Why and how should we manage water?


Why and how should we manage water?

Dursun Yıldız Civil Eng. Water Policy Specialist (MSc.)

19 May 2024 

Water is of great importance for the survival of  life in the world as a natural resource that is vital, in constant demand and cannot be replaced by any other substance. Unlike other natural resources, water resources not only meet the vital needs of life, but also contain economic, social, and environmental values. For this reason, it is important to balance economic, social and ecological goals in water management. The rapidly increasing world population since the mid-twentieth century has put the greatest pressure on water resources. The world population, which was 1 billion people at the beginning of the 19th century and two billion people at the beginning of the 20th century, reached 6 billion people at the beginning of the 21st century. The world population has increased by 2 billion people in the last 25 years and now exceeds 8 billion. Developing industry has also increased both usage and pollution pressure on water resources. In addition, increasing migration from rural to urban areas has also put pressure on water resources.

All these developments have led to the emergence of many new concepts regarding the management of water resources, especially starting from the second half of the 20th century. In this process, water has ceased to be the subject of only engineering disciplines and has become the subject of economics, sociology, ecology, international relations and social sciences. For this reason, water management and the development of water resources have begun to require an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary management approach.

As it is known, fresh water resources on our planet constitute a very small part of the total amount of water, about one percent. This amount of fresh water is unequally distributed around the world. For this reason, water resources are not infinite resources, but are considered finite resources depending on place and time. While some countries in the world experience physical water shortages, others suffer from economic water shortages, as in African countries. It cannot find sufficient financing to develop water resources.

Development of water resources and water management

Here we should talk about the difference between the concepts of water resources development, water resources management and water management. Development of water resources; It is defined as works aimed at carrying out many infrastructure constructions such as dams, water, transmission and distribution facilities, embankments on river banks, water purification and wastewater treatment facilities to evaluate the opportunities provided by water and prevent its damages. “Water resources management” helps to meet health, environmental, and development needs by using physical, social, environmental and economic planning tools. Water Management  covers the whole of various activities such as political and technical decisions regarding the development of water resources, rules regulating water rights and water allocation, determination of water tariffs, environmental protection, and public participation in water management. While these terms, development and management of water resources, can be used together, water management definition also includes activities related to the development of water resources in some technical reports.

River  Basin Water Management Concept

We can divide the process in water management into two: before and after the river basin management approach. Here, a river basin can be defined as a piece of land that contains surface and groundwater and where all surface water is carried by streams and rivers and reaches the sea or lake from a single point. In short, we can think of the basin as a region with natural geographical boundaries where water is collected and discharged by gravity. In fact, river basins should be considered not only as a geographical area but as a system that complements each other.

The importance of the river basin as a water management unit has been understood since the 1950s. The UN gave official support to the concept of basin-scale planning in 1956, and the UN Secretary-General expressed this view with the words "River basin management should be recognized as a necessary element of economic development". Initially, when water resources planning was carried out in basin management, the main goal was accepted as maximizing water supply security at the least cost. The protection of the ecosystem is partially taken into account here. However, since the 1970s, criticism has begun that this management approach neglects the protection of the ecosystem and contradicts the understanding of sustainable development. Later, the concept of integrated water resources management, which also takes these concepts into account, came to the fore. In this period, sustainable development was defined as "the development of social life without disturbing the natural cycles and ecosystem balance".

The term integrated within the concept of integrated water resources management refers to the relationship between water resources in the basin, human activities and water management systems and many objectives. The balance between economic, ecological and social goals in water management couldn't be achieved. These goals conflict with each other from time to time and some goals are compromised. Here, ecological goals are often compromised and the balance is disrupted to increase economic benefit.

In fact, there are no agreed upon methods and rules on how to implement integrated water resources management (IWRM).     IWRM  is accepted as a process consisting of successive decisions and a tool, that is, a strategy, to ensure sustainability. In fact, IWRM sets a sustainable management goal. To achieve this goal, "adaptive water management" must be a tool that fits national and regional spesific conditions. In harmonized water management, the process of learning by managing and managing by learning comes to the fore. In this system, there is a cyclical system of planning, implementing, monitoring, evaluating, and adaptation.


Water resources management system

The water management system can gain an integrated character, when the interaction between the water resources system, the water management system and the human activities system is taken into account. The relationships between these three basic systems are given in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Integrated water resources management system (1)

In order to ensure social and economic development in the Water Resources management system, supply and demand must be balanced over a long period without damaging the resource itself. For this, service water users and service providers need to make joint decisions. For this reason, the participatory management approach emerges as the most important element of sustainable water resources management.

 Why and how should we manage water?

Water is a vital natural resource for life and indispensable for many sectors. It is also an indispensable element of the development and development policies of countries. The increasing relationship of water with energy production, food production, and natural environmental security, as well as the fact that these issues are now accepted as national security issues by countries, has made water security a national security issue. Increasing pressures on water resources such as population growth, pollution, migration to cities and climate change have made water  management and water use important issues. Water management is a series of strategies, policies and practices aimed at ensuring efficient water use, protecting societies from the harms of excessive water and not being affected by the scarcity of water during dry periods.

In this context, water management is very important for the sustainable use of water resources and ensuring long-term access to water for future generations. Additionally, climate change is one of the most important factors affecting water resources. Increasing droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events caused by climate change negatively affect water resources. Water management aims to adapt to these variations and minimize water stress. Water management also includes taking measures to control water pollution, maintaining the quality of water, and reducing sources of pollution. In addition, the relationship between water and energy production has increased over the last 40 years. Water supply has become more energy dependent and electrical energy production has become more water dependent. Therefore, water management also aims to effectively use water resources for energy production and optimize water use of industrial activities.

On average, 70% of the water in the world is used for agricultural irrigation purposes. Irrigated agriculture is also very important to ensure food security of the increasing population. To ensure the sustainability of agricultural production, water management is required to ensure efficient water use.

In summary, sustainable water resources management is important in meeting the basic needs of societies. Therefore, good water management should aim to develop water resources in a way that is sensitive to the natural environment, use them efficiently, distribute them fairly, and ensure everyone has access to water resources.

To achieve these goals, water management requires water policies. Water Policies are plans and practices aimed at basic preferences and goals in water management. Policies to be implemented in water management should primarily focus on human needs and the natural environment protection. The main reason for this is that water should be accepted as a human right since it is a vital resource. Although the concept of water as a human right is generally accepted, there are disruptions in the implementation of the water rights concept. Currently, 2 billion people, corresponding to a quarter of the world's population, have difficulty accessing safe drinking water. In addition, attempts to accept water as an economic commodity and commercialize water services continue, although they have failed in many countries.

For these reasons, it should be essential in water management that drinking   water supply services be provided as a public service without being subject to trade. For this reason, water management should be implemented at the basin scale, implementing demand and supply water management concepts together in response to the increasing pressures on water resources.

The concept of integrated management of water at the basin scale is generally accepted. In addition, water management must meet the increasing additional water demands without devoloping  new water resources. For this purpose, water management first should reduce losses and leaks in the networks and adopt the approach of using the available water in the most efficient way by applying innovative water use concepts.


Innovative water concepts include  treated wastewater, gray water use and rainwater harvesting, using digital water technologies in water services management, increasing efficiency, switching to flexible and participatory water management, and disaster-resistant water infrastructure

Water users, who are the other pillar of water management, also need to review their water usage habits and tend to use water more efficiently. For this reason, water management should give priority to efforts to develop social awareness on this issue.



[1] Bilen Özden (2009) Türkiye’nin Su Gündemi .Su Yönetimi ve AB Su Politikaları.DSİ yayını Ankara

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