With the patronage of:
International Union of Geodesy and GeophysicsEuropean Geosciences UnionDepartment DICAM - University of Bologna Panta RheiItalian Hydrological Society

Evolving Water Resources Systems - Understanding, Predicting and Managing Water - Society Interactions

Towards a visionary paper on Evolving Water Resources Systems

Update after the conference

The web based discussion is now closed. Participants will be contacted by email to inform them on the progress of the paper.
The powerpoint file that supported the discussion in Bologna is available here. Names have been removed as we are not sure that what was stated is correctly reported in the file. Please comment if you want to clarify the details of your line of thoughts.

The 6th IAHS-EGU International Symposium on Integrated Water Resources Management (Bologna 4-6 June 2014), which is entitled "Evolving Water Resources Systems - Understanding, Predicting and Managing Water - Society Interactions" aims to produce a vision paper on the future of water resources management in connection with the Panta Rhei IAHS Decade 2013-2022. The vision paper will be co-authored by interested participants at the conference who significantly contributed to the preliminary discussion and preparation of the paper.

The paper will be prepared by the end of year 2014 (approximately) and will be submitted to the Hydrological Sciences Journal.

The timeline to prepare the paper is the following.

  • Up to June 3rd, 2014, suggestions on the proposed outline for the paper and relevant issues to be discussed are collected through this page, which is purposely open to comments. Please note that you have to be registered on the web site to comment. Alternatively, you may want to send your comment to me.
  • A specific discussion will be held during the conference focusing on the paper outline and content, and on all comments that will be submitted up to that date.
  • During the month of June the discussion will continue through all comments hat will be submitted through this web site.
  • From September to December 2014 the paper will be shaped up and finalized

Contributions are sought in terms of ideas, pieces of text and/or figures. The list of the authors will be compiled on the basis of the substance of the individual contribution (that can be also provided with individual discussions and support). Colleagues that provided a marginal contribution will be anyway acknowledged in the paper.

Please note: the powerpoint file that supported the discussion in Bologna is available here. Names have been removed as we are not sure that what was stated is correctly reported in the file. Please comment if you want to clarify the details of your line of thoughts.

Some preliminary ideas for the paper content and outline

A first idea for the outline of the paper follows here below.

To be written

An overview of the main challenges regarding water resources systems in a changing environment. It will include a review of the challenges related to irrigation and water supply systems, arising from increasing population, changing water demands, reduced water resources availability due to pollution and climate change. Reservoir management could also be discussed, as well as management of hydropower plants. It is my feeling that groundwater resources deserve a special focus, to provide a review of groundwater depletion problems, with examples that may refer to several regions of the world. A connection with the Panta Rhei research questions will be established. References would be particularly appreciated.

Future challenges for water resources systems
The idea here is to provide an overview of the future challenges for water resources systems, by promoting a bottom up approach for the assessment of water resources, which should consider both people and society as key determinants. Therefore, such assessment should not be based on the traditional projections of future climate and future land use assets (which put water resources centre stage), but should be rather based on a prediction of people needs along with mitigation options. This picture should be then compared with the current asset of water resources to first ascertain whether future societal needs are compatible with the present situation. Second, the analysis should identify what future assets of water resources, depending on environmental changes that will be ranked in order of priority, are compatible with people needs. By putting people centre stage one can make sure that priorities are more coherently identified.

Methods and solutions for adapting water resources systems
This section should outline what innovative solutions do we suggest for (1) assessing water resources and (2) adapting water resources systems in order to cope with the above challenges. Besides water resources assessment, particular emphasis will be placed on leakage reduction, energy recovery, demand control and others. Ideas are particularly welcome.

Key research challenges
This would be a scientific section that identifies ways forward for future research, therefore contributing to a correct identification of priorities. This is an important issue. Although there is an unanimous consensus that water resources systems will have to face significant challenges in the future, still there it is not clear what are the solutions. Input from the conference presentations will be particularly considered.

To be written.

Please comment on the above proposal. It would be great to get to the conference with a series of comments to discuss!

I am looking forward to seeing you in Bologna!
All the very best,
Alberto Montanari


Reading through the contributions to the discussion and in addition to my former comment, I would like to raise the attention to a few more aspects, which, in my opinion are barely addressed so far, but might be of relevance for the general focus of the vision paper.

