Newsletter and Technical Publications
Lakes and Reservoirs vol. 3
Water Quality: The Impact of Eutrophication
Social, Cultural, Institutional and Economic Aspects of
The Economic Value of Water Resources
|Photo 29: Clean water flowing from a drinking fountain in Venice, Italy.
Water resources are environmental assets and therefore have a price. There
are market-based methods to estimate costs and benefits, and these make it
possible to use cost- benefit analysis as a useful tool to assess the economic
effects of abatement of eutrophication or other pollution problems. Benefits
range from higher quality drinking water and reduced health risks (Photo 29) to
improved recreational uses (Photo 30). The effects on human health from the lack
of sanitation and the chronic effects of toxic algal blooms are two of the many
indirect effects resulting from eutrophication. Numerous cost-benefit analyses
of pollution abatement have clearly demonstrated that the total costs to society
of ‘no pollution reduction’ is much higher than at least a ‘reasonable pollution
|Photo 30: Some recreational use of lakes.
Consequently, it is necessary to examine the prevention of pollution and
restoration of water quality in lakes and reservoirs from an economic
standpoint. The result of such examinations should be applied to assess effluent
charges and green taxes. International experience shows that these economic
instruments are reasonably effective in improving water quality and solving
related water pollution problems. Thus, effective planning and management of
lakes and reservoirs depends not only on a sound understanding of these
water-bodies as ecological systems but also of their value to people as
recreational areas and water resources.
In the past, several management strategies were developed and applied to
solve problems of decreasing surface and groundwater quality. These were often a
response to acute critical situations resulting in increased costs of water. The
demand for good quality fresh water was only solved partially and locally; this
was because too few resources were allocated too late to solve the problems.
Early prevention is by far the cheapest method to avoid later pollution.
The need to integrate social and cultural
issues in a new management strategy
A new management approach is needed which integrates scientific and
technological knowledge with social, cultural and political issues for
sustainable development of water resources for human needs. The implementation
of the watershed concept by establishing national and international Watershed
Committees is fundamental in developing effective management strategies for
lakes and reservoirs. Based on the ecosystem concept and an integrated planning
approach, the training of decision-makers and managers is an indispensable
component in this strategy.
It is often not safe to consume water in developing countries. Changes to
perceptions of the value of water to meet changes in the management of water
resources, the need of the aquatic environment and the entire ecosystems in
these countries are needed. It will be difficult to make such changes given
current inertia towards the value of water, but public awareness and
environmental education are steps in the right direction.
Many factors affect water quality in developing countries, particularly
increasing eutrophication: industrialization, urban development, new land-use
practices and change in the use of water. Given these changes, it is important
to integrate hydrological, social, economic and cultural aspects with
scientifically-based knowledge of lakes and reservoirs. The social aspects of
eutrophication are often overwhelming in developing countries. The loss of jobs
resulting from heavy fish kills due to oxygen depletion is just one example of a
massive social impact resulting from eutrophication.
A new management strategy should recommend several alternatives to present
practices. For instance, one should recommend that soil erosion can be stopped
or at least reduced by stopping deforestation and burning techniques (Photo 31)
in farming. Implementing prevention, control and management of eutrophication
within an integrated strategy can provide new job opportunities and tools for
economic development, with corresponding social benefits.