6 - Water, biodiversity and ecosystems: reducing our impact  pp. 117-130

Water, biodiversity and ecosystems: reducing our impact

By Caroline A. Sullivan and Jay O'Keeffe

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter


The continued pressure of water abstraction to support human development has been devastating aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems across the world (Vörösmarty et al., 2010; Steffen et al., 2002; Ramankutty et al., 2008). At the same time, deteriorating water quality and rising water temperatures reduce habitat potential, rapidly killing aquatic species. Riparian zones are cleared and paved, and marginal habitats, rich in biodiversity, are easily lost. While an assessment of the economic value of these zones can be made, it can never reflect the complexity and the ecological unknowns which are inherent in human decisions about how land and water should be used and managed.

By incorporating ecosystem and biodiversity values into our macroeconomic processes, we can design and operate a sustainable water system. To do this, we must become much more efficient in the way we manage our water resources: we must ensure that these systems are fully embedded into the natural ecosystem within which they are placed, and that ecosystem services available there are utilised to the full, without compromising their own integrity. In this way, the ecosystem services of the whole catchment will remain in place, generating a sustainable flow of benefits into the future.

If we fail to do this, however, we face a future where water becomes an increasingly scarce resource, with some rivers providing little utility other than as a drain to carry away pollutants. For groundwater, overpumping will force water tables down, making them inaccessible to most communities (Shiklomanov and Rodda, 2003).

