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Integrated River Basin Management

Integrated River Basin Management, which unites policy-makers from various administrative sub-regions with stakeholders from numerous interest groups, is vital for ensuring a sustainable water supply.

River basins are dynamic over space and time, and a change in any single component of a river basin system has implications for the whole system. To understand the system dynamics and help solve problems in a river basin, a holistic, multi-sector approach at the river basin scale is needed. A river basin approach is now recognized as a comprehensive basis for more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable water resource management. Integrated river basin management (IRBM) emerged from the need to meet and alleviate the global water crisis (WWF 2011). According to the Global Water Partnership (2000), IRBM is defined as “the process of coordinating conservation, management and development of water, land and related resources across sectors within a given river basin, in order to maximize the economic and social benefits derived from water resources in an equitable manner while preserving and, where necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems."

Effective basin information collection and usage are critical first steps for the reliable implementation of IRBM, particularly when we plan for future changes in climate and continuous land development. Availability of sufficient and timely information is the key to effective investigation of the mechanisms of interaction among climate, water, and the landscape. Effective decision-making, long-term planning, and the management of current and emerging water crises all depend upon information quality and availability. While many university researchers and local and regional agencies have been collecting water data, such data is currently housed in a fragmented way, limiting utility for integrated river basin planning and management.

Integrating fragmented information regarding water-related issues in developing adaptation planning is a priority for management agencies because of the need to prepare for negative anthropogenic drivers such as global warming and land use change across different water sectors with spatial scales (e.g., Wilby et al., 2009; UNDP, 2007; WRI, 2007). Through information integration, fragmented existing data can be re-organized in a way that allows users to easily incorporate complex, massive data sets into their water management and planning. This process can maximize the scientific community’s capacity to identify critical water issues and then better understand and adapt to climate and land use change (Washington et al., 2006).

Transdisciplinary research is an emerging trend in hydrological sciences, earth sciences, environmental sciences, and water resources management. Allied disciplines collaborate to investigate and address the most critical policy and management issues. This integrated approach supports management decision-making by taking into account all aspects of the water cycle and its interactions with climatological, ecological, geomorphological, biogeochemical, and human systems. This trend reflects an understanding that analysis of water-related processes can no longer be based solely on a single perspective.

We realize that the historic separation between scientific investigation of water issues and water resources management is no longer tenable. Consequently, place-based scientific studies are an effective way to understand and predict interactions among water systems, climate change, land use, the built environment, and ecosystem function and services. The new watershed science and management paradigm uses real-time, integrated cross-disciplinary information and simulation models to analyze watersheds and formulate management policy and practice. These approaches and outcomes will not only be immediately useful to the water resource community in this region, but will also help the worldwide water community to ensure the sustainable use of water resources and maintaining ecosystem services. With explicit community partner engagement, an interdisciplinary team of water resources researchers at PSU will address such impending need for identifying knowledge and information gaps and information integration toward sustainable river basin management. 

Pool-and-weir fish ladder at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River