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Thematic course 4: Water and Toxicity


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the MSc Governance of Sustainability.


This course is focused on the sustainable governance of our global water resources. Sustainable management of global water resources is one of the most pressing environmental challenges of the 21st century. The basics of the course will link our current understanding on key aquatic ecological processes, and how these processes are currently affected by major anthropogenic stressors, with a focus on aquatic toxicity. The assignments will explicitly situate the basic ecological analysis within an governance context. The course will demonstrate how scientific analyses are used in political debates and policy making and how policy framing and political choices constrain and enable research, exemplified in the domain of water and toxicity.

During the course we will study a wide range of subjects that are needed to analyse water and toxicity problems and make policy decisions to address these issues in the context of multiple policy frames and regulations. The subject analysis ranges from ecological topics (e.g., resilience theory, alternative stable states, nutrient cycling, hydrological cycle), current water sustainability issues, to stressors as studied within ecotoxicology (e.g., various contaminations’ fate and accumulation, effects as well as different ways of determining the health of an organism or ecosystem). The governance subjects range from the introduction of the legal frameworks (e.g. water framework directive, nitrates directive and waste water directive), to the framing analysis of policy debates (e.g. policy discourses in media and political arenas, boundary work, rhetoric, wicked problems and policy images) and stakeholders perspectives (actors involvement).

Course objectives

After completing this course, students can:

  • Understand and explain the current state of water sustainability issues, including biodiversity decline, impacts from climate change, water scarcity, salinization, etc.

  • Apply basic ecological concepts on the functioning of aquatic ecological systems to evaluate how impacts should be assessed related to the key anthropogenic threats to these systems.

  • Identify and synthesize different methodologies to study impacts on aquatic systems and apply these techniques to study impacts in different scenarios

  • Explain and discuss trade-offs related to decision making on the various functions that are expected from aquatic ecosystems

  • Critically analyze a contemporary case-study bridging toxicity impacts on natural waterways to local water governance, and then create policy recommendation for future decision-making

  • Design a policy statement based on a framing analysis of policy documents, media, and political statements.


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For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Field components (excursion)

  • Presentation

  • Written assignments

Assessment method

This course contains three assignments (both group and individual):

  • Assignment 1 - Group assignment analyzing, interpreting, and summarizing environmental assessment data; poster presentation and creating a factsheet (40%). Excursion attendance, group participation and poster presentation are part of this assignment and will be part of the assessment.

  • Assignment 2 – Group assignment focusing on governance themes around case-study; oral presentation and participation in ‘sandpit day’ (40%). Group participation during working on the assignment, and during the sandpit day will be assessed, as well as the presentation during that sandpit day.

  • Assignment 3 – Individual assignment, stakeholder policy recommendation/brief, anonymously peer-evaluated (20%). This assignment will take place during the sand pit day and student presence in class room is mandatory.

Each assignment will receive individual feedback. To pass the course, a minimum grade of 5.5 must be attained for each assignment.

More detailed information about the assignments can be found in the syllabus on Brightspace.

Reading list

Course materials will consist of amongst all academic journal article, parts of an free accessible e-book, regulatory guidance documents and parts of reports. The readings will be integrated into the lectures or will be used within the assignments done by the students. The link to articles will be provided.


Every student of all years must enroll via MyStudyMap.

In this short video, you will see step by step how to enroll in courses in MyStudyMap. Note that your enrollment is only completed when you submit your course planning in the 'Ready for enrollment' tab by clicking 'submit'.

There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to register for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam. Keep in mind that there are enrollment deadlines, see this page for more information.

Extensive FAQ on MyStudymap can be found here.


Alena Gsell, Gerard Breeman, and Henrik Barmentlo


MSc Governance of Sustainabilty students can register for the course and exam via uSis. Other students need to contact the study advisors of the programme via