Committee on Water Resources Management


Integrated water resources management is embedded in political, legal and institutional contexts and these complexities are reflected by multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives, purposes, actors and groups which have to be integrated into the decision-making process. Water resources management is understood to be a set of actions taken to use and control natural resource inputs in relation to water, to obtain outputs and natural systems conditions useful to individual users and to society. To be effective, the management approach has to accommodate fundamental physical, economic, social and environmental linkages and interactions. Water management systems have a long physical lifetime and a broad impact area. The consequences of any management decision have to be evaluated in a multi-objective context for both short and long-term consequences. Additional uncertainties arise due to the long-term variability of available water resources and of the unpredictable changes in demand over long time periods. The evaluation process itself is subject to the changing values of society. For instance, the objective of environmental preservation has become a high priority in the last two decade, whereas previously it was generally ignored in the decision-making process. 

The objective of the water resources management Committee of IAHR is to improve understanding about the linkages between water-related decision-making, society and the environment. These scientifically based results have to be transferred to the water management institutions and companies, which requires an intensive co-operation between scientists and managers to ensure sustainable water use. The concept of sustainability which is widely used in international declarations and documents is highly appealing, but it needs further analysis to develop an operational concept appropriate for daily water management. The Committee for Water Resources Management has therefore adopted, as a primary long-range goal, to promote the use of advanced technologies to address problems of environmentally sound water resources management, and has committed itself to encourage interdisciplinary approaches in hydraulic engineering with special regard to ecological concerns. Moreover, the Committee wants to promote the adoption of appropriate methodologies for developing countries by education and by training.

Research Agenda

Although not explicitly mentioned in the topics listed below, it is worth noting that regional and climatic characteristics have to be considered as well as the social structures and the economic circumstances under which water management is carried out.

Interdisciplinary research: Improved collaboration among hydraulic engineers, hydraulicians, regional planners, economists and ecologists is essential. It will also assist in improved communication among these disciplines which have their own jargon and methodological approaches. It is essential to ensure the transfer of data and results required by other disciplines for further analysis. Another important aspect is to demonstrate how hydrologic uncertainties are transformed into uncertainties in the impacts. This will contribute to better assessment of the vulnerability of the social and environmental systems affected by water management.

Water resources management under increasing uncertainty: The ongoing debate about climate change has raised questions about possible effects of such a change on the hydrological environment in different regions. Research must address the uncertainty about future hydrological conditions under which a water resource project will have to operate.

But water resources are also affected by several other anthropogenic impacts. One of the most important and direct impacts is from modified land use which in turn is often dependent and stimulated by the availability of water and its management. These feedback mechanisms, not sufficiently monitored and understood, contribute substantially to an increase in uncertainty about the availability and quality of water supplies.

Research will be initiated to improve the scientific knowledge about the linkages between climate, land use and the hydrological system under different climatic settings. This in turn will assist in the reassessment of operation principles currently being applied. Sustainability, resilience and adaptability supersede optimality, defined in the traditional economic sense, as the decision criteria.

Conflict resolution in water management: Water, as an increasingly scarce resource, is already and will become more frequently the subject of conflicts. Different types of conflicts are observed which refer either to conflicts among interest groups like water resources developers and ecologists, or to unbalanced utilisation of water among upstream and downstream users or even transboundary conflicts among users sharing the same resource are occurring. 

In general, the objective is to develop methodologies for emergency management and conflict resolution strategies. The methodology of multi-objective evaluation and decision-making is quite well developed but the application in real life problems is lacking. Such techniques could at least contribute to defining the scope of the problem and the set of alternatives in a rational framework and could therefore assist to compromise decision-making. For larger conflicts, methodologies are being developed which will contribute to improved understanding of problems and the consequences of any decision and will therefore support rational conflict resolution. The transfer of these techniques from the academic world to applied water management has to be encouraged and carefully reviewed. Decision-makers also need to be able to identify the possibilities of non-structural measures for the remediation of problems, including emergency management and conflicts among different water uses and users.

Methods for supporting negotiations for water allocation should be developed and tested for international, national and regional application. A methodological framework for comprehensive environmental risk and impact assessment must be developed to quantify the vulnerability and resilience of the environment. 

Non-structural water management: The investment costs for flood protection are often correlated with costs from flood damage because land use in the protected areas is intensified and new housing areas are developed. Proper flood protection not only requires the correct design of levees, but also land development plans and restrictions imposed on the utilisation of the former flood plain. Guidelines have to be developed otherwise catastrophic events like the recent ones in the Odra and Rhine basin will become more frequent.

Non-structural flood control measures such as real time forecasting and flood warning systems, flood plain zoning, subsidised insurance and relocation are alternatives to structural measures that should be investigated. The analysis would have to asses advanced communication in flood warning systems for the fast and effective dissemination of information, flood emergency plans including evacuation of people exposed to major risks, the potential of temporary flood protection measures and finally, the willingness of the population to accept such an approach. 

Urban water management: Separately from the activities of the IAHR Committee of Urban Water Management, the goals listed below refer to general aspects of urban water management with the emphasis on large agglomerations, which often develop in an uncontrolled way. Urban drainage, water supply, solid waste and sewage treatment and disposal are components of urban water management that must be adequately integrated in order to cope with the increasing demands for municipal and industrial water uses. 

Most urban centres in the developing world still lack adequate facilities for the proper collection and disposal of domestic and industrial wastes. Only about half of the urban population in developing countries has access to sewage disposal systems. Most of the existing collecting systems discharge directly into receiving waters without any treatment. Due to budgetary constraints as well as inefficient institutional and administrative settings millions of people in developing countries have taken direct responsibility for their water supply and try to do so with extremely limited resources. A typical example is in the uncontrolled development in large agglomerations where people individually exploit the limited water resources to cover their basic needs and at the same time endanger the resource itself by untreated waste water. The development of basic low-cost technical tools for water supply and treatment combined with the training of local self-organised groups could substantially reduce harmful impacts on the water resource.

In the industrialised countries, the large agglomerations have to cover their water requirements by exploiting neighbouring regions to such an extent that the water balance of large aquifers and karstic systems is endangered. At the same time the pollution of the groundwater bodies within the cities is often poorly monitored because of the limited use of this resource in urban areas. 

Taking into account that the trend of urban population concentration increase will continue in the future and mainly in less developed countries, a programme for encompassing all hydrologic, ecological and water-related socio-economic aspects of urban planning and management should be developed.

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