Acreman, M., Harding, R., Sullivan, C. A. et al. (2009). Review of Issues on Water Storage in International Development. Wallingford, UK: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and British Geological Survey.
Arrow, K., Bolin, B., Costanza, R. et al. (1995). Economic growth, carrying capacity and the environment. Science, 268, 520–21.
Bunn, S. E. and Arthington, A. H. (2002). Basic principles and ecological consequences of altered flow regimes for aquatic biodiversity. Environmental Management, 30 (1), 492–507.
Chapin, F. S., Zavaleta, E. S., Eviner, V. T. et al. (2000). Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature, 405, 234–42.
Clayton, A. and Radcliffe, N. (1997). Sustainability: A Systems Approach. London: Earthscan.
Costanza, R., d'Arge, R., de Groot, R., Farber, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., Limburg, K., Naeem, S., O'Neill, R.V., Paruelo, J., Raskinet R.G., Sutton, P. and van den Belt, M. (1997). The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387, 253–60.
Daly, H. (1999). Ecological Economics and the Ecology of Economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Delbaere, B. (2004). European policy review: starting to achieve the 2010 biodiversity target. Journal of Nature Conservation, 12, 141–42.
Dietz, T., Ostrom, E. and Stern, P. C. (2003). The struggle to govern the commons. Science, 302, 1902–12.
Dudgeon, D., Arthington, A. H., Gessner, M. H. et al. (2006). Freshwater biodiversity: importance, threats, status and conservation challenges. Biological Reviews, 81, 163–82.
Emerton, L. and Bos, E. (2004). Value: Counting Ecosystems as an Economic Part of Water. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
European Commission (EC) (2000). ‘Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 2000/60/EC Establishing a Framework for Community Action in the Field of Water Policy.’ Luxembourg: European Parliament.
Gilman, T. A., Abell, R. A. and Williams, C. E. (2004). How can conservation biology inform the practice of Integrated River Basin Management? International Journal of River Basin Management, 2, 1–14.
Holland, J. (1996). Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity. Jackson, Tennessee, USA: Basic Books.
Hooper, D. U., Chapin, F. S., Ewel, J. J. et al. (2005). Effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning: a consensus of current knowledge. Ecological Monographs, 75, 3–35.
ICWE (International Conference on Water and the Environment) (1992). The Dublin Statement and Record of the Conference. Geneva: WMO.
IEG (Independent Evaluation Group) (2010). World Bank Lending for Large Dams: A Preliminary Review of Impacts. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.
Johnson, A. C., Acreman, M. C., Dunbar, M. J. et al. (2009). The British river of the future: how climate change and human activity might affect two contrasting river ecosystems in England. Science of the Total Environment, 407, 4787–98.
Kaufmann, R. K. (1995). The economic multiplier of environmental life support: can capital substitute for a degraded environment? Ecological Economics, 12, 67–79.
Kinzig, A. P., Pacala, S. W. and Tilman, D. (2002). The Functional Consequences of Biodiversity: Empirical Progress and Theoretical Extensions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Loomis, J. B. and Gonsalez-Caban, A. (1998). A willingness to pay function for protecting acres of spotted owl habitat from fire. Ecological Economics, 25, 315–22.
Loreau, M., Naeem, S., Inchausti, P. et al. (2001). Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challenges. Science, 294, 804–08.
May, R. M. (2002). The future of biological diversity in a crowded world. Current Science, 82, 1325–31.
McCann, K. S. (2000). The diversity-stability debate. Nature, 405, 228–33.
McCully, P. (1996). Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams. London: Zed Books.
MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
Milly, P. C. D., Wetherald, R. T., Dunne, K. A. and Delworth, T. L. (2002). Increasing risk of great floods in a changing climate. Nature, 415, 514–17.
Molden, D. (ed.) (2007). Water for Food, Water for Life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. London: Earthscan.
Noss, R. F. (1990). Indicators for monitoring biodiversity: a hierarchical approach. Conservation Biology, 4, 355–64.
Oki, T. and Kanae, S. (2006). Global hydrological cycles and world water resources. Science, 313, 1068–72.
Postel, S. and Richter, B. (2003). Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature. Washington D.C.: Island Press.
Postel, S. L. (1998). Water for food production: will there be enough in 2025? BioScience, 48, 629–38.
Ramankutty, N., Evan, A. T., Monfreda, C. and Foley, J. A. (2008). Farming the planet: 1. Geographic distribution of global agricultural lands in the year 2000. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 22, GB1003, doi: 10.1029/2007GB002952.
Richter, B. D. and Gregory A. T. (2007). Restoring environmental flows by modifying dam operations. Ecology and Society, 12 (1), 12 [online].
Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al. (2009). Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society, 14 (2), 32 [online].
Scott, M. L., Shafroth, P. B. and Auble, G. T. (1999). Responses of riparian cottonwoods to alluvial water table declines. Environmental Management, 23, 347–58.
Shiklomanov, I. A. and Rodda, J. C. (2003). World Water Resources at the Beginning of the 21st Century. Cambridge: UNESCO and Cambridge University Press.
Smith. A. (1776). An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 4th edn, 3 volumes. London: Strahan and Cadell.
Steffen, W., Jaeger, J., Carson, D. J. and Bradshaw, C. (ed.) (2002). Challenges of a Changing Earth. Berlin: Springer Verlag.
Stern, N., Peters, S., Bakhshi, V. et al. (2006). Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, London: HM Treasury.
Sullivan, C. A. (1999). Linking the past with the future: maintaining livelihood strategies for indigenous forest dwellers in Guyana. In Sustainability?–Life Chances and Livelihoods, ed. M. Redclift. London: Routledge, pp. 158–88.
Sullivan, C. A. (2002). Using an income accounting framework to value non-timber forest products. In Valuing the Environment in Developing Countries, eds. D. Pearce, C. Pearce and C. Palmer. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Sullivan, C. A., Macfarlane, D., Dickens, C. et al. (2008). Keeping the Benefits Flowing and Growing: Quantifying the Benefits of Wetlands in the Upper Orange Senqu Basin. Handbook for the EU NeWater Project, INR South Africa.
Tallis, H., Kareiva, P., Marvier, M. and Chang, A. (2008). An ecosystem services framework to support both practical conservation and economic development. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences USA, 105, 9457–64.
TEEB (2008). The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: An Interim Report. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study. Cambridge, UK: European Communities.
Tilman, D. (2000). Causes, consequences and ethics of biodiversity. Nature, 405, 208–11.
UNESCO (2003). The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water for People, Water for Life. World Water Assessment Program, UNESCO.
UNESCO (2006). The 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report: Water, A Shared Responsibility. World Water Assessment Program, UNESCO.
UNESCO (2009). The 3rd United Nations World Water Development Report: Water in a Changing World. World Water Assessment Program, UNESCO.
Vörösmarty, C. J., McIntyre, P. B., Gessner, M. O. et al. (2010). Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity, Nature, 467 (7315), 555–61.
Vaughn, C. (2010). Biodiversity losses and ecosystem function in freshwaters: emerging conclusions and research directions. BioScience, 60, 25–35.
Vitousek, P. M., Mooney, H. A., Lubchenko, J. and Melillo, J. M. (1997). Human domination of Earth's ecosystems. Science, 277, 494–99.
Walker, B. H., Barrett, S., Galaz, V. et al. (2009). Looming global-scale failures and missing institutions. Science, 325 (5946), 1345–46.
Wallace, J. S., Acreman, M. C. and Sullivan, C. A. (2003). The sharing of water between society and ecosystems: from conflict to catchment-based co-management. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 358, 2011–26.
Wolfenson, J. (2000). Final Closing Remarks. The Hague: World Water Forum.
World Bank (2010). Water and Development: An Evaluation of World Bank Support, 1997–2007. Washington D.C.: Independent Evaluation Group, World Bank.
World Commission on Dams (WCD) (2000). Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making. Report of the World Commission on Dams, Cape Town: World Commission on Dam.
WWF (2006). Free-Flowing Rivers: Economic Luxury or Ecological Necessity? Global Freshwater Programme. Netherlands: WWF Zeist.