Articles | Volume 22, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2018
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2018

An alternative approach for socio-hydrology: case study research

Erik Mostert

Abstract. Currently the most popular approach in socio hydrology is to develop coupled human–water models. This article proposes an alternative approach, qualitative case study research, involving a systematic review of (1) the human activities affecting the hydrology in the case, (2) the main human actors, and (3) the main factors influencing the actors and their activities. Moreover, this article presents a case study of the Dommel Basin in Belgium and the Netherlands, and compares this with a coupled model of the Kissimmee Basin in Florida. In both basins a pendulum swing from water resources development and control to protection and restoration can be observed. The Dommel case study moreover points to the importance of institutional and financial arrangements, community values, and broader social, economic, and technical developments. These factors are missing from the Kissimmee model. Generally, case studies can result in a more complete understanding of individual cases than coupled models, and if the cases are selected carefully and compared with previous studies, it is possible to generalize on the basis of them. Case studies also offer more levers for management and facilitate interdisciplinary cooperation. Coupled models, on the other hand, can be used to generate possible explanations of past developments and quantitative scenarios for future developments. The article concludes that, given the limited attention they currently get and their potential benefits, case studies deserve more attention in socio-hydrology.

Short summary
This paper argues for an alternative approach for socio‒hydrology: detailed case study research. Detailed case study research can increase understanding of how society interacts with hydrology, offers more levers for management than coupled modelling, and facilitates interdisciplinary cooperation. The paper presents a case study of the Dommel Basin in the Netherlands and Belgium and compares this with a published model of the Kissimmee Basin in Florida.