Securing water for people and the environment

WWF is working to secure environmental water flows for both people and nature through responsible water infrastructure and use.
WWF's Global Freshwater Programme uses a scientific process that recognizes the tradeoffs between the role of dams and water abstractions for water and energy development, and their detrimental effects on biodiversity, ecosystem services and riparian livelihoods.

The work includes:
  • Conducting environmental flow assessments and developing related guidelines
  • Promoting sustainable dams, hydropower and other water infrastructure
  • Influencing decision makers to integrate environmental water needs into national laws and polices while allowing equitable water allocation
  • Integrating environmental water needs into river basin polices and plans 

Practical guidance for strategic water management

It is estimated that half the world's population will live in water-stressed areas by 2025, and floods already cause billions of dollars worth of damage each year. Better planning and management of river basins is needed urgently to reduce further pressure on our planet and its inhabitants.

WWF worked in partnership with the General Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Planning and Design, Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, Asian Development Bank and UNESCO to produce a series of technical publications that bring together experiences and lessons from around the globe on how to better plan and manage our precious water resources.

The books offer guidance on how to allocate water resource effectively to meet competing demands while ensuring environmental needs are still met, and how to reconcile the many competing demands for water resources within a basin.

Summaries can be found on the right of this page, and the complete books are available for download from WWF-UK.

Sustainable Hydropower

Rivers have been dammed to meet people’s needs since early history, but construction of large and very large dams increased spectacularly in the second half of the 20th century. Dams are planned and built for water storage and abstractions (mainly for agricultural and urban use/consumption), hydropower, navigation and flood protection.

Dam projects often trigger significant land-use changes, infrastructure
development and socioeconomic changes. While many dams have brought significant benefits, they have also caused environmental damage, contributed to the decline in freshwater biodiversity and threatened the livelihoods of people in the wider basin.

WWF helped develop the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol to measure and guide environmental and social performance in the hydropower sector.

 / ©: Edward Parker / WWF-Canon
"Environmental flows" are defined as the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems that human livelihoods and well-being depend on. (Brisbane Declaration)

Changes to environmental flows are a key driver of ecosystem decline. These changes are caused by the construction of dams for energy, water storage and flood control; by the abstraction of surface and groundwater for use in industry, agriculture and homes; and, increasingly, climate change.

TEDxWWF talk on Mekong Dam

By Stuart Chapman

One of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world, the Mekong basin is also used to generate energy.

Stuart Chapman explains how and why another dam is a risk for both the ecosystem and the population that lives in the Region.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.