Innovations That Turn the Tide

Fortunately, given the pressures on water supplies and quality described earlier, innovations are constantly being made in the ways water is used and managed. Innovations occur in the way water is stored and distributed, allocated and priced, and used and reused


for productive and ecosystems purposes. Massive investments are being made in new water storage and delivery systems, while established water systems and management practices are being reassessed in light of climate change predictions. New technologies are changing the ways in which water is used, cleaned, and reused to meet human, economic, and environmental needs. Serious efforts are also being made in the "software" of water management, to make better use of currently available water, to safeguard the quality and integrity of water resources, and to clarify goals and risks by involving stakeholders in design and decisionmaking.

Innovations in technology. Technological innovations already offer many ways of managing water more efficiently, productively, and sustainably. Industries are investing in new technologies and processes that diminish water use and wastewater discharges. Household consumers are being offered water-saving technologies such as low-flush toilets, low-flow showers, and faucet aerators to diminish demand. Agricultural productivity is being leveraged by drip irrigation and other targeted water delivery technologies and by soil fertility and conservation techniques. Moreover, the adoption of established agronomic good practices could lead to real gains in water productivity in many countries. In rainfed agriculture, which accounts for some 80 percent of global cropland and the livelihoods of most of the world's poor, adoption of already proven technologies could at least double current crop yields. Innovations in agriculture are particularly beneficial because agriculture is such a large consumer of water that a relatively small percentage decline here could allow a relatively large percentage increase in other uses.18

Water supplies are being enhanced in many countries using innovative wastewater treatment and reuse techniques. Break throughs continue in desalination, where advances in technologies and energy efficiency have brought costs down dramatically in the past decade so that desalination is now an economic option for water supplies in the coastal cities of industrial countries. Singapore, a recognized leader in urban water management, has diversified its water sources by leveraging innovations in water reuse, desalination, stormwater management, multipurpose water storage, and high-quality recycled water. Singapore has also pursued demand management measures, such as reducing water losses due to leakage in pipes and restructuring its water pricing and access policy to encourage more-efficient water use while ensuring low-cost water for poor households.19

Managers are increasingly looking at investments in and management of "natural water infrastructure" such as watersheds, wetlands, lakes, and floodplains to be used as complements or even substitutes for infrastructure like dams, weirs, and wastewater treatment plants—all while providing biodiversity, aesthetic, and recreational benefits that are all increasingly valued. In Costa Rica, for example, the water utility of the Heredia region pays landholders to protect forest on the hill slopes from which they derive their water, which has proved to be very beneficial for both landowners and municipal water customers. In the United States, the government is considering converting strategic tracts of the coastal areas that were battered by Hurricane Katrina into public wetlands, to help mitigate the impacts of future hurricanes.20

Innovations in management. Water management practices are evolving. Integrated water resources management is now a universal aspiration—albeit one that is quite challenging to implement. River basin organizations are being established to manage water holistically at the basin level, some

SPECIAL SECTION: PAYING FOR NATURE'S SERVICES Water in a Sustainable Economy using highly sophisticated computer models to grapple with the complexity of their river systems. Stakeholder consultations are considered routine good practice these days in order to better understand the social and livelihood impacts of water management decisions, although structuring these consultations to have meaningful impact is a continuing challenge. Environmental flows is an innovative framework for ensuring that adequate in-stream water is allocated to sustain the health of river systems, with much work ongoing as to how to establish and institutionalize environmental flow regimes.21

The range of current innovations include finding better options for water management and also better ways of making choices among those options. The importance of better decisionmaking in water management was highlighted in 2000 in the report of the World Commission on Dams. Built on an awareness of the range of interrelated interests and impacts of water management, multistakeholder consultations are increasingly being used to strengthen policy design and implementation. This apparently obvious innovation—to consult the people who will be affected—has proved essential in enhancing sustainability.22

The private sector is also innovating. Motivated both by consumer demand for "greener" products and the recognition that sustainable strategies can be extremely cost-effective, many corporations now find that sustainability makes good business sense. Increasingly, progressive companies are working with community and stakeholder groups to create water management partnerships. The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) is an example of a major food industry effort: some 30 partners are actively supporting the development and implementation of sustainable agricultural practices to safeguard the future availability of natural resources and enhance their efficiency. Nestlé, a founder of the SAI, has recently begun targeted trainings in water management for farmers who supply the company with its primary commodities.23

Innovations in market-based tools. Market signals and incentives, which have often led to overexploitation and degradation of water resources, can and are increasingly being used to enhance the sustainability of water management. One way this can be done more effectively is through water prices and wastewater fees. These can signal the true value of water to every user, so that people are aware of—and bear—the full costs they incur when using or degrading water. Prices set to reflect the full costs of sustainable water management should also, by definition, generate sufficient revenues to accomplish this.

Integrated water resources management is now a universal aspiration—albeit one that is quite challenging to implement.

Water managers are beginning to construct better-targeted pricing schemes based on a range of tariff structures, on survey techniques to determine consumers' willingness and ability to pay for services, and on more sophisticated monitoring and information systems. Prices can be structured to meet multiple objectives: allocate water resources efficiently; ensure financial viability so that reliable service can be delivered; provide affordable access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing requirements; and encourage water conservation. Wastewater fees are being targeted to ensure water quality and to encourage industries to minimize overall volumes of water use. Water pricing, however, tends to be a controversial topic. (See Box 8-4.)24

Water pricing, however, is not a panacea.


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