About the authors
Mark Robinson and Roy Ward
Areas of expertise:
Environmental Hydrology, especially the role of land cover and land management upon river flows
Mark Robinson and Roy Ward are authors of key handbook, Hydrology: Principles and Processes.
This year, the UN’s World Water Day is dedicated to the concept of “Nature for Water”. What do you think/hope this will achieve?
Raising the awareness of the advantages of ‘soft’ environmental solutions in place, and alongside, ‘hard’ engineering solutions which may result in unanticipated side effects.
Why are nature-based solutions and environmental considerations in water important?
Nature’s development has been critically controlled and shaped by water: its availability – abundance or shortage, its reliability – variations and extremes; its present pattern and distribution are shaped by the local hydrology.
There is growing public awareness of the interaction and interdependence of nature in its widest sense and human activities, which is influencing policy makers to consider alternative solutions to the increasing environmental pressures as population grows. Governments are awakening to the potential benefits of providing public funding for public good, such as agri-environment schemes and reforestation.
However, while it is very attractive to accept statements such as ‘forestry delays and reduces floods’ – because it is what we want to hear and believe – it can be very tempting not to challenge unsubstantiated claims critically. That is why a proper understanding of the underlying hydrological principles and processes are so important!
Nature-based solutions are not a universal panacea and should be seen as potentially offering a means of supplementing artificial water infrastructures or even reducing the need for more ‘hard’ engineering interventions. Care should be taken that they are not be used to either give false reassurance of flood protection to downstream residents or be used as an excuse to avoid other protection measures or even to encourage further development. We need an evidence-based approach to assess their role in conjunction with other types of water management.
In recent years in the water industry, what do you think are the most significant developments in nature-based solutions?
There has been a welcome move away from rigid concrete channels to control flood flows to more natural flood channels with planned over-bank storage and overbank flow. There is also good evidence that natural water purification methods by land management can reduce the need for complex and expensive water treatment.
It can be argued that whereas ‘engineering solutions’ are often imposed from above, ‘nature-based solutions’ can be more readily understood by the general public and provide a focus for involving local communities in deciding what they want for the future.
To learn more about World Water Day, visit the website.