Scientific Research is Key for Managing Freshwater Resources

Iguacu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. (Photo: © CI/ photo by John Martin)

Ian Harrison is currently attending World Water Week — the leading annual meeting on freshwater issues — in Stockholm. Read other World Water Week blogs here.

It’s no secret that our planet’s freshwater sources are stressed — but just how stressed? Scientific research is critical to inform sustainable management of freshwater resources, especially in the face of climate change impacts like droughts and floods. In order to compile this research, we need powerful, accessible tools for analyzing the data and presenting them in a way that is helpful to a variety of stakeholders, including businesses, policymakers and conservationists.

At World Water Week, the discussion on scientific tools started last Sunday at a side event organized by the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention. CI joined the panel and outlined plans for the development of a Global Wetland Observing System — a network of data about wetlands around the world that would support the production of annual reports on their status. CI is working with organizations and partnerships such as GEO BON and Wetlands International to advance this resource of critical information about wetlands, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere, store essential supplies of fresh water and buffer coastlines from storms.

Discussion about tools for analyzing water use continued on Monday with a session devoted to hydroeconomic modeling, which examined the issues of water use, efficiency and productivity across watersheds.

In a session on Tuesday on corporate water risk management, we heard from representatives from businesses such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Diversey Inc. on why they need water tools to inform their business decisions. We also learned about some of the tools being developed, including the Global Water Tool, which has just added CI’s biodiversity hotspots data as part of its resources.

The discussion on tools continued today with the session on ‘Science and Tools for Freshwater Conservation in an Urbanising World’ convened by CI, Kings College and the WETWin consortium. Several types of analytical tools and web-based resources were presented, including CI and City University of New York’s work using global datasets from the Global Water System Project.

Dr. Fred Boltz — CI’s vice president for global initiatives — moderated today’s discussion with panelists from Wetlands International, Holcim, the World Bank and Stockholm International Water Institute. The panelists agreed that it is extremely important for the researchers developing these different analytical tools to collaborate closely, and that the tools must be designed to meet the needs of the users who will apply them to their business and policy decisions.

These sessions have shown exactly why World Water Week is such an important and engaging venue. There is a fascinating array of participants here from the business sector, academics, NGOs, policymakers, and governmental organizations. World Water Week gives us an unparalleled opportunity to share ideas and look for solutions to one of the world’s most pressing issues: securing a freshwater system that can sustain us all.

Ian Harrison coordinates fundraising for the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment (GFBA), a joint program run by Conservation International, IUCN’s Species Programme, and NatureServe.


  1. Nadia says

    These are truly critically important discussions with many key stakeholders around the same table – thank you for your efforts. I am somewhat surprised though not to see any comments on “fracking” (gas drilling)and the threat it poses to drinking water. This is particularly relevant in the US at this time where this method of exploration is as unregulated as if we were talking about a developing country. Can you please advise as to whether this topic was raised at all and/or whether CI is engaged in any scientific research or other initiatves related to this topic?
    Thank you

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