Conservation International (CI) commits to developing the Freshwater Health Initiative, which will highlight the relationships between healthy ecosystems and the benefits they provide, and will embed indicators of freshwater health in specific basin-scale decision contexts. The indicators will be used to evaluate scenarios, such as climate variability, land cover, population growth, and water allocation, to illustrate trade-offs and to help stakeholders understand what policies and management practices are needed to ensure that freshwater systems remain productive and their benefits accessible into the future.
The initiative involves three phases: design, modeling, and dissemination.
The design phase will include building a transparent, open-access, community data resource and an information management and dissemination system, including dashboards, maps, and visualizations to deliver the indicators in a transparent, traceable fashion. The modeling phase will involve implementing an integrated set of models to measure the indicators, and testing this approach in a select number of case studies, beginning in the Pearl River (southern China) and Lower Mekong (Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam) basins. Local partners, including universities, provincial and national authorities, and NGOs, will be instrumental in adapting the global framework and applying it in a specific context. In the dissemination phase, results from the case studies will be published in peer reviewed journals and a dynamic website will be publicly released. The website will host a toolbox for key stakeholders to conduct their own assessments, and will link to a global database. The Initiative will be scaled through additional case studies and technical assistance, such as trainings and workshops for interested stakeholder groups.
CI is able to leverage its experience in developing and implementing multi-metric indices (e.g. the Ocean Health Index) and its field offices and programs with close connections to stakeholders in specific freshwater basins. CI is in the process of enlisting institutional-level partners to work together on these issues of data acquisition, quantitative modeling, and stakeholder engagement in a diverse set of geographies.
CI has organized meetings since May 2015 with potential partners as well as stakeholders within the initial case study basins. The technical working group members are being recruited and will meet in November, 2015 to finalize the framework for selecting and measuring indicators. The initiative will have a formal kickoff in January 2016 in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with a goal of introducing the initiative to a select group of potential end-users and supporters (e.g., ministries, development banks, international organizations). Specific quarterly milestones and deliverables for the piloting phase of the initiative are as follows:
- Complete market survey of potential end-users
- Publish journal article introducing the conceptual framework and freshwater health indicators
- Complete initial assessment of available datasets
- Hold kickoff event in Hong Kong and Shanghai
- Hold initial workshops with regional stakeholders in case study basins (30 participants each in Lower Mekong and China)
- Assemble basin-specific datasets
- Identify and test candidate models for assessments
-Finalize scenario analysis with regional stakeholders and present initial modeling results for each basin (30 participants each in Lower Mekong and China)
-Scope and begin related student projects (10 university faculty + 30 university students)
- Interim reports on case studies presented to regional stakeholders (30 participants each in Lower Mekong and China)
- Present early results at World Water Week in Stockholm
- Finalize case studies with regional stakeholders and hold technical trainings to build local capacity for future assessments (30 participants each in Lower Mekong and China)
- Publish results from case studies
- Debut website linking to online toolbox and federated database
Freshwater ecosystems provide the basis for agricultural production, industrial needs, urban development, and support fisheries and other wildlife that the earth depends on as sources of nutrition. Yet nearly 80% of the global population is threatened with insufficient freshwater supplies, as found in a 2010 assessment by Vörösmarty and colleagues. While such an alarming global statistic may raise awareness about freshwater issues, positive change must take place at the local and regional levels, where resources managers can take into account the specific factors, including threats to freshwater quality, regulations, and competing demands for use, that determine the availability and quality of freshwater. Decision makers need comprehensive information about such factors if they are to better manage freshwater resources.
Several tools, such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Developments Global Water Tool and the World Resources Institutes Aqueduct, already exist to identify water-related risks, but they typically focus on water quality and quantity data, without accounting for the broader functions and benefits that freshwater ecosystems provide, such as drinking water, flood risk reduction, recreational uses, and cultural significance. Moreover, these and other tools generally do not account for the dynamics within a particular freshwater basin, tracing the flow of water (and the changes to benefits) from headwaters to water users.
Analyzing freshwater ecosystems through a wider lens will enable a variety of stakeholders, including civil engineers, environmental managers, policy makers, and investors, to accurately assess the trade-offs that occur with water allocation decisions, or land use change, providing information to weigh the benefits of conservation goals and long-term service delivery against other more immediate needs. In the absence of such informed decision-making, and without understanding the full picture of how freshwater benefits are distributed within a basin, the true costs and risks may be hidden, resulting in potentially harmful and irreversible changes to these ecosystems and the communities relying on them.