What is water resource management?

Water resource management is the activity of planning, developing, distributing and managing the optimum use of water resources. It is a sub-set of water cycle management. It is like hydrology, but the scale of management is low here where hydrology involves the States or country, and water resource management (WRM) is at a city and district scale. The field of WRM generally deals with measures to control flow of water as is related to hydrological characteristics such as river discharge and sediment flow. Sustainable water management is important to conserve and protect water resources which are limited on the earth. So, in essence, what are water resources? – these are sources of water that are useful or potentially useful to humans, there are important because they are needed for life to exist. Virtually all human uses require fresh water. Therefore, WRM involves how to use the available water efficiently minimizing the losses in reservoir and distribution network. Water allocation to various stakeholders, fixation of priority such drinking, industrial use and agricultural purpose are part of WRM. Presently, with more conversation on climate change and its effects on water resources there has been continuous growth in the need for efficiency of water uses at various stages. WRM will involve higher level management of multiple watersheds or interconnected systems. Globally, WRM is approached from a coordinated development and management of water, land and other related resources as is prescribed by the Global Water Partnership. The intended approach is to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems. Let us unpack WRM with answering three important questions:

  1. Why is WRM a challenge?
  2. What is the importance of conservation and management of water resources?
  3. What are the components and techniques of WRM?

What are the challenges of water resource management?

The answer to this question bears many faces depending on the context. Nature takes care of water resources through replenishing them by precipitation, surface run-off and ground water levels. The biggest challenge when it comes to WRM are humans. Freshwater resources like river, lakes are polluted by human activity. If sustainable water management is not implemented there may be war in future for fresh water. Water is an integral part of life and without which life is not possible on the earth. Acute water shortages because of drought which is attributed to climate change have hit most parts of the world. Many rivers are drying up, polluted and encroached. Now more than ever, the challenge is whether future generations will have enough freshwater for living? As humans we used freshwater for drinking, sanitation, watering, livestock, irrigation just to mention but a few. Humanity does have choices to make which is their role to play in WRM. People must make lifestyle and economic trade-offs to actively participate in finding sustainable solutions to water resource management. So, for example high demanding water crops of no big nutritional value might have to compromise on irrigation which means they might not grow well or generally for their consumers they must compromise and consume less. Efforts to conserve water by reducing surface evaporation through transporting it in canals or pipelines but with consequences on local groundwater, surface aquifers, flora and fauna. What seems to be a solution for humans comes with a dire problem for nature and the challenge is that nature will always be at the peril of human activity and behavior complicating lives for future generations to come. It starts with inherent choices to how we manage our water consumption and WRM extends to spheres of corporate wants of industries and political agendas.  

What is the importance of conservation and management of water resources?

Climate change is redistributing where water is rare and where it is plentiful, making management of water resources increasingly important. Water conservation enables water to be moved from areas of excess to areas of drought provided there is a distribution channel that can be connected amongst the areas from the source to the need. Water as a freshwater resource is in dire shortage and better local water use, particularly in agriculture can result in huge water conservation. In as much as it is often overlooked, the use of water for dust control can strain its use in other areas of importance especially in areas within the vicinity of mining operations. The importance of water conservation can be put into effect through use of dust control products that reduce or replace the amount of water used with regards to efficacy of dust control and longevity in performance of the area that requires dust suppression. In some parts of the world, there are wind traps that extract water from air as a form of water harvesting. Its importance is in replenishing reserves that boost the water situation in the areas where it is implemented. With the abundance of sea water, desalination of seawater is an alternative to boost efforts of management of water resources. The efficiency of existing process would need to be improved, but there exists a great potential in desalination. The reprocessing of so-called “gray water” as a substitute to tap water could add value in the efforts of water conservation. The rebirth of the local capture and storage of rainwater are of great importance to conservation and WRM. As climate change continues to disrupt existing water supplies the importance of conservation and management of water resources is core to survival and sustainability. 

What are the components and techniques of water resource management?

WRM components and techniques often take an integrated approach to implement the best strategies to tackle water shortage problems. There are two general approaches to planning and management. One is from the top-down (command and control) and the other is from the bottom-up (grassroots approach). Let us explain a bit more in detail the components of these techniques:

(1) Top-down planning and management – consists of a series of reports, complete with numerous appendices, describing all aspects of water resources management and use. The approach assumes one or more institutions have the ability and authority to develop and implement the plan. In modern day where public is calling for less government oversight, the top-down approach are becoming less desirable or acceptable. 

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

(2) Bottom-up planning and management – consists of the active participation of interested stakeholders, in this case those potentially affected by the decisions being considered and this happens through consensus building. Concerned citizens, nongovernmental organizations as well as professionals work together toward the creation of adaptive comprehensive water management programs, policies and plans. 

Water resources planning and management activities are usually motivated by the realization that there are problems to solve and opportunities to obtain increased benefits by changing the management and use of water and related land resources. These benefits can be measured in many ways. The best way to do it is often not obvious. Whatever way is proposed may provoke conflict. Hence there is the need for careful study and research, in the search for the best compromise plan or management policy. The global shift in WRM is currently happening with transition from a mainly supply-oriented, engineering-biased approach towards a demand-oriented, multisectoral approach, often labeled an integrated WRM. 

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Loucks, D.P. and van Beek, E. 2017. Water Resource Systems Planning and Management – An Introduction to Methods, Models, and Applications. Springer Nature. Switzerland. 

Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). Retrieved 05/06/21 

Water Resources. Retrieved 05/06/21