Integrated water resources management is the practice of making decisions and taking actions while considering multiple viewpoints of how water should be managed. These decisions and actions relate to situations such as river basin planning, organization of task forces , planning of new capital facilities, controlling reservoir releases, regulating floodplains , and developing new laws and regulations. The need for multiple viewpoints is caused by competition for water and by complex institutional constraints. The decision-making process is often lengthy and involves many participants.
Integrated water resources management begins with the term "water resources management" itself, which uses structural measures and nonstructural measures to control natural and human-made water resources systems for beneficial uses. Water-control facilities and environmental elements work together in water resources systems to achieve water management purposes.
Structural components used in human-made systems control water flow and quality and include conveyance systems (channels, canals, and pipes), diversion structures, dams and storage facilities, treatment plants, pumping stations and hydroelectric plants, wells, and appurtenances .
Elements of natural water resources systems include the atmosphere, watersheds (drainage basins), stream channels, wetlands , floodplains, aquifers , lakes, estuaries , seas, and the ocean. Examples of nonstructural measures, which do not require constructed facilities, are pricing schedules, zoning, incentives, public relations, regulatory programs, and insurance.
Integrated water resources management considers the viewpoints of water management agencies with specific purposes, governmental and stakeholder groups, geographic regions, and disciplines of knowledge (see the figure). These viewpoints have been described in a variety of ways. For example, Mitchell (1990) wrote that integrated water management considers three aspects: dimensions of water ( surface water and groundwater , and quantity and quality); interactions with land and environment; and interrelationships with social and economic development. White (1969) wrote about the "multiple purposes" and "multiple means" of water management, and predicted that integration would create some confusion because it defies neat administrative organization.
In general, water agencies deal with water supply, wastewater and water quality services, stormwater and flood control, hydropower, navigation, recreation, and water for the environment, fish, and wildlife. As the practice of water resources management evolved, the term "multipurpose" (or "multiobjective") water resources development (or management) came to refer to projects with more than one purpose. Later, the term "comprehensive" water planning and management came into use to describe management practice that considers different viewpoints.
The term "functional integration" means to join purposes of water management such as to manage water supply and wastewater within a single unit. Protecting aquatic habitat for natural and ecological systems while managing for flood control is another example. Still another term is "conjunctive use," which usually refers to the joint management of surface water and groundwater.
Accommodating the views of governments and special interest groups is a challenge in integration because they have different perspectives. Intergovernmental relationships between government agencies at the same level include regional, state-to-state, and interagency issues. Relationships between different levels of government include, for example, state–federal and local–state interactions.
Special interest groups range from those favoring development of resources to those favoring preservation. In many cases, conflicts arise between the same types of interest groups, as, for example, between fly fishers and rafters on a stream.
The views of stakeholders in different locations must be balanced, introducing a geographic dimension of integration. Examples include issues between upstream and downstream stakeholders, issues among stakeholders in the same region, and views of stakeholders in a basin of origin versus those in a receiving basin. Another aspect of geographic integration is the scale of water-accounting units, such as small watershed, major river basin, region, or state, even up to global scale.
The complexity of integrated water resources management requires knowledge and wisdom from different areas of knowledge, or disciplines. Blending knowledge from engineering, law, finance, economics, politics, history, sociology, psychology, life science, mathematics, and other fields can bring valuable knowledge about the possibilities and consequences of decisions and actions. For example, engineering knowledge might focus on physical infrastructure systems, whereas sociology or psychology might focus on human impacts.
Coordination is an important tool of integration because the arena of water management sometimes involves conflicting objectives. Coordinating mechanisms can be formal, such as intergovernmental agreements, or informal, such as local watershed groups meeting voluntarily.
Cooperation is also a key element in integration, whether by formal or by informal means. Cooperation can be any form of working together to manage water, such as in cooperative water management actions on a regional scale, often known as "regionalization." Examples of regionalization include a regional management authority, consolidation of systems, a central system acting as water wholesaler, joint financing of facilities, coordination of service areas, interconnections for emergencies, and sharing of personnel, equipment, or services.
Integrated water resources management can take different forms and is examined best in specific situations. In the water-supply field, the term "integrated resource planning" has come into use to express concepts of integration in supply development. Perhaps the most comprehensive concept for water supply is "Total Water Management."
According to a 1996 report of the American Water Works Research Foundation, Total Water Management is the exercise of stewardship of water resources for the greatest good of society and the environment. A basic principle of Total Water Management is that the supply is renewable, but limited, and should be managed on a sustainable-use basis.
Taking into consideration local and regional variations, Total Water Management:
This definition focuses on the broad aspects of water supply. Examples can be given for other situations, including water-quality management planning, water allocation, and flood control.
Neil S. Grigg
American Water Works Association Research Foundation. "Minutes of Workshop on Total Water Management." Seattle, WA and Denver, CO: American Water Works Association, August 1996.
Grigg, Neil S. Water Resources Management: Principles, Regulations, and Cases. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Mitchell, Bruce. "Integrated Water Management." In Integrated Water Management: International Experiences and Perspectives, ed. Bruce Mitchell. London, U.K.: Bel-haven Press, 1990.
White, Gilbert F. Strategies of American Water Management. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969.
Making wise decisions about water resources management requires knowledge and wisdom from different disciplines to identify alternatives for action and to assess their effects. Engineering knowledge might focus on physical infrastructure systems, whereas sociology or psychology might focus on human impacts. The physical and life sciences help managers understand environmental issues, and the social sciences focus on policy issues of the past, present, and future. Mathematics and computer science offer new tools for analysis.
The interdisciplinary approach enables managers to use many disciplines to identify promising alternatives for solving complex problems and to assess the full range of impacts on the natural and human environments.