Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM)
Practical solutions for managing rivers better
Rapidly growing knowledge about how water moves through the environment and technological advances in water management are providing tools to meet and potentially overcome the global water crisis. In fact, science tells us that there is enough freshwater in the world to meet present needs and accommodate growing populations. The challenge is to protect the sources of freshwater and manage its use in a manner that is both equitable and ecologically sustainable.
Examples of tools that exist or are being developed to protect and better manage freshwater resources include:
- Protected areas to safeguard sites such as headwaters and wetlands that contribute to maintaining water quality and quantity.
- Forestry practices that are compatible with protection of freshwater resources.
- Sustainable agriculture that takes advantage of local conditions, uses less water and is not so dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
- Improved performance of water intensive industries.
- Innovations in the design of shipping so that fewer alterations to natural river channels are required for commercial navigation.
- Dam and reservoir operations that mimic natural flow regimes.
- New technologies that reduce water consumption by sanitation and energy production processes.
- Restoration techniques to re-establish valuable natural functions in heavily degraded freshwater systems.
Yet none of these tools will be effective in isolation. Indeed, if one solution is pursued while other issues or sectors are ignored, the effects are at best strictly localised and at worst temporary and ultimately futile.
Integrated river basin management (IRBM) provides the framework in which the full range of tools and approaches can come into play, with multiple sectors working together, rather than at cross-purposes, to manage and conserve freshwater resources sustainably and equitably.