The Tisza basin in Central Europe

Case Study Leader

Dr. Dagmar Haase, UFZ email: dagmar.haase[at]

For more information on the case study, please contact the case study leader!

Transboundary water resource and flood management issues are of major concern globally. In Europe, this concern was dramatically increased upon the catastrophic transboundary cyanide and heavy metal pollution accidents in the Tisza River Basin, in 2000. Moreover, due to increasing frequency and discharges of floods during the last 70 years and, on the contrary, scarcity of adequately clean water resources in dry periods produce a degree of vulnerability of the population living in the Tisza floodplains as well as of the unique freshwater wetland ecosystems. Moreover, the international Tisza river basin is situated at the current borderline of the EU between Hungary and the Ukraine and thus the national and regional water management might follow different frameworks for the one river. These are the main reasons why the Tisza was selected as a case study for NeWater.

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Topography and geographical setting of the Tisza River Basin (Sources: left map, Rapid Environmental Assessment of the Tisza River Basin - 2004 United Nations Environment Programme ( or, right map, Haase 2006)

Situated nearly in the geographical centre of Europe, the Tisza basin belongs to the large European basins (157,218 km2) while the Tisza is one of the biggest tributaries of the Danube. Its outstanding natural ecological values, the extreme dangers of the excess and shortage of water within short times, the multiple hazards of diffuse and point source pollution, the clicking time-bomb of further potential accidents and the very high all-European political, social and economic concerns, straightforwardly define the objectives for the case study work.

Paricipatory process and definition of research needs
Within Newater the participation of stakeholders plays a crucial role to guarantee that the methods and tools which are going to be developed to guide and support the transition to adaptive water management regimes are tailored to the case specific conditions. By using the concerns, demands, knowledge and expertise of the stakeholders involved in the participatory process a scientific basis for better understanding the requirements for adaptive water management regimes and for developing a sound methodology can be established to assess, evaluate and implement new management strategies appropriate for the environmental, economic, institutional, social and cultural setting in the respective river basin (cf. Pahl-Wostl, 2005). Thus the intensive dialogue between science and the various stakeholders offers the oportunity for a mutual development, assessment, enhancement and implementation of new or allready existing concepts, methods and tools.

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Members of the Tisza team in Newater activities

In the Tisza Case Study this participatory process was organised and conducted in collaboration with our local Hungarian and Ukrainian scientific partners which have been contacted and integrated in the Tisza Case Study team in the preperation phase of the project. For their selection their command in water and river basin related scientific background as well as their involvment in national and international projects on water and river basin management was decisive.

Together with the local scientific partners the stakeholder elicitation process was initiated taking into account the idea to involve key stakeholders and experts from different levels such as ministries, regional and local water management as well as NGOs.


Organisation of participatory process and stakeholder driven definition of research needs in the Tisza Case Study (source: Haase et al., 2006)

Subsequently, as an important part of the participatory process, a stakeholder-driven definition and selection of major IWRM related research needs to be addressed in the Tisza Case Study took place in several kick-off meetings.


Definition and ranking of problems related to IWRM in the Tisza basin (Photos: D. Haase, 2005)

Focal points of research in the Tisza Case Study

Starting from this, different focal points of research were formulated, which are currently addressed in several sub-cases and working areas in the Tisza basin, among them the

  1. Development of a conceptual SD model, a quantitative SD model and a Management Game for sustainable floodplain (land use) management at regional scale (50 km²) for the Northern Hungarian Tisza floodplains (WP 2.5, WP 3.5, Cooperation with WP 2.4, WP 2.6)
  2. Development of a conceptual SD model, and a quantitative SD model for transboundary floodplain (water resources) and flood risk management for the Northern Tisza floodplains in Ukraine and Hungary (WP 1.3, WP 2.5, WP 3.5, Cooperation with WP 2.1, 2.4, WP 2.2 WP 4.2)
  3. Development of an integrated framework for the evaluation of water bodies and water management in both countries, Hungary and the Ukraine (WP 1.6, WP 2.5, WP 3.5, WP 4.3)
  4. Development of a generic framework for an Integrated Monitoring and Information System for the Tisza River basin (WP 1.6, WP 3.5) taking into account the requirements of the WFD
  5. Application of knowledge elicitation tools to incorporate tacit knowledge into the learning processes for AM (WP 2.2, WP 3.5)

The selection of these focal research points especially took into account both, the willingness as well as the interest and expertise of the (local) stakeholders to tackle and to solve the therewith related problems. Additionally, existing or foreseen approaches considering the principles of IWRM to support the resolution of these issues (e.g. the new Vasarhélyi plan, Hungary) are available; they could be tested and if necessary revised and improved.

Study areas in the Tisza river basin

Two working areas have been selected to address the research issues:

Preliminary results of research activities

According to the defined focal points of research a detailed research and action plan (RAP) for the Tisza Case Study has been elaborated. On the basis of this RAP the research activities are coordinated and organised. Up to now several meetings and worhshops proceeded to start and promote the work on the specified research items. During these session mainly participatory techniques like group model building and conceptual /mental modelling as well as knowledge elecitation tools have been applied to involve expert and empirical (local) knowledge and to illuminate and structure local insights on the research domains under consideration.


Participative modelling and knowledge elicitation sessions (Photos: D. Haase, 2005)


Conceptual model to approach to a household’s capacity to cope with floods

Intermediate results of participative modelling process (schematic representation of causal-relationships in management regimes – upper sketch – and representation of types of the floodplains) concerning sustainable floodplain management in the Tisza basin (Hungary; Werners, 2006)

As a result of this participatory modelling process several intermidiate models and research results (e.g. internal reports and deliverables, publications) are available. The models are currently under revision and will be presented to the Tisza stakeholders for further discussion and improvement in an interim workshop at the beginning of 2007.