Some of the contributions as well as comments during the discussion in Bologna, indicate that human activities were not sufficiently embedded in hydrological and/or water resources management research in the past. I think this is only partially true, since it strongly depends on the specific research subject/approach/project (basic research vs. applied research), but also on the perception of our research. I assume there is agreement on the subject side. There are numerous studies referring to the impact of human activities on hydrological systems and how this was (or can be) successfully linked to support a sustainable water resources management. In fact, many research activities over the past 2 decades were required to consider the anthropogenic component through interdisciplinary (in some cases multi- and transdisciplinary) approaches, not only because it was demanded by funding schemes (e.g. EU calls on IWRM research, twinning basins among many others) which in turn were influenced by the scientific debate (maybe even vision papers) and political visions, but also by the increasing demand for stakeholder involvement to address societal needs. A good example for how societal needs affect hydrological research is the DPSIR (Driving forces, Pressures, States, Impacts and Responses) approach which built the base for many research activities On the other hand, research influences societal development as shown by the development and implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Given all the publications and research projects on impacts, ‘what if’ scenarios, adaptive management, decision support (systems) and so forth (and many of them were communicated as success stories in reports, papers and media or influenced decisions or resulted in controversial debates), we should be aware that it may sound unreliable if we ignore the achievements in this vision paper and rather argue on the need for improved interdisciplinary approaches (with all the facets’ discussed in the blog contributions below) to better develop our understanding of hydrological-societal interactions. For a vision paper on evolving water resources management systems addressing a broader audience like fellow researchers from various disciplines, but also funding agencies, political and economic decision makers we should convincingly and clearly highlight what was achieved so far, to better explain what deficits were recognized and how this motivates our future research.

In addition to the interesting gaps identified below, we have to deal with the acceptance of research results by other disciplines and various stakeholders. This is related to the challenges of successfully communicating results, but also to responsibilities of sharing our research. I have met many decision makers from governmental institutions who have never heard about research addressing a specific topic which was published in well-known journals, nor have they shown particular interest. However, working closely on linkages between societal and hydrological systems may include the responsibility to achieve a higher impact by a better communication/dissemination of research findings as well the evaluation of this impact to better understand feedbacks. Here, agreements on terminology with colleagues from other disciplines may be a key to speak with one (science) voice and therewith to achieve higher impacts. As experienced in own studies and for example, there is a different understanding on the term ‘scenario’ and, thus, the term is used differently in climate research and in social sciences causing a wide range of misunderstandings, e.g. regarding timescales, drivers etc..

The problem of spatial and temporal scale was already addressed by some contributors. I agree that we should reflect the relevance of the individual scale in our own discipline and how this is related to the understanding of scales in other disciplines and/or environments. Given the variety in spatial scales (process to global), we should discuss how we can better understand and assess the DPSIR components and their relevance at each spatial scale and how can this be done in agreement with other disciplines. The relevance of temporal scales in socio-hydrological systems also needs to be discussed. To my opinion, long-term projections such as provided by IPCC scenarios incorporate changes in the climate and socio-economic systems and associated uncertainties, unpredictability and feedback responses per se, at least to a certain degree. They are in a way generalized. More challenging is the problem of how we can adapt our research on hydrological dynamics to short- or midterm societal changes which are often rapid or chaotic at a given scale and, as already discussed, often uncertain and unpredictable regarding subsequent impacts and feedbacks. This is often due to the fact that such dynamics are neither fully understood nor controlled. Many good examples can be found through the blog contributions. However, temporal scales are varying with varying disciplines and stakeholder groups (e.g. short-term economic models vs. mid-term population growth predictions vs. longterm water availability assessments vs. shortterm political agendas), thus methods need to be harmonized in collaboration with other disciplines and stakeholders rather than by the hydrologist him-/herself. In this context, we should also think about the relevance of the status of a system at a given time, since it provides the base for assessing changes. To my experience there is often disagreement in transdisciplinary groups regarding the system status and measures to assess it. Hence, we need to motivate the scientific discussion on how we can harmonize methods and terminologies in assessing the status of socio-hydrological systems.

