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

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Introduction

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).

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