Seeking ways forward to balancing competing water needs
Environmental flows refer to water provided within a river, wetland or coastal zone to maintain ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people. As part of IUCN’s work on promoting awareness and implementing environmental flows, the IUCN Water Programme is supporting the International Conference on Implementing Environmental Water Allocations (IEWA) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
From 23 to 26 February 2009, more than 300 participants from around the world gathered in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to discuss, learn and share experiences on promoting sustainable use of rivers, wetlands, estuaries and groundwater. The conference explored the science and politics of how to balance water allocation that can support both environmental and social needs. Despite increasing international interest and advances in the science of environmental flows, water for the environment is often an afterthought rather than a priority.
To kick off the week and get discussions into gear, a pre-conference workshop “Nuts & Bolts of Flow Re-Allocation” sponsored by IUCN, The Nature Conservancy and WWF was held on Feb 22nd. Through a number of interactive discussions, panelists and workshop participants addressed how reallocating water to the environment means there is a need to change existing patterns of water use and management. Different approaches were presented ranging from the use of water markets to decisions made by the regulatory authority.
The conference was sponsored by the Global Environmental Flows Network (eFlowNet), which is supported by IUCN and a number of partners. eFlowNet was established to communicate, create, share, use and promote environmental flows knowledge and practice. The overall goal of the network is to integrate environmental flows into standard practices for the management and use of river basins that will benefit both people and the environment. The Network was profiled at the conference through presentation of a paper that explored how eFlowNet can be a tool in influencing water allocation policy.
Four main priority areas were identified at the IEWA conference for future action. First, it is crucial to ensure clarity when communicating environmental water allocations concepts to stakeholders in order to generate political will and understanding. Secondly, river basin planning must incorporate downstream effects into impact assessments and operationalise transboundary agreements. Thirdly, monitoring and adaptive management can be used as tools in real-time decision-making on flow releases. Finally, capacity building and networking are essential to improve information sharing between water professionals. EFlowNet can offer the support needed in mobilizing actions to meet these priorities to ensure flows for the environment now and in the future.