In support of some earlier comments and concluding my above and earlier comment, some further aspects could be included as a consequence of the actual debate:
- The vision paper should highlight the efforts already achieved (baseline) and refer to the problems of implementation and consideration of findings, regional disparities and disagreements/misunderstandings in terminologies among disciplines
- The paper may also address the problem of societal awareness of hydrological research (short memories) and the lack of information exchange with decision makers, partly caused by the ineffective communication of results.
- Future research on existing, adapted or new water resources management systems should address the necessity of incorporating the full hydrological circle, rather than only parts of it.
- Future research should address the impact of altered hydrological systems on societal developments over time.
- The vision paper should reflect the relevance of spatial and temporal scales in different disciplines and stakeholder groups.

By sturno

Evolving Water Systems: Understanding, Predicting and Managing Water-Society Interactions

The comment of Siva is bringing up an important point. As change in society and the Earth system is becoming more dramatic, we need to exercise more long term foresight than in the past. While the science underpinning IWRM – the scenarios approach – has served us well in the past, as he is pointing out, a new paradigm is needed: a paradigm that accounts for the dynamic feedbacks between humans and water.
What can the new approach achieve?

Even though, generally, scenarios are considered as ‘projections’ they are often used as if they were predictions, i.e., a variable plotted against a time axis into the future. The non-linearity of the system – after all we are dealing with complex systems – will make these kinds of predictions difficult, if not impossible. Just consider if an observer at the beginning of the 20th century had predicted the evolution of society (and water) in the 20th century. It is safe to say that the observer would not have predicted (or projected) a single pattern of importance that occurred during that century. The focus therefore needs to be on cause-effect relationships. What are the most important components of the system? How are they related (through feedbacks) with other components of that system? A better understanding of cause-effect can be tremendously useful for more prudent water management in the long term, even if we cannot anticipate the actual trajectory of the system evolution with confidence.
How can we achieve these results, i.e. what are the potential methods?

At the heart of the new paradigm needs to be a systems approach. The systems approach already has some history, being first proposed by the Austrian biologist von Bertalanffy in the 1940s, later became the cornerstone of cybernetics, and attracted some attention in hydrology in the 1970s but from an operations research perspective. The systems approach emphasizes the dynamic coupling of the systems components (or in the form of a system of systems in more complex, inter-disciplinary situations) as opposed to the static coupling of scenarios. Because of the dynamic coupling, the modeled system can evolve along paths that cannot be easily anticipated by scenarios - new paths, emergent patterns. People (or societies in general) need to become an integral part of the system as opposed to being merely external drivers as was often done in the past. Increasingly, there is a strong need to quantify human-nature feedbacks using natural science methods going beyond the use of polls, surveys and narratives as is presently common in the social sciences. The models should be transparent. I would prefer differential equations that can abstract collective behavior of a community of people organized around testable hypotheses or organizing principles, over agent based models that merely characterize human behavior empirically but cannot easily be extrapolated to new situations or places: overall, we should prioritize generalizable understanding over mere characterization or localized predictions. And this quantification needs to treat processes at a hierarchy of space scales. Simple, stylized models may quantify large scale patterns of dominant processes, and as the focus moves to finer scales, certainly detail must be added to represent the regional and local scale characteristics of the human-water system.

So, a bright and exciting future is ahead of us in the science underpinning water management. A future where we should focus on the emergent patterns, on generalizable understanding of the long term dynamics of coupled human-water systems.

Günter Blöschl, Vienna University of Technology

By sturno

Evolving Water Systems: Understanding, Predicting and Managing Water-Society Interactions

The current approach to water resource management (e.g., integrated water resource management or IWRM) is to decide targets for human well-being (e.g., reliable water supply, protection from floods), make assumptions about the likely future trajectories of climatic and socio-economic drivers (including population size and demographics), and then design infrastructure and water management systems to achieve the desired targets. Prediction in this context means the prediction of the hydrological system in respect of the assumed scenarios of climate change, the human induced changes to the hydrologic system (e.g., land use changes, introduction of water infrastructure) and the future human requirements such as water demand and safety standards.

