by Gabriela Ponce Guerrero, Ecuador (in Switzerland), ELP 2015
Written on July 18, 2015.
One of the lectures I enjoyed the most was the one given by Professor Vincent Resh on water and environmental leadership. I consider managing freshwater resources to be one of the most vital, not only environmental, but also social problems we are currently facing. I have had the opportunity to research the impacts of river regulation and fragmentation on the ecological integrity on riverine ecosystems. Despite being familiar with many of the concepts presented, I found it fascinating to hear more about the biological components. Once you understand that leaves are the main energy source in rivers, you realize how important it is to protect the riparian vegetation. After briefly going through some of the science behind the differences between rivers and lakes, Professor Resh shared some of the principles necessary for a community based water management: (1) having a “shared vision of a community’s water future”; (2) putting limits on water consumption; (3) allocating specific amounts to each use; (4) investing in water conservation to its maximum potential. We also had a lively discussion around the principles based on the challenges and insights some of the participants have encountered in their carriers or studies. Building on that, I would like to share some of my thoughts on freshwater management.
Untitled2_2.png Impacts on the world’s large river systems due to fragmentation and regulation by dams [Nilsson et al., 2005]. Source: GWSP Digital Water Atlas (2008). Map 25: River Fragmentation by Dams.
Rivers have been extensively altered to support economic and social development. Modifying rivers has provided benefits such as reliable water supply, reducing flood hazards, and generating hydroelectric power. Environmental and social implications were often not taken into consideration during planning and construction phases, causing the displacement of 40 to 80 million people worldwide and leading to significant degradation and loss of species and ecosystems. Furthermore, there are major challenges river scientists will have to face like adapting the science and practice of water management to climate change and its consequences. Moreover, growing population will result in higher pressure on water resources. It is crucial to recognize the water needs of riverine ecosystems themselves. Failing to see rivers as legitimate water, users could undermine their integrity leading to their deterioration which will result in rivers being unable to provide their multiple ecosystem services. It has been suggested that one of the most effective ways of tacking these challenges is to restore rivers, since healthy rivers are naturally more resilient to change.