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Water for Life and Ecosystem Sustainability
ISSN: 2157-7617
Journal of Earth Science & Climatic Change

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  • Editorial   
  • J Earth Sci Climate Change 2012, Vol 3(1): e107
  • DOI: 10.4172/2157-7617.1000e107

Water for Life and Ecosystem Sustainability

Timothy O. Randhir*
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, USA
*Corresponding Author: Timothy O. Randhir, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA, Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Received: 17-May-2012 / Accepted Date: 19-May-2012 / Published Date: 21-May-2012 DOI: 10.4172/2157-7617.1000e107

Keywords: Water; Life; Ecosystem; Sustainability.

While water is plenty in our blue planet, less than one percent of the total usable freshwater is available for supporting ecosystems and humans. The very nature of this limitation is often overlooked in appropriation of water to human use. Water use is growing at twice the rate of population increase in the last century [1]. With rapid exploitation of this resource that constantly alter quality and availability of freshwater, humankind can be exposing itself to catastrophic risk. The United Nations estimate that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in watersheds facing absolute water scarcity. This is expected to worsen with impending climatic change through intensification, acceleration, and enhancement of the global hydrologic cycle [2]. Fresh water availability is increasingly reaching peak water limits needing more innovation and change in use behavior [3].

The importance of water goes beyond economic reasons and is a necessary resource for life and ecosystem sustenance. Life on earth is intricately tied to the state of water and its spatial distribution that any changes in the hydrologic cycle can substantially affect several ecosystem processes [4]. The role of water in sustaining biological processes highlights its importance in supporting basic life functions. Thus, the very nature of physical and chemical properties of water makes it unique with economically limited possibility of substitution. Water is one of main factors limiting future food production [5].

During the last century, water resources are increasingly being threatened from land use changes and climatic change. Loss in access to safe water affects the livelihood of millions throughout the world with serious implication on health and livelihood. In addition ecosystem impacts of water-related disasters (both deficit like droughts and excess like floods) can result in loss of ecosystem services. It is expected that water resource will continue to be impacted well into the future and there is a critical need for a renewed focus in this vital resource.

Fluctuations in water quantity can be associated with the state of ecosystems and economics of a region. Drought-prone regions continue to face higher stress resulting in depleted water supplies and poor water quality. Flood prone regions face increase threat of property damage, uncertainty, and constant change in river geomorphology. Extreme in hydrologic flows thus pose hydrologic and ecologic challenges that require a systems approach with multidisciplinary knowledge.

Water quality continues to be a major challenge in several parts of the world. While point sources are easier to target and mitigate, dealing with nonpoint sources is a big challenge. Sediment is a major contaminant affecting aquatic ecosystems, storage capacity, and economic activities dependent on water. Nutrient loss continues to be a major issue resulting in eutrophication of water bodies that impact aquatic communities and fisheries. Pathogens continue to be a major contaminant that affects millions in the world. Water-borne diseases are considered world leading killer with 3.4 million deaths worldwide every year. In addition to these, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals impact water bodies with serious implications on public health and ecosystems [6].

Future of water resources lies in using transdiciplinary approaches that bring information and knowledge from multiple disciplines and multiple scales (local, regional, and global) in handling this complex task. Understanding the complexity of hydrologic systems and nature of response to external stressors remain a challenge, and requires new interdisciplinary approaches like ecohydrology, landscape ecology, and ecological economics. Research into watershed science and policy offers scope in researching and managing water as a dynamic landscape system. Governance of water [7] needs more emphasis in handling allocation issues at multiple scales. Development and sustenance of effective institutions to manage and sustain water resources is an important area to be considered. Establishment of the right to water and sanitation [8] by world countries become an important step in equitable distribution of water for satisfying basic needs.

With the advent of fast computing, it is now easier to process extensive amount of spatial and temporal data on water resources. Computer modeling is becoming a necessary tool to understand system dynamics and in assessment of management alternatives. Geographic Information Systems can provide a framework to analyze multiple datasets for spatial research and decision making. An important area of water research is modeling and handling uncertainty. Development of scientific methods to define and quantify uncertainty facing water resources could be useful in effective decisions and policy. Water resources management often deals with achieving multiple objectives in resource use, which requires the use of Multi Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) [9] so as to balance a variety of objectives into a an integrated decision framework.

Education and awareness of water issues at multiple scales is critical to change water use behavior and to achieve consistent efforts among water users. Innovation in design of structural practices for conservation and efficiency need innovation and Transdisciplinary efforts among scientists, citizens, agencies, and countries. In addition, cooperative solutions and careful management of water resources are critical to avoid conflicts and misuse of water resource commons. As water resources face increasing pressure from climatic change and human appropriation, there is a critical need to link science and policy toward sustaining the vital resource for sustaining human and ecosystem needs.


  1. United Nations (2012) Water Scarcity, United Nations- Water Factsheet on Water Scarcity.
  2. Bates BC, Kundzewicz ZW, Wu S, Palutikof JP (2008) IPCC Secretariat, Geneva, 210 pp.
  3. Gleik PH, Palaniappan M (2010) Peak Water limits to freshwater withdrawal and use, PNAS 107: 11155-11162.
  4. Postel S, Richter BD (2003) Rivers for life: Managing Water for People and Nature. Island Press: Washington, DC.
  5. Boelee E (2011) Ecosystems, water and food security. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme, Colombo: International Water management institute.
  6. UNEP (1999) The state of the Environment. GEO-2000: Global Environment Outlook. United Nations Environment Programme.
  7. United Nations (2006) Water: A Shared Responsibility, The United Nations World Water Development Report 2.
  8. United Nations (2010) The Right to Water. Fact sheet No. 35, United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Health Organization.
  9. Randhir TO, Shriver DM (2009) Multiattribute optimization of restoration options: Designing incentives for watershed management. Water Resources Research 45: 13.

Citation: Randhir TO (2012) Water for Life and Ecosystem Sustainability. J Earth Sci Climate Change 3: e107. Doi: 10.4172/2157-7617.1000e107

Copyright: ©2012 Randhir TO. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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