This IWRM approach has served us well, but only on the short term (e.g. 5 year management horizon). It has been found wanting when the performance of the system is assessed over long time scales. The short term predictions associated with the IWRM approach cannot account for slow changes that over the long term have led to spectacular failures (e.g., Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union, Murray-Darling River Basin in Australia, the Republican River Basin in the United States). For this reason, increasingly we are called upon to predict (or project) changes to the water systems over long time scales (e.g. century) and large spatial scales (whole countries or States or regions) to underpin investment decisions or large scale policy changes. Over such long time scales and large space scales we cannot any more follow the traditional scenario based approaches, because over such large scales, the systems of interest are likely to dynamically co-evolve as a result of internal or endogenous feedbacks between coupled human and natural systems, in response to external (or exogenous) drivers of climate and socio-economic factors.

Prediction of such co-evolving systems poses enormous challenges. Novel approaches are needed to observe (or monitor) these systems in operation, generate data on the feedbacks not only in the present but in the historical past, and develop new quantitative models and tools to study their functioning, especially of the social systems. We need to re-define predictions and predictability in the context of coupled human-water systems, as being very different to notions of predictions and predictability of natural systems. In the new paradigm, prediction embraces the formulation of a spectrum of alternative plausible futures, preferably accompanied by associated probabilities, which requires considerable imagination and out of the box thinking than we have had with purely hydrological systems. Coupled human-water systems operate at all time and space scales, extending from catchments and river basins all the way to global, and from individual human actions to community and national decisions, all the way to their manifestation in terms of trade on a global scale. The systems are interconnected across these scales, in a space-time scale hierarchy, which also needs to be understood, quantified and converted to a hierarchy of system models, paying particular attention to scale transformations and abstractions, through up-scaling and down-scaling. So we are up against major challenges, but as hydrologists we have some experience in addressing these challenges, but now will have to address these new challenges jointly with social scientists: this is an exciting prospect, good for the science and highly beneficial for management.

Murugesu Sivapalan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

By sturno

University of Ljubljana
Mitja Brilly
Gaps in our knowledge
1. Gaps in hazard estimation
The uncertainty of climate change impacts on hydrologic extremes has different origins. First, there is the uncertainty of climate change forecasts of basic data like precipitation, temperature and winds. Then, there is the uncertainty of complex hydrological systems, including the ecological feedback of the system on climate change. Presently, the uncertainty is too high and the impact on decision-making is strong. Hence, we need to consider how to reduce the uncertainty as much as possible.
In Europe, the Probable Maximum Flood is a feature not discussed enough. We do not know the upper limits of floods; however, the decision-makers need to know these limits for security reason. We also need to consider, for example, the impacts of climate change to the Probable Maximum Flood and safety of nuclear power plants.
In the stream water flow there may be many obstacles, i.e. contractions due to gravel packs, vegetation, bridge abutments, sharp bends, low sills, gates etc. The relations between riparian vegetation, main stream and overgrowth of vegetation in the flooded area are of particular interest. We should establish whether our existing knowledge sufficiently addresses the phenomena today. Indeed, measurements performed by state-of-the-art instruments lead us to new insight and better solutions.
Erosion and filling of the channel are two phenomena that typically accompany floods; the more rare and intensive the phenomena, the more pronounced are erosion and deposition of sediment, which can completely alter channel morphology or, indeed, transform the valley.
Surface water and groundwater relation in flood events. Surface water and groundwater regimes are closely connected during flood events. Levee failures are caused by seepage of groundwater. The relations are well known but in practice groundwater is still not treated properly in flood hazard mapping and in flood risk analyses.

