and execution phases with an experience exchange. Both guests are from cities that actively strengthen their city management capacities in European projects; they both participate in the URBACT program: Antwerp participates in the RESILIENT EUROPE project, while Bologna is using the URBACT program to share its good practice of adapting to climate change by connecting the local actors with other cities. Our guests and other foreign contributors confirmed that, despite the different physical geographical characteristics between the cities and the catchments, precisely this knowledge exchange between cities is crucial for the development of effective innovative solutions at the local level.

Ronny Van Looveren

The Slovenian lecturers also shared their knowledge and experience with us in Ptuj, addressing a wide range of approaches to rainwater management in their presentations. We learned how different unplanned and actually prohibited interventions into the water space reduce the flow of water and increase flood risk. They emphasized how important it is to communicate with the inhabitants living along the watercourses both during the planning stages and later in the processes of maintaining and using the waterside areas. Interventions on the streams of the watercourses have a cumulative effect, which can also lead to floods in areas where this would not otherwise be expected, even during 100-year floods.

The lecture on modelling methods for effective stormwater management on the example of Girona, Spain, was very interesting. We also learned how to implement the necessary measures for lowering the flood risk in Celje and about the strategic significance of effective water drainage, following important previous research and data establishing the status as the basis for formulating the most appropriate measures. We heard innovative examples of stormwater drainage on parking lots using green belts, the possibility of utilizing roundabouts for funnelling stormwater, the importance of porous pavement, and draining on private lots. We used the examples of Slovenske Konjice and Ormož to determine the solutions for the effective drainage of hinterland waters. Another highlight of the presentations was the significance of comprehensive solutions against flood risk for urban areas, as well as pinpointing potential new threatened areas.


The conference was concluded by Lidija Globevnik with an overview of all of the messages and findings regarding how planning water governance measures affect all spheres of the water cycle and by reminding us that we are all stakeholders in that cycle. Our activities, construction, and altering the landscape have significantly changed the water cycle’s capacity to function naturally. The conditions are worsening due to climate change, so it is especially important to change our management patterns. She also recognized the undeniable need for collaboration between the actors in the field of water governance and other fields, as well as the civil society in order to achieve effective water governance. The discussion concluded that Slovenia has a well-organized service for accident and rescue response, but we have been less successful in transitioning to a new concept of overseeing and adapting to accidents. The conference was rounded out with the message: “Water makes its own room, let’s channel it to where it will do the least damage.”

Lidija Globevnik

Keynote speeches

More information about the conference here.

Photo gallery here.

Photo: Gregor Salobir

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