Sustainable and Adaptive Water Management: Case Study of Water Management in Serbia

 Milan A. Dimkić1, Miodrag Milovanović1,2, Dejan Dimkić1


1 Jaroslav Černi Institute for the Development of Water Resources, Jarslava Černog 80, 11226, Belgrade, Serbia

2 Corresponding author: Fax: +381 11 3906481. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


This paper provides an overview of the basic assumptions of sustainable and adaptive water management, primarily in the domain of water abundance, economic power of countries and possible climate change impacts. A case study of water management in Serbia is presented to show the potential consequences of following a non-selective approach to sustainable management of water resources, as well as the need to more extensively incorporate the principle of adaptive management into water legislation at all levels (local, regional, and global).

Keywords: water management, sustainability, adaptivity, climate change, global, regional, local




Many countries around the world are facing the challenge of meeting increasing water demand resulting from population growth, industrialization, and urbanization, while their water resources are dwindling due to pollution and, in some cases, over-exploitation (Biswas, 1993; Falkenmark, 1994, 1999; Gleick, 1993, 1999; Rosegrant, 1997).

Management of water resources needs to be addressed at various levels (global, regional1, and local), because each level has its own particular characteristics. The primary goal of this paper is to point out that the understanding of these differences between levels and between different parts of the world, is critical to identifying and achieving appropriate water management. 

Additionally, the paper addresses the relationship between sustainable and adaptive water management, at various levels, and the reasons underlying the need for different approaches to water management. The case study of water management in Serbia, which is presented here, shows that it is preferable for some countries at this time not to attempt to achieve sustainable water management at any cost, but rather to implement adaptive management and to strive for sustainability.


1 A region is defined as an area where natural, political, economic and other characteristics are relatively homogeneous and interrelated.

Phases of water management

Water management generally evolved through several phases. Initially, there was a phase of abundance, where the availability of water resources exceeded the levels of water use, while water pollution was insignificant. The first human civilizations emerged in the general vicinity of large rivers (Tigris, Euphrates, Nile), which allowed for diverse uses of their waters (irrigation, manufacturing, navigation, and the like). Next came the phase of depletion, during which the levels of water use and water pollution were considerable relative to available water resources, leading to a gradual depletion of these resources.

In the late 1960’s, the accumulated consequences of intensified industrial development resulted in increased concerns for the general state of the environment. Water pollution problems, and the virtual extinction of life in some rivers, were of primary concern. Drinking water sources became increasingly threatened. All this, compounded with problems experienced by other resources (e.g., air pollution, energy crisis, etc.), increased public awareness of the need to ensure harmony between general economic growth and the ability of the environment to “endure” the increased pressure on such resources.