2 Gaps in vulnerability estimation
We can estimate climate change impacts on vulnerability with more than 100-year forecasts. Societal changes are much more dynamic and unpredictable. Protection measures are time consuming in terms of implementation; incorrect or untimely warnings may result in unnecessary mass relocations, and vice versa. Importantly, it is necessary to assess the uncertainty of the damage potential of an area in each given case.
Furthermore, a database of flood fatalities in the EU should be compiled. In the future, we should monitor the reasons that lead to loss of life, or injuries, during floods. To achieve proper protection without flood fatalities is one of the key elements of contingency plans.
New development of structural and non structural measures. The development of information technologies and other technologies has enabled us to find new, better and more economical flood protection measures. Also, other optimum approaches to cost–benefit analyses have been developed. Yesterday’s optimal solutions may not be optimal tomorrow.
Social risk assessment. Flood protection measures have a strong impact on spatial and societal development. Impact assessment of the measures to development and societal restrictions is necessary, including the assessment of social (non)acceptability of the relevant measures.
Spatial planning. Flood protection measures are closely linked to the environment and spatial planning; in fact, they are a part of spatial planning. Certain measures, such as land use restrictions, siting of activities sensitive to floods, development and maintenance of flooded areas, cannot be implemented without proper spatial planning in place. Spatial planning must also address measures, such as collection and detention of water in the river basin and land use affecting runoff conditions.
More room for water. Today, more room for water is necessary to provide protection of urban areas, i.e. for river channel remediation and rehabilitation. It is not only about giving more space to surface water, but also about allowing more space for groundwater recharge and protection, and maintenance of optimal connections between surface water and groundwater.
Real estate market. Flood protection is closely connected to the real estate market. It enables spatial protection and an increase in real estate values. We need to find ways to collect funds for implementation of these measures based on the real estate market and taxation of real estate ownership. How does the real estate market affect the calculation of the relations between damages and benefits of different measures?
Riverfront. River corridors are a valuable spatial element, which importantly affect the environment and its development, i.e. view of the city on the waterfront, view from the buildings to the waterfront – they all carry a special significance and require special attention. In any case, they must be taken into consideration in planning and implementation of the measures along the stream.

3 Gaps in exposure
Critical infrastructure. Special attention and a higher level of protection is necessary for some structures that involve activities that may, in a case of a flood, cause an ecological disaster, particularly if there is presence of people (transport routes) and supply infrastructure.
Roads. The number of fatalities, i.e. people who find themselves stranded after driving into flooded roadways or into the water, is growing.
Bridges. An important cause of fatalities is inadequately built bridges demolished by a river. On the other hand, bridges are an obstacle to the water current and the cause of floods in upstream areas. We need proper regulations to achieve higher safety of bridges and protection of the areas upstream.
Water supply. The aquifers that are closely connected with the river are often the source of water supply with wells situated in the inundated area. During floods, the facilities could be out of order or the water could be contaminated.
Sewage systems. During floods, sewage systems are overstrain and the contamination is transferred into the environment; on the other hand, the water from a river penetrates the urban areas through the sewage network. Of course, these relations depend on the return period of the event. Usually, we are not aware of the relations during the worst scenarios, PMF, and similar. Notably, system defects may affect areas far away from the river and floods.
4 Gaps in flood risk management
New development of structural and non structural measures. Technological development has brought many novelties in terms of structural and non-structural measures. Building costs have heavily decreased, while land values have risen. Yesterday’s optimal solutions may not be optimal tomorrow. Information technologies have offered new development possibilities and the use of non-structural measures.
Natura 2000. Conflicts and synergies between nature conservation and the achievement of good status of waters and flood mitigation.
Cost of non structural measures. It is relatively simple to determine the costs of structural measures. However, the costs of non-structural measures are much more difficult to assess, particularly if the analysis covers a longer time period.
Spatial planning. Flood safety is an element of spatial planning; many measures cannot be implemented without proper consideration of spatial planning. The question is how to find suitable types of connections and development between spatial planning, its dynamics and flood protection dynamics.
Real estate market. The real estate market is the most important stakeholder in flood risk management. Different protection levels are reflected in real estate values; it is necessary to properly evaluate and collect the funds for the implementation of measures.
Insurance products. In flood management, the right approach and/or form of cooperation related to insurance as an activity has not been found yet.
Riverfront. Riverfront and sea side areas are likely to be significant and special due to their position. The areas are greatly affected by different measures, particularly in connection to the real estate market and spatial planning.
Social risk assessment. Due to long-term implementation periods and impacts to the environment and the real estate market, in flood risk management a special analysis focused on the impacts to the social environment and development is necessary.
Time consuming implementation. The implementation of flood protection measures may take several decades. During the time, both the society and solutions evolve, i.e. solution that were once optimal and acceptable become obsolete. It is necessary to find proper solutions, i.e. ones that we will be able to adapt to the changed conditions. Hence, in planning, we must consider the different scenarios of possible future development.

By sturno