The Implementation Challenge - Taking stock of government policies to protect and restore environmental flows

Posted on 18 November 2010

The report identifies good progress in the development of environmental flows policy across the globe, but real challenges in converting these policies into on-the-ground implementation. The report includes recommendations for meeting these implementation challenges.
Governments and water management authorities across the world have made significant and widespread progress in developing policies and laws to recognise environmental flow needs. While the concept of environmental flows long predates modern discussions of the subject, an understanding of  environmental flows as a public policy imperative remains a comparatively recent development. However, there is now a proliferation of debates around environmental flows, and significant current dynamism around the development of laws and policies to recognise environmental flows across the world. Indeed, we are aware of no major nation in which environmental flows are not now being discussed or incorporated into high-level water policy decision-making.

Despite this significant policy development, in the majority of cases environmental flow provisions remain at the stage of policy and debate rather than implementation. Indeed, the defining characteristic of many contexts globally is precisely the lack of progress in translating these policies and intentions into action. While there has been progress in some places in capping future water development in recognition of environmental needs, successful re-allocation of water or re-operation of infrastructure in systems that are already stressed has been infrequent. Several related obstacles present challenges to the implementation of environmental flow policies across the world. These include a lack of political will and stakeholder support; insufficient resources and capacity, in water management and allocation institutions generally, and for the delivery of those functions tasked with assessing and enforcing environmental requirements;and, institutional barriers and conflicts of interest.

On the basis of a number of international reviews, and the case studies and analysis undertaken for this report, a number of guidelines emerge for advancing implementation of environmental flows.
Cover of report "The Implementation Challenge"