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Access to freshwater is a global societal challenge

The long-term impact of freshwater allocation as demand increases and quality and availability decline is a major societal challenge, a new study claims.

Writing in Functional aquatic ecosystems, inland fisheries and the Millennium Development Goals, Randall Brummett, Malcolm Beveridge and Ian Cowx, explore the long-term effects of water abstraction, when the needs of local communities for access to freshwater are superseded by national requirements for water to meet power, food or climate change mitigation need.

The study explores the long-term ecosystem impact of water abstraction on fisheries and freshwater ecosystems within the context of modern society. It compares different uses of riverine ecosystems to understand current and future patterns of exploitation and to identify practical approaches to the management of these resources.

Sophisticated models of ecosystem function, used by scientists to determine environmental flows, are difficult to implement and have generally failed to reduce rates of biodiversity and habitat loss. This has caused the disenfranchisement of local communities affected by dam construction and water abstraction for industry and agriculture.

While having generally negative impacts on biodiversity and traditional lifestyles, creation of new infrastructure and active management generates national economic growth and employment.

There are no agreed standards upon which a fairer allocation of resources can be made, so a practical approach to the resolution of these conflicts is clearly needed.

Among other recommendations, the authors suggest that an intensification of usage in watersheds already allocated for human-resource use can spare precious land needed for biodiversity, to allow adaptation for the future.

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