Managing Water Holistically: Possible or Unachievable?

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A water-sanitation committee in West Bengal, India (photo credit: Caroline D'Angelo)

The panel Using Our Water Resources Smartly; Getting Water Resource Management Right, opened this week’s nine-panel discussion about Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The panels will explore IWRM — what works and what doesn’t.  IWRM is a principle that takes a look at the whole picture of freshwater use by acknowledging a river basin as an integrated system instead of a number of separate water sources.  It involves a holistic planning process to balance the multiple uses of a basin, coordinating drinking water needs with industrial water needs, to name only a few.

Currently, I am a resident in the Delaware River Basin which is located in the Eastern United States.  It supplies water to 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia.  Carol Collier, the Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission and the first panelist to present, talked about and the importance of having regulations that cross political and political boundaries.  She stressed that planning needs to occur at the watershed level.  José-Luis Genta, the Secretary General of the Rio de la Plata Basin Council, which supplies water to a population of more than one hundred million people in five countries in South America, reiterated the need for intergovernmental coordination to manage watersheds.

In this introductory session, another topic that consistently arose in panelists’ presentations was that of the emerging risk of managing effects of climate change.  Chairman Laurent Fayein, of France’s Agence de l’Eau Rhône-Méditerranée-Corse, addressed this concern as he wrapped up the panelist presentations.  A question from the audience seemed to frame what will no doubt be a vigorous discussion of barriers to integrated, cross-boundary water management:  “Will there be coordination between governments within each basin to regulate policy so as to promote IWRM?”  Eugene Stakhiv, Technical Director for the International Center for Integrated Water Resource Management, built his answer around his experience working with the Upper Great Lakes in the U.S.  He allowed that there is very little control over political decisions when it comes to IWRM, leaving more questions than answers as this conversation takes shape.

Have you experienced barriers to proper water management politically or logistically? Leave a comment with your thoughts. Check back to see further coverage of the IWRM debate throughout the week.

3 thoughts on “Managing Water Holistically: Possible or Unachievable?

  1. Martha, IWRM is an interesting concept as it tries to capture the social facts that water issues enact in its complexity (connecting the many realms of social life). However, to adopt a critical perspective, there is a very interesting lit review written by Ben Orlove and Steven Carton in the Annual Review of Anthropology on Water and Sustainability. They Argue that the IWRM has become hegemonic in the global discourse. They propose a perspective beyond the global community of experts discussing and implementing such comprehensive frameworks by looking at the politics of the actors and on what kind of knowledge production the solutions are based upon.
    A must read for everyone interested in WRMI and solutions that “offer” templates for global solutions. Here is the link http://www.cred.columbia.edu/pdfs/publications/orlovecaton2010.pdf

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