Environmental flows in water resources policies, plans, and projects - Case studies by IBRD

Environmental flows are really about the equitable distribution of and access to water and services provided by aquatic ecosystems, the report says.

EFlowThis report comprising a set of case studies by International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) presents how environmental flows is dealt with in water resources policies, plans, and projects. It focuses on the integration of environmental water allocation into integrated water resources management (IWRM) and so fills a major gap in knowledge on IWRM.

The report is of the view that environmental flows are really about the equitable distribution of and access to water and services provided by aquatic ecosystems. They refer to the quality, quantity, and timing of water flows required to maintain the components, functions, processes, and resilience of aquatic ecosystems that provide goods and services to people.

Environmental flows are central to supporting sustainable development, sharing benefits, and addressing poverty alleviation. Yet allocating water for environmental uses remains a highly contested process. While aquatic life depends on both the quantity and quality of water, changes in flows are of particular concern because they govern so many ecosystem processes. Consequently, changes in flow have led to a diminution of the downstream ecosystem services that many of the poorest communities rely on for their livelihoods.

The specific objectives of the report are:

  • Document the changing understanding of environmental flows
  • Draw lessons from experience in implementing environmental
  • Develop an analytical framework to support more effective integration of environmental flow considerations for informing and guiding (a) the planning, design, and operations decision making of water resources infrastructure projects; (b) the legal, policy, institutional, and capacity development related to environmental flows; and (c) restoration programs

The report has a case study from India on restoration of Chilika lagoon, the largest brackishChilika lagoon in Asia located on the east coast of India in the Mahanadi basin in the state of Orissa. The lagoon’s ecosystem depends on the water, sediment, and salt balances of the water body.

The case study presents some of the following lessons related to the work of the Chilika Development Authority (CDA), which manages conservation efforts for the lagoon -

  • A crisis, such as the severe social disruption and economic hardship brought about by reduced downstream flows and increased sediment inputs into Chilika Lagoon, is sometimes necessary to precipitate action.
  • When environmental flows concerns are introduced late in project implementation where the implementing institution has no background or mandate for environmental and social issues, then environmental flows are likely to be treated as just a bureaucratic hurdle that needs to be overcome with minimal effort, rather than an integral part of project implementation.
  • It is difficult to introduce concepts that rely on social, economic, and environmental knowledge that do not have exact solutions; and require collaboration across multiple disciplines into sectoral, and in particular, engineering organizations.
  • In spite of a recognized institution (CDA) with responsibility for coordination, departments that were not directly responsible for water resources management continued to focus on their sectoral interests and did not engage in cross-sectoral management.
  • The level of participation of villagers and fisherfolk needs to be tailored to their capacity. They were able to articulate problems and discuss general solutions, but were not equipped to engage in technical discussions concerning the provision of environmental flows.

Download the report below -

Photo courtesy (Chilika Lagoon): The Hindu

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