Managing water for life

  • Daniel P. Loucks
  • Haifeng Jia
Research Article


Water is essential for life. In spite of the entire engineering infrastructure devoted to the treatment, regulation and beneficial uses of water, occasionally sufficient quantities and qualities of water become scarce. When this happens, just how do we decide how much less water to allocate to all of us and the activities we engage in to sustain and enhance our quality of life? This paper addresses some of the complexities of answering such a question, especially as society increasingly recognizes the need to provide flow regimes that will maintain healthy aquatic and floodplain ecosystems that also impact the economic, physical and even the spiritual quality of our lives. For we depend on these ecosystems to sustain our wellbeing. We are indeed a part of our ecosystems. We depend upon on aquatic ecosystems to moderate river flow qualities and quantities, reduce the extremes of floods and droughts, reduce erosion, detoxify and decompose waterborne wastes, generate and preserve flood plain soils and renew their fertility, regulate disease carrying organisms, and to enhance recreational benefits of river systems. This question of deciding just how much water to allocate to each water user and for the maintenance of viable aquatic ecosystems, especially when there is not enough, is a complex, and largely political, issue. This issue is likely to become even more complex and political and contentious in the future as populations grow and as water quantities and their qualities become even more variable and uncertain.


water stress aquatic ecosystems sustainable water resource allocations ecosystem water requirements 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    UNESCO. Water for People, Water for Life—UN World Water Development Report (WWDR). Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 2003Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    UNESCO. Water in a Changing World, the 3rd United Nations World Water Development Report: (WWDR-3). Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 2009Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Postel S L, Daily G C, Ehrlich P R. Human appropriation of renewable fresh water. Science, 1996, 271(5250): 785–788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Fischlin A, Midgley G F, Price J T, Leemans R, Gopal B, Turley C, Rounsevell M D A, Dube O P, Tarazona J, Velichko A A. Ecosystems, their properties, goods, and services. In: Parry M L, Canziani O F, Palutikof J P, van der Linden P J, Hanson C E. Climate change 2007: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 211–272Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Postel S L. 2008, The Forgotten Infrastructure: Safeguarding Freshwater Ecosystems. Journal of International Affairs, 2008, 61(2): 75–90Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Doyle M, Drew C A. Large-Scale Ecosystem Restoration: Five Case Studies from the United States. Washington DC: Island Press, 2008Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Costanza R, d’Arge R, de Groot R, Farberk S, Grasso M, Hannon B, Limburg K, Naeem S, O’Neill R V, Paruelo J, Raskin R G, Suttonkk P, van den Belt M. The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital. Nature, 1997, 387(6630): 253–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ecological Society of America. Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems. Issues in Ecology. No. 2, Spring 1997Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Daily G C. Nature’s Services, Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems. Washington DC: Island Press, 1997Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Postel S. Entering an era of water scarcity: The challenges ahead. Ecological Applications, 2000, 10(4): 941–948CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    King J, Brown C. Environmental flows: Striking the balance between development and resource protection. Ecology and Society, 2006, 11(2): 26 [online] URL: Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Postel S, Richter B. Rivers for life: Managing Water for People and Nature. Washington DC: Island Press, 2003Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    US Department of Energy (DOE). Energy Demands on Water Resources: Report to Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water, December 2006Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Electricity Power Research Institute (EPRI). US Water Consumption for Power Production — The Next Half Century. Water & Sustainability, Vol 3. 2002Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    United Nations. UN Water for Life: 2005–2015, 2006 (
  16. 16.
    President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. Teaming with Life: Investing in Science to Understand and Use America’s Living Capital. March 5, 1998Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kates R W, Clark W C, Corell R, Hall J M, Jaeger C C, Lowe I, McCarthy J J, Schellnhuber H J, Bolin B, Dickson N M, Faucheux S, Gallopin G C, Grübler A, Huntley B, Jäger J, Jodha N S, Kasperson R E, Mabogunje A, Matson P, Mooney H, Moore B 3rd, O’Riordan T, Svedlin U. Environment and development. Sustainability science. Science, 2001, 292(5517): 641–642Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Gleick P H. Water in crisis: Paths to sustainable water use. Ecological Applications, 1998, 8(3): 571–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Layzer J A. Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Davis C. The Multiple Dimensions of Water Scarcity, World Resources Institute, 2007 (
  21. 21.
    Davis C. Ask EarthTrends: Is Desalinated Water the Answer to Global Water Scarcity? World Resources Institute, 2007 (
  22. 22.
    Hinrichsen D, Robey B, Upadhyay U D. Solutions for a Water-Short World Population Reports, Series M, No. 14. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Population Information Program, December 1997 ( Scholar
  23. 23.
    UNEP. WCMC, WRI, AAAS. Atlas of Population and Environment, 2001 (
  24. 24.
  25. 25.
    NCAR & UCAR News Center. Water Levels Dropping in Some Major Rivers as Global Climate Changes. April 21, 2009 (
  26. 26.
    UNESCO. Non-Renewable Groundwater Resources: A guidebook on socially-sustainable management for water-policy makers. IHPVI Series on Groundwater, No. 10. Paris, 2006Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    United Nations Environment Programme. Global Outlook for Ice and Snow. 2007 (
  28. 28.
    Cheng H F, Hu Y A, Zhao J. Meeting China’s water shortage crisis: current practices and challenges. Environmental Science & Technology, 2009, 43(2): 240–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Liu Y L. Water Table to Drop Dramatically Near Beijing, Worldwatch Institute, July 25, 2006 (
  30. 30.
    McGuire V L, Johnson M R, Schieffer R L, Stanton J S, Sebree S K, Verstraeten I M. Water in storage and approaches to ground-water management, High Plains aquifer, 2000. US Geological Survey Circular 1243, 2003Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Windfield-Hayes R. Yellow River Drying Up, BBC News, July 29, 2004 (
  32. 32.
    South-to-North Water Diversion Project Construction Committee. Middle Route Project (MRP). (
  33. 33.
    Inan Y. The Law of Transboundary Rivers and the Case of Euphrates and Tigris, Fourth Biennial Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, Ankara, Turkey, September, 2004Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Postel S L, Morrison J I, Gleick P H. Allocating fresh water to aquatic ecosystems: The case of the Colorado River Delta. Water International, 1998, 23(3): 119–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    National Research Council (NRC). Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability. Washington DC: National Academies Press, 2007Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Hughes F M R, Colston A, Mountford J O. Restoring riparian ecosystems: the challenge of accommodating variability and designing restoration trajectories. Ecology and Society, 2005, 10(1): 12. [online] URL: Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Jia H F, Ma H T, Wei M J. Calculation of the minimum ecological water requirement of an urban river system and its deployment: A case study in Beijing central region. Ecological Modelling, 2011, 222: 3271–3276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Cgiar News. Go with the Environmental Flow. June, 2007 (
  39. 39.
    Tharme R E. A global perspective on environmental flow assessment: Emerging trends in the development and application of environmental flow methodologies for rivers. River Research and Applications, 2003, 19(5–6): 397–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Marchand M. Environmental Flow Requirements for Rivers: An integrated approach for river and coastal zone management. Delft: Delft Cluster, 2003Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Gerlak A K, Heikkila T. Comparing Collaborative Mechanisms in Large-Scale Ecosystem Governance. Natural Resources Journal, 2006, 46(3): 657–707Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Gerlak A K. Today’s Pragmatic Water Policy: Restoration, Collaboration, and Adaptive Management Along US Rivers. Society and Natural Resources, 2008, 21(6): 538–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Civil and Environmental EngineeringCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.School of EnvironmentTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations