Integrated watershed management for river
conservation: perspectives from experiences in
Australia and the United States
B.P. Hooper and R.D. Margerum
A river valley is an integrated system, in which there are strong ecological relationships between the rivers and land systems of the valley. Rivers act as hydrological conduits receiving water from precipitation, infiltration and groundwater movement, transferring water across the landscape to watershed outlets, such as another river, lakes, estuaries or oceans. The ecological health of rivers reflects the ecological health of the land systems in the basin, and the impacts of land-management practices on riverine ecological processes.
Linking water and land-resource management is an attractive and sound approach, especially if done on a watershed basis (Burton, 1988a). A watershed is characterized by a clearly defined boundary, determined by its geomorphological, geological and hydrological history. The nature of hydrological linkages suggests that a river basin is a natural unit of management for river conservation. However, river basin boundaries may not reflect groundwater or ecological boundaries, prevailing social networks or administrative boundaries (e.g. Davies and Walker, 1986). This implies that other management units may be more appropriate, such as bioregions or regions defined by social networks and information flows. However, while, a regional approach may be appropriate at times, watersheds and river basins provide the most useful management area for river conservation, because a watershed divide is the natural boundary between watershed runoff and stream flow.
We suggest that integrated watershed management (IWM) provides a model for river conservation. The increased recognition of ecosystem complexity and heightened awareness of competing uses means that natural resource management can no longer be based on single-issue management planning. An integrated approach using a full range of stakeholders not only recognizes the ecological complexity of river systems, but also acknowledges the political and institutional difficulties of planning and policy implementation (see Showers, this volume).
The use of stakeholders who view management of rivers in a watershed context is radically different from past government practices and, in some locations, studies demonstrate a reluctance to adopt the new paradigm of participatory management. The challenge remains to develop robust institutional arrangements based on participatory decision-making and stakeholder involvement, that can withstand the vagaries of government-funding cutbacks, political interference and changing public perceptions of the efficacy of IWM.
This chapter analyses IWM as a planning process, defining it, describing selected examples of its use in Australia and the United States, and discussing achievements in, and impediments to, implementing IWM.