River Basin Degradation Threatens Sustainable Water Resources

River basins are the lifeblood of nations. From the earliest civilisations they have strongly influenced human settlement and growth. Their degradation is a danger to sustainable water resources that provide domestic water supply, food and energy for cities and their catchments. Protecting basins and restoring those that are already degraded should be a priority.

There are numerous programmes of all shapes and sizes addressing the challenges that need to be tackled at the basin scale. These include approaches such integrated water resource management (IWRM), which have had varying degrees of success as implementation often depends on governance structure, incentives and human capacity.

Realistically, how can we restore basins and their water bodies over the next 30 years? What do we have to set in motion now to achieve basin restoration that benefit and benefit from growing urban centres?

Over the past few years, IWA has provided guidance to the water sector through risk management tools, such as water safety planning; benchmarking, including performance indicators for water supply services; and providing principles for sound public policies and the regulation for water services, such as the Lisbon Charter for public policy and regulation of water and wastewater management.

Building on these knowledge products, and the soon to be launched Urban Water Charter, IWA is exploring the concept of a “Basin Restoration Charter”. The Charter will set out broad principles that will guide cities and their basins in ensuring planning and management of water resources across scales, from catchment to consumer, meets growing demands and responds to the challenges of climate variability and change.

Concepts such as integrated flows, catchment improvement programs, lake denitrification, restoring nutrient flows for sustainable economic, social and environmental development across catchment areas, will be embodied in the Charter.

The Charter will also identify best practices and case studies highlighting what works and what doesn’t work. It will build on the discussions and work from IWA’s Specialist Groups, especially the Watershed and River Basins Management Specialist Group, and the Alternative Water Resources Cluster, as well as the Basins of the Future programme and its partners.

The Charter proposes a number of components that will contribute to the sustainable restoration of basins, these are the keys to delivering the basins of the future:

Sustainable infrastructure development – Addresses competing water needs includes optimising water infrastructure for multiple purposes, including investing in watersheds as natural infrastructure to work in concert with the built infrastructure that supplies water to cities and industry.

Innovative technology and processes – Bring together the wide variety of technical support tools available (technologies, models, decision support systems) to balance the water needs and use across basins.

Economic instruments and financing mechanisms – Address the need to mobilise new financial resources for investments.

Governance strategies from catchment to tap – Identify new institutional arrangements, regulatory frameworks and policies that can manage water availability and demands in basins.

Building knowledge and capacity – Build communities of practice to support knowledge and experience sharing; Work with water professionals to strengthen their engagement with complex water, energy and food nexus issues within basins

The Basin Restoration Charter is an opportunity to influence and activate actors in urban areas, especially city leaders such as mayors, to connect with basin and catchment organisations. It’s also an entry point for basin organisations to play a role as a convener, so cities can contribute to integrated basin management that recognises their connectivity.

If you are interested in contributing to the Basin Restoration Charter, please contact: Katharine Cross (Katharine.cross@iwahq.org).

Discover more about Basins of the Future at selected sessions at the Water and Development Congress (Jordan 18-22 October)

Basin challenges under climate change

Date: Wednesday 21 october, 11.30 – 12.50

How can we improve energy, land and water use practices across a basin with pressures of climate change to secure water supply access and supply?

Increased water abstractions and use, and more irregular patterns of water availability due to climate change is leading to pressure on city water supplies and competition for water resources with other water users across the water, energy and agricultural sectors. The workshop will gather experts from the IWA’s Watershed and River Basin Management Specialist Group and other specialist groups and partners to address the challenges and possible solutions to develop an action plan for achieving basin restoration.

Want to connect with the IWA at the Water and Development Congress? Find us in the Exhibition, Stand #108

Katharine Cross

Strategy and Partnerships Lead, Australian Water Partnership
Katharine has extensive experience in the water sector from global to local scale with a focus on climate resilience and adaptation, nature-based solutions, water-energy-food nexus,  water governance and the digitalisation of the water sector. She h... Read full biography