Robinson Christopher Thomas

Alp Water Scarce - Water Management Strategies against Water Scarcity in the Alps: Optimal Ecological Discharge (Work package 7)

Project Number: CH-3845
Project Type: Coordinating_Project
Project Duration: 10/01/2008 - 09/30/2011 project completed
Funding Source: EU ,
Project Leader: PD Dr. Christopher Thomas Robinson
Fliessgewässerökologie, Fliessgewässersysteme
Aquatische Ökologie (ECO)
Überlandstrasse 133
8600 Dübendorf
Phone: +41 (0) 58 765 53 17 ; +41 (0) 58 765 51 32
FAX: +41 (0) 58 765 53 15
e-Mail: christopher.robinson(at)

related to this project.
for which the project has a relevance.

Research Areas:

environmental sciences
hydrology, limnology, glaciology

Water management Territorial development Technology transfer

Final conclusions
Main challenges in ecological quantitative descriptors definition for future integration in water management new strategies
The ultimate challenge of ecologically sustainable water management is to design and implement quantitative descriptors in a water management program that stores and diverts > 99 of 100 water for human purposes in a manner that does not cause affected ecosystems to degrade or simplify. This quest for balance necessarily implies that there is a limit to the amount of water that can be withdrawn from a river, and a limit in the degree to which the shape of a river’s natural flow patterns can be altered. These limits are defined by the ecosystem’s requirements for water. Human extraction or manipulation that exceeds these limits will, in time, compromise the ecological integrity of the affected ecosystems, resulting in the loss of native species and valuable ecosystem products and services for society. With human uses of water and our understanding of ecosystems continually evolving, the solutions for meeting both ecosystem and human needs will evolve over time as well. Thus, ecologically sustainable water management is an iterative process in which both human water demands and ecosystem requirements are defined, refined, and modified to meet human and ecosystem sustainability now and in the future, rather than a single, one-time solution. This implies an aggressive and continual search for compatibility between ecosystem and human water needs, developing quantitative descriptors which are easy to apply and requires a commitment from all parties to ongoing participation in an active dialogue (Richter et al., 2003). However present and emerging challenges in water management must take an integrative approach. Most novel developments in ecological quantitative descriptors must be integrated from a holistic catchment scale that incorporates ecological impacts along with societal viewpoints as well as acceptance. Present challenges that require effective quantitative descriptors include hydropower expansion and river restoration, especially in the alpine regions. Hydropower, in particular, must be evaluated in terms of sustaining flow regimes and minimizing the impacts of hydropeaking. New designs are currently being implemented and new descriptors may be needed to measure success or failure. For instance, the 2010 revision of the Swiss Federal Water Protection Law will require incorporation of novel descriptors for restoration measures implemented to reduce the effects of hydropeaking such as through slow release reservoirs or providing more space for some fluvial systems. The increase in small hydropower plants also beckons the need of prioritizing catchments for development while sustaining ecological integrity and ecosystem services. An emerging issue in most alpine countries is the input of micropullutants into rivers and streams. Micropollutants derive from both point and non-point sources, requiring new techniques for identification and description. New water laws are being implemented currently that require WWTPs to reduce the point source of micropollutants, and other quantitative detection technologies are being developed to better define non-point sources of micropollutants, e.g. from gardens and agricultural lands or urban inputs. Although a variety of options are available to reduce inputs of micropollutants, there is still a strong need for the development of quantitative descriptors and the effects of these pollutants on aquatic environments. Introduced and invasive species have a long history with humans in the alpine landscape. Although much of the impact from invasives is in more lowland rivers via water transfers across basins, introduced and invasive species are expected and more likely in alpine regions under scenarios of climate change. Novel aquatic taxa are already colonizing alpine streams as these landscapes are being transformed, and adequate quantitative descriptors are needed to measure possible ecosystem impacts and changes in ecosystem properties. Limitations to invasive spread may require some descriptor akin to an early warning system. Restoration may even assist in the spread of some invasive species. An integrated water management perspective is clearly needed to meet these emerging issues and adapt to unexpected issues that emerge in the future, a difficult task at best, that must include principals of predictive capabilities, uncertainty, and decision processes. Regardless, transparency is imperative in any integrated management program, and should be part of indicator development, especially to reduce conflicts between interest groups while meeting federal regulations. Changes in water laws and implementation of the water framework directive require quantitative indicators for monitoring change, and consistent monitoring is needed to quantitatively test developed indicators. The number and types of indicators will obviously change as new challenges emerge, although most current measures will need to be sustained and integrated to maintain monitoring needs and practices. We have developed a initial set of quantitative indicators suitable to be integrated in an ecologically sustainable water management program. There are many entry points into this > 100 of 100 process, but our experience suggests that the development of quantitative descriptors is essential to achieving ecological sustainability.

Leading questions:
The main challenges of this project are to create local Early Warning Systems against Water Scarcity in the Alps based on sound and perennial monitoring and modeling and anchored strongly and actively within a Stakeholder Forum linked across comparative and contrasting regions across the Alps. The Early Warning System is based on the linkage and improvement of field monitoring and assemblage of qualitative and quantitative data derived from anthropogenic water use in selected pilot regions in France, Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland. The aims are to implement water management at the short term (annual) scale as well as the long term (future scenarios) scale based on modeling under climate change and anthropogenic scenarios. Future water shortages should be prognosed and prevented by innovative measures of mitigation and adaptation. Awareness raising and stakeholder interaction will form an important part of problem identification, participation in the project, dissemination of results and implementation of new approaches.



Doering M, Robinson C, 2011: Optimal Ecologigcal dicharge. Final Report of Work Package 7 of teh Alp-Water_Scarce project (Alpien Space Porgramme). EAWAG Dübendorf

All publications of the Al–Water–Scarce project (2009 - 2011)

Last update: 3/20/18
Source of data: ProClim- Research InfoSystem (1993-2020)
Update the data of project: CH-3845

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