Ecosystems degradation have been a globally recognised challenge. Drinkable and swimmable rivers also draw the attention in Europe, due to the declining water quality. To fully understand their impact and develop nature-integrated solutions and practices to safeguard their future, AIWW deepens this topic in our subtheme ‘Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration’. In collaboration with our community and beyond, we explore current global challenges, their impact on ecosystems and integrated solutions developed in recent times.
Studied global challenges
One very commonly addressed challenge is ‘Eutrophication’ (the process by which a body of water becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients), negatively impacting ecosystems. Quick Google Search on the word ‘eutrophication’ delivers over 4,2M results. However, most of the solutions – whether biological mimicking, policy restrictions on waste disposal into the ecosystems or others – have not reached their shared vision of resembling ‘naturally functioning’ ecosystems.
Another global challenge is ‘Salination’ of rivers and other water bodies. According to Canedo-Arguelles et al (1) important causes of river salination include irrigation and rising of groundwater tables in arid and semi-arid regions. These regions are predominantly engaged in crop production. Leaching off of additional amounts of salts through run-off, mobilization of large fossil salt storages due to irrigation, and due to climatic characteristics of Australian landscape, ground water is saline. Additionally, clearing of vegetative cover also leads to active discharge of excess salinity in flowing water bodies. Other secondary sources of salination of water bodies include mining, industrial discharge, reduced discharge due to damming, and salt dilution techniques.
International Water Association, United Nations Environment Program and United Nations Water published a report in 2015 (2) on Water Quality regulations. The report described water quality regulatory frameworks and focused on water quality requirements for different water uses. One of the examples that the report suggests is of the South African municipalities. The main challenge that South African municipalities faced is of waste water treatment. A dysfunctional water treatment plant discharges effluent further damaging the water source.
Declining water quality is a consequence of growing populations, industrial and agricultural activities, climate change and urban expansion. OECD 2012 (3) report on Environmental Outlook to 2050, projects an increase in global water demand by 55% and 400% by industrial sector. Lack of availability of data for assessment of water quality varying in different regions of the world complicates the existing challenges of policy and regulations.
Furthermore, the correlation between poor water quality and negative impacts on ecosystems is an established evidence. For example, the declining specific fish species, over-population of predatory fishes due to excess nutrient in water bodies, and subsequent decline in valuable stock of under-water species. Regarding assessing of such level of pollution and tracking their point sources is an incessant task for most governments.
Existing solutions to address these challenges
- Strengthening national capacities for water quality monitoring:
For example the Global Environment Monitoring System GEMS/Water Program (3). This is a UN Environment Program aiming to ‘collect world-wide freshwater quality data to support scientific assessments and decision-making processes’. This program works in multi-stakeholder format with a global water quality monitoring network operating in 125 countries, capacitating the decision-makers and policy makers.
Another example is by Food and Agricultural Organization with their AQUASTAT program which is a global information system on water resources and agricultural water management. This system collects and analyses over 180 variables and indicators, sorted country wise from 1960 and is freely accessible.
South African Green Drop Program which is a complementary approach is a certification program to improve waste water services by Municipalities. The program promotes incentive-based regulation by establishing standards and benchmarks for waster water services. Other such national initiatives include the Turkish guideline for the creation of catchment plans, water quality classifications and standards for water environment.
The European Framework of Water Framework Directive which is a river-basin approach. ‘The framework comprises the development of a list of priority substances for action at EU level, prioritised on the basis of risk; and then the design of the most cost-effective set of measures to achieve load reduction of those substances, taking into account both product and process sources’ (4).
- Encouraging informative dialogue between stakeholders:
Conferences like Amsterdam International Water Week, World Water Forum, World Water Week, World Water Forum and Singapore International Water Week are some of the global events that encourage, and facilitate information sharing across sectors, regions, cultures and organizations.
Pruitt & Waddell (2005) (5) emphasized on transformation to Dialogue Change processes. Learning from dialogues they have two effective premises. Firstly building new strategies to address global issues effectively and secondly dialogic change processes where ‘change’ is the goal and ‘dialogic’ captures the role of human-interactions in catalysing these transformative processes.
Another such advance is by Water Europe through International Water Dialogue (6). The event is implemented through country specific dialogues, and in collaboration with international organizations like OECD, World Bank, World Economic Forum, and others. Such events support innovation and research and thus foster collaborations between public, private, individuals and financial organizations.
- Regional and local solutions- Nature-based Solutions
Nature-based solutions is a commonly used term in green-blue infrastructural development. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (7), Nature-based Solutions are ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits’. Regional examples include the Blue Green Wave of Paris (8), Green infrastructure Super Tress of Singapore (9), and many others.
More localized solutions include ecosystem restoration programs like mangrove restoration, revegetation, habitat enhancement, water funds (which is a collective investment vehicle in which stakeholders collaborate to implement nature-based source water protection) from Quito (10), Ecuador- FONAG (11), Upper-Tana Nairobi Fund (12), etc.
Some examples of initiatives include storm water management practices, subsurface flow constructed wetlands and water deflectors. Simpler solutions like VANARAI bunds (which is a series of bags filled with rocks and boulders) to avoid flood water over-flow in agricultural fields of Maharashtra, India (13).
Nature-based solutions and blue green infrastructural solutions have been in practice for quite some time. Adaptive and Resilient cities, green policy in industries for waste disposal, integration of complete water cycle within the water services system are some of the initiatives. However, ecosystem restoration is not about just planting more tress and vertical gardens in urban areas. The process is a long-term engagement of human, financial, ecological and political resources.
Through AIWW’s initiative on developing a ‘Global inventory of blue green good practices and integrated solutions’, we aim to bridge this gap. The objective of the project is to create a common platform for knowledge exchange, enable access to practices and solutions through a digital interface and therefore foster collaborations and innovations.
Further reads and sources
This article is based on these sources:
- Cañedo-Argüelles M., Kefford B.J., Piscart C., Prat N., Schäfer R.B., & Schulz C-J. (2013). Salination of rivers: An urgent ecological issue, Environmental Pollution, 173, 157-167, DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2012.10.011
- UN-Water (2015). Compendium of Water Quality Regulatory Frameworks: Which water for which use?. Accessed at www.iwa-network.org/which-water-for-which-use
- OECD, 2012. OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, s.l.: OECD Publishing.
- GEMStat: https://gemstat.org/
- Pruitt B. & Waddell S. (2005). Dialogic approaches to Global challenges: moving from ‘Dialogic fatigue’ to Dialogic Change processes. Accessed at http://www.mspguide.org/sites/default/files/resource/gdpworkingpaper.pdf
- Water Europe: International Water Dialogues, accessed at https://watereurope.eu/international-water-dialogues/
- Nature based Solutions. Accessed at https://www.iucn.org/theme/nature-based-solutions
- Blue Green Wave- Paris project, accessed at https://hmco.enpc.fr/portfolio-archive/blue-green-wave/
- Singapore Super Trees Grove project, accessed at https://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/attractions/supertree-grove-observatory-ocbc-skyway/supertree-grove.html
- Quito Water Fund, accessed at https://www.fondosdeagua.org/en/the-water-funds/
- Equador City Water Protection Fund (FONAG), accessed at https://www.fondosdeagua.org/pt/os-fundos-de-agua/mapa-dos-fundos-de-agua/fundo-para-a-protecao-da-agua-fonag/
- Upper-Tana Nairobi Fund Project, accessed at https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/africa/stories-in-africa/nairobi-water-fund/
- VANARAI project, accessed at https://www.vanarai.org/contribution