FULL CUP | Volume 4

Drinking Water and Integrated Watershed Management

by Paul D. Robillard, Ph.D., Executive Director
World Water Watch, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Member, World Water Center Advisory Panel

The task of supplying high quality drinking water to those in need is a great challenge and extremely rewarding for those organizations working with local communities when projects are completed.

The mission of the World Water Center (WWC) to act as a clearinghouse to facilitate partnerships for these projects is of great help to nonprofit organizations like World Water Watch. It is through these types of partnerships that coalitions of organizations can more effectively develop assistance to communities. WWC provides a much needed information network for the exchange of water supply projects and emerging water supply solutions between communities and nonprofits.

Text Box:    Figure 1:  A rural community sharing a work day on its local water system.  World Water Watch ( WWW ) assists communities and other nonprofits in the design and operation of water supply systems. With approximately 120 experts working with WWW on all aspects of water supply development, protection, treatment and remediation, WWW has worked with over 60 partner organizations on a wide variety of water supply topics.

Two aspects of this work should be emphasized. First, is the design of water supply systems that can be maintained by communities (Figure 1). Without proper maintenance water supply systems often fail after only a few years of operation due to a host of natural and mechanical problems which are common to all types of infrastructure projects. The classic example is failure of pumps in water supply distribution systems. Even “gravity systems” which do not rely on pumps can fail when pipelines are washed out in storms or sediment clogs lines.

There are many other ways in which systems fail. On the bright side, there are well established methods to maintain systems that ensure decades of reliable service. World Water Watch works with communities not only to develop new water supply sources but to design systems that include well proven maintenance components and procedures.

Integrated Watershed Management -- A New Concept

The second aspect of water supply systems that WWW supports is the development of “Integrated Watershed Management” (IWM) projects. IWM programs are particularly important to protect water supply sources and manage local surface and groundwater supplies in a sustainable manner.

IWM expands previous river basin and watershed limitations by emphasizing participation of all communities and private and public agencies in the allocation, use and management of water resources. Participation and representation of stakeholders in IWM programs are new, important and challenging. The words “integration” and “management” are key terms where water resource assessments and community needs are included in planning and implementing projects. Management includes protection and allocation of water sources, as well as treatment and remediation to facilitate water usage according to project objectives. Another new concept introduced into IWM relates to “sustainable” methods. Sustainability refers to the long-term management of water resources without depleting or contaminating supplies.

Initial efforts to establish IWM programs were based on themes from international forums, such as the Mar del Plata Conference (1977) and the International Conference on Water and the Environment (1992), which proposed guiding principles, such as:

  • Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development, and the environment.
  • Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners, and policy-makers at all levels.
  • Women play a central role in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water.

From these basic principles, IWM planning and implementation have evolved to diverse interpretations and planning efforts. Consequently, definitions of IWM are quite varied. For example:

“IWM is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems” (Global Water Partnership, 2000)


WWW Initiatives

One of World Water Watch’s major initiatives, AMZnet (Amazon Monitoring Network), includes the delineation of watersheds in the Napo River Basin in Ecuador for the primary purpose of protecting water supply source areas in an IWM context. Similarly, WWW is partnering with Jatun Sacha, a local nonprofit in Ecuador, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop water supply treatment systems for eight communities in Ecuador. The MIT component will develop appropriate pre-treatment, course filtration, settling and storage, coagulation and precipitation, fine filtration and disinfection measures as needed at the village level as a model for wider applications. World Water Watch will develop an Integrated Watershed Management program to support sustainable solutions.

In addition, WWW will help provide solar energy sources for treatment processes where needed.

Text Box:    Figure 2: Irrigation canal used for water supply

World Water Watch & World Water Center -- Looking to the Future

As World Water Watch becomes increasingly involved in projects and partnerships, the demands on the organization grow also. Our current priority community water supply system is for the village of Agato, Ecuador in the northern highlands.

If you are interested in supporting this project or other WWW activities please visit our website ( www.worldwaterwatch.org). All donations go to community projects. We also will keep you informed of project progress.

The number of people in the world without access to clean, reliable water supplies (Figure 2) is over one billion, yet the number of organizations trying to reach this huge needy population is small, so we must all work together.

We at World Water Watch appreciate the important and very much needed coordination that the World Water Center provides.

Other Items of Note

Scientific American : Confronting a World Freshwater Crisis

In its July 2008 issue a Scientific American special report concludes that the world is facing a freshwater crisis. “As demand for freshwater soars, planetary supplies are becoming unpredictable.”

“Overstretched freshwater supplies will increasingly influence the way we live. Existing technologies could avert a global water crisis, but they must be implemented soon,” say the authors, adding that:

  • “Global freshwater resources are threatened by rising demands from many quarters. Growing populations need ever more water for drinking, hygiene, sanitation, food production and industry. Climate change, meanwhile, is expected to contribute to droughts.
  • “Policymakers need to figure out how to supply water without degrading the natural ecosystems that provide it.
  • “Existing low-tech approaches can help prevent scarcity, as can ways to boost supplies, such as improved methods to desalinate water.
  • “But governments at all levels need to start setting policies and making investments in infrastructure for water conservation now.”
Read the full report at http://tinyurl.com/6rdczu

International Water Conference: Water Crisis Underlies World Food Crisis

At the recent 18 th International Water Conference in Stockholm the opening speaker, Jim Leape, told participants that the world's supplies of clean, fresh water cannot sustain today's "profligate" use and inadequate management, which have brought shrinking food supplies and rising food costs to most countries.

"Behind the world food crisis is a global freshwater crisis, expected to rapidly worsen as climate change impacts intensify," said Leape, Director-General of the World Wildlife Fund. "Irrigation-fed agriculture provides 45 percent of the world's food supplies, and without it, we could not feed our planet's population of six billion people." He warned that many of the world's irrigation areas are highly stressed and drawing more water than rivers and groundwater reserves can sustain.

For more details, go to http://tinyurl.com/6gjppr

World Water Center Seeks Volunteers

Whether you are a ‘water professional’ or ‘merely interested’ in helping to solve the world’s need for safe, clean water, you can help the World Water Center build and maintain its database of organizations and projects, maintain its website, recruit or lead other volunteers, etc. Email info@worldwatercenter.org with your contact information, location, and interest/experience.
Your help is needed! Donate now!

Millions of people are living with inadequate and unsafe water supplies around the world. They need our help . . . YOUR HELP! You can make a significant difference in their lives by supporting the World Water Center and its mission of (1) bringing together organizations that can partner on projects to provide safe, reliable water and (2) educating and informing the public about the urgent need for action to supply safe, clean water to all the world’s population.

Please help by donating NOW to the World Water Center. Whatever you can afford . . . $1000 . . . $100 . . . or just $10. You can safely donate on-line at www.worldwatercenter.org/donate_ now.html or by sending your check to World Water Center, 125 S. Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, VA 22401. All donations are tax deductible under U.S. law.


The World Water Center is an independent, non-partisan charitable corporation (501(c)3) dedicated to promoting partnerships between organizations to work together and share information on programs and projects to improve practices, processes, policies, and infrastructure for managing and improving the world’s increasingly fragile supply of safe, potable water and other water resources. Visit our website at


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