Report Urges Protecting Source Water to Manage Climate Impacts
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The 62-page report, titled ‘Wellspring: Source Water Resilience and Climate Adaptation,’ argues that conventional approaches, such as defining targets based on a past ecological baseline, may be counter-productive in the context of a “new normal,” given that climactic conditions may have changed irretrievably.

The authors argue instead for applying management principles that will promote the resilience of freshwater ecosystems, referred to as source water protection.

19 August 2019: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is proposing a set of principles for protecting freshwater sources, as a basis for promoting resilience and adaptation to climate change. In its ‘Wellspring’ report, the organization warns that current water resource management approaches still focus on “gray solutions” such as dams, reservoirs, and pipes, rather than investing in ecosystems.

The report puts forward alternatives to traditional conservation practices and recommends principles for adapting to an uncertain climate future.

The 62-page report, titled ‘Wellspring: Source Water Resilience and Climate Adaptation,’ argues that conventional approaches, such as defining targets based on a past ecological baseline, may be counter-productive in the context of a “new normal,” given that climactic conditions may have changed irretrievably.

The authors argue instead for applying management principles that will promote the resilience of freshwater ecosystems, referred to as source water protection (SWP). These include: seeking to manage and maintain hydrologic connectivity; avoiding distortions of the natural flow regime; allowing for spatial variation within freshwater ecosystems, for example, allowing rivers to meander rather than be channeled; and managing freshwater ecosystems at the basin scale, based on effective governance and a shared vision.

They report identifies activities for protecting freshwater sources in view of the types of climate change impacts they can help address. Land restoration and re-vegetation, including protection of forests, wetlands and grasslands, rank high in terms of climate benefits. Other activities include restoration of riparian zones, sustainable agricultural practices, good practices in ranching activities, fire risk management and roads management. Many of the actions proposed support implementation of SDG target 6.6 on protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes, as well as targets under SDG 15 on terrestrial ecosystems.

The report draws on experiences from the Chile, Mexico, Rwanda and the US to develop recommendations for: treating water as a “non-stationary asset” that may represent a shifting baseline; considering upstream-downstream and surface-groundwater interactions to assess and reduce climate-related risks; strengthening existing financing, management and stakeholder institutions through relationships and incentives for adaptive, flexible management; and “welcoming ecosystems into the water management circle” through integrating communities and nature into a common management framework.

The report was published by TNC in collaboration with the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA). [TNC Press Release]

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