Managing water for ecosystems

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The aim of integrated water resources management is to balance and meet all the different demands for water in the best way possible, writes Liz Kalaugher, editor of Environmental Research Web, in a July 12 article.

Models of water resources management that assign an economic value to the services that water can provide – such as fish production, agriculture, tourism and recreation – often fail to include environmental flow, “otherwise known as water for maintaining ecosystems and their benefits to people,” she writes. 

Kalaugher states that although ecosystems are silent water users, the value of ecosystem services supported by environmental flows is rarely included in international water planning. Loss of ecosystem services is most likely to affect the poor, she adds. 

The article suggests using the Service Provision Index to support decision-making based on environmental flows, using standard spreadsheet software for ease of use. 

This approach puts a value on the ecosystem services provided by environmental flows, helps internalise external costs and safeguards poverty reduction strategies. 

However, Kalaugher warns that assessing the optimum value of the flow requires expert judgement, as the value of the service provision index converges on a maximum as the flow increases, but may peak if the flow becomes too high. 

She concludes by stating that an “explicit valuation of services sustained by environmental flows is possible and needed to inform decision-making”. 

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