IRBM rests on the principle that naturally functioning river basin ecosystems, including accompanying wetland and groundwater systems, are the source of freshwater.
Therefore, management of river basins must include maintaining ecosystem functioning as a paramount goal. This 'ecosystem approach' is a central tenet of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
River basins are dynamic over space and time, and any single management intervention has implications for the system as a whole.
The seven key elements to a successful IRBM initiative are:
A long-term vision for the river basin, agreed to by all the major stakeholders.
Integration of policies, decisions and costs across sectoral interests such as industry, agriculture, urban development, navigation, fisheries management and conservation, including through poverty reduction strategies.
Strategic decision-making at the river basin scale, which guides actions at sub-basin or local levels.
Effective timing, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise while working within a strategic framework.
Active participation by all relevant stakeholders in well-informed and transparent planning and decision-making.
Adequate investment by governments, the private sector, and civil society organisations in capacity for river basin planning and participation processes.
A solid foundation of knowledge of the river basin and the natural and socio-economic forces that influence it.
WWF believes that IRBM is the most promising vehicle for employing the tools necessary to meet and overcome the global water crisis.
The organisation is committed to facilitating IRBM processes in major river basins around the world, with an emphasis on biodiverse and transboundary basins, where the challenges to integrated management are often greatest. WWF's freshwater ecoregion sourcebook [PDF, 6.8 MB] outlines a method for prioritising actions needed to conserve biodiversity within each river basin.
"Integrated river basin management (IRBM) is the process of coordinating conservation, management and development of water, land and related resources across sectors within a given river basin, in order to maximise the economic and social benefits derived from water resources in an equitable manner while preserving and, where necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems."
Adapted from Integrated Water Resources Management, Global Water Partnership Technical Advisory Committee Background Papers, No. 4, 2000.)