This paper examines management responses to environmental and hydrological change related to growing water scarcity. It draws on experiences in the catchment of the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania to reflect on the theory and process of creating effective and workable goals and strategies for river basin management. We find that various gaps occur in the pursuit of normative ‘integrated water resources management’ (IWRM) that can be attended to by applying a focused expedient approach to address identified problems in three states of the water availability regime: ‘critical water’, ‘medial water’ and ‘bulk water’. In exploring this expedient approach, the paper presents an adaptive framework for river basin management and considers some implications for the science of river basin management as a whole. We suggest that while IWRM provides a language to describe river basin management, it does not readily generate the necessary responses to deal with identified problems. Moreover, we argue that the heart of this framework both fosters, and is comprised from, rigorous social and technical learning.
Research Report 110. International Water Management Institute. Columbo, Sri Lanka. 43 pp., ISBN 978-92-9090-661-2