Water neutrality and its biodiversity benefits

5 11 2008

blog-water-balance-200x200The world’s freshwater ecosystems are in trouble. We’ve extracted, poisoned, polluted, damned and diverted a large proportion of the finite (and rather small!) amount of freshwater on the planet. Now, most people might immediately see the problem here from a selfish perspective – no clean, abundant water source = human disease, suffering and death. Definitely something to avoid, and a problem that all Australians are facing (i.e., it’s not just restricted to developing nations). Just look at the Murray-Darling problem.

In addition to affecting our own personal well-being, freshwater ecosystems are thought to support over 10000 fish species worldwide, and the majority of amphibians and aquatic reptiles. Current estimates suggest that about 1/3 of all vertebrate biodiversity (in this case, number of species) is confined to freshwater. As an example, the Mekong River system alone is thought to support up to 1700 different species of fish.

So, what are some of the ways forward? The concept of ‘water neutrality’ is essentially the wet version of carbon neutrality. It basically means that water usage can be offset by interventions to improve freshwater habitats and supply.

A great new paper by Nel and colleagues published online in Conservation Letters entitled Water neutrality: a first quantitative framework for investing in water in South Africa (definitely one for the Potential list) gives us a good model for how water neutrality should work. Using a South African example, they describe a scheme where investors are required to (1) review their water use, (2) implement a reduction strategy and (3) replenish water to hydrological systems through the investment in catchment services equivalent to their water use. It’s in this last act that the ‘neutrality’ can be achieved for the betterment of biodiversity – in the South African example, participants replenish their water use through investment in clearing of water-intensive invasive alien plants that choke freshwater systems and otherwise use much of the available water. And we all know how destructive invasive species can be (see previous post on this subject).

Not only does the scheme produce more water, it restores fragile freshwater ecosystems and does so within the economic framework that allows schemes like carbon trading to operate. We desperately need something like this in Australia. Imagine, more water for everyone AND healthy river systems (again, think Murray-Darling) – all paid for by previously water-intensive, but now ‘water-neutral’ firms. Imagine seeing labels on Australian produce that say ‘This is a Water Neutral product that supports freshwater ecosystem health’.

CJA Bradshaw

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12 01 2015
It’s all about the variation, stupid | ConservationBytes.com

[…] by planting another forest elsewhere. While it sounds attractive, like carbon offsetting or even water neutrality, you can’t recreate a perfectly functioning, resilient native forest no matter how hard you […]

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29 11 2013
King for a day – what conservation policies would you make? | ConservationBytes.com

[…] would implement a national water neutrality […]

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2 04 2012
when humans suddenly became intelligent « Green Resistance (teaching, organizing, and eco-thinking)

[…] ecosystem services, including inter alia global-scale carbon taxes, water trading, pollination valuation and nutrient cycling, are to be set up immediately within standard […]

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14 02 2009
Toilet Torrens II: The Plot Sickens « ConservationBytes.com

[…] invasive plants that line the river’s edge (see photos below), the implementation of a water neutrality scheme, and the removal of hundreds of untreated drainage pipes, they are willing to spend over $1 million […]

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12 02 2009
Adelaide’s shame - the ‘River’ (toilet) Torrens « ConservationBytes.com

[…] So, we need to minimise waste. A paper I recently covered in ConservationBytes.com detailed how a water neutrality programme would benefit water supply AND biodiversity. The idea is relatively simple – the water allocated to industry, residents, etc. is taxed […]

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6 11 2008
Corey Bradshaw

For more information on the state of the Murray River, see http://blog.litfuse.com.au/2007/10/25/the-future-of-water-in-south-australia/

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5 11 2008
Corey Bradshaw

For more water-related policy and science information for Australia, I recommend visiting Mike Young’s website Water Droplets .

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