century presents unprecedented challenges to the long-term viability of the
world’s Great Rivers. These critical systems provide freshwater for half the
world’s people, most agricultural crops, crucial transportation and energy generation. However, such vital and often
competing uses for water jeopardize ecosystems and a wide range
of benefits that rivers naturally provide to society.
Integrated River Basin Management
To strike a
balance for people and nature, the Great Rivers Partnership takes an integrated river basin management (IRBM) approach.
IRBM is the collaborative process of integrating the conservation, management and
development of water, land and related resources across sectors within a given
river basin. The purpose is to improve economic and social benefits derived
from water resources in an equitable manner while preserving and, where
necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems.
(Adapted from Integrated Water
Resources Management, Global Water Partnership Technical Advisory Committee
Background Papers, No. 4, 2000.)
Anatomy of a River
A river’s anatomy is complex and ever
changing. From its headwater streams to its union with the sea, each component
supports the health of the whole. We cannot live without nature, nor can we
live without changing it; but we do have a choice as to the character and scale
of our impact.
In fact, scaling back our impact allows us to
realize the inherent benefits of a river. For example, when a river floods its
banks, water is absorbed into the soil and nurtures it with nutrients and silt.
Trees and plants return the favor, filtering sediment, fertilizers and
pesticides before washing the water into the river—ultimately improving its
overall quality and safeguarding our drinking water.
While a river is defined by the quality of
the land near its source and the forests at its edges, the flow of water is essential to its overall
health as well. Seasonal floods trigger spawning migrations in fish and provide
them access to nutrient-rich floodplains. Wading birds and waterfowl feed in
shallow flooded areas. Naturally low water levels enable seeds of wetland
plants to germinate. And the influx of freshwater at our estuaries—where rivers
meet the sea—drives the entire marine food web, supporting the most productive
waters we know.
See the resources at right to further explore
the natural benefits derived from river systems.
* * *
Anatomy of a River intro adapted with permission from writing by Kate Frazer.