Healthy Rivers

Civil Society Guide to Healthy Rivers and Climate Resilience

The Baker River in Patagonia, South America. Photo: Kate Ross
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Healthy, flowing rivers are the lifelines of our planet. They provide people with water, food, medicines, building materials, land-replenishing silts, navigation, recreation, and cultural and spiritual strength. Rivers and their catchments – and the rich variety of life they sustain – reduce the impacts of floods and droughts, support forests, recharge groundwater supplies, sustain fisheries, and maintain the ecological integrity of local ecosystems. Yet rivers and riverine ecosystems are also one of the most threatened in the world, and climate change brings serious new threats to these

Planning for Dam Decommissioning as an Environmental Priority

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Dams do not last forever. While countries like India and China are in the middle of a dam building spree, there is no proper mechanism for periodic assessment of the performance of these dams. India is yet to have clearly defined, legally binding accountability mechanisms in case of dam failures. It is time India and her neighbors start seriously planning for dam decommissioning as a viable option for restoring the ecology of rivers and creating more free-flowing rivers.

Environmental Flows

Rio Pascua, Patagonia
A river's flow is its heartbeat. Freshwater plants and animals have evolved with, and depend upon, natural patterns of hydrological variability. Naturally high and low water levels create habitat conditions essential to reproduction and growth, and drive ecological processes required for ecosystem health. Flood pulses move sediment that maintains the form and function of rivers. Seasonal inundation of floodplains and wetlands supports groundwater recharge. And the flow of freshwater to estuaries prevents saline intrusion into coastal aquifers. We all depend on healthy river flows.

Dam Removal

A dam is not forever. Today, more communities than ever are considering the option of removing or modifying dams that have damaged local riverine ecosystems, outlived their usefulness, or become a safety hazard. However, there are a range of ways to restore a dammed river, from fully removing the structure to modifying its operation. Decommissioning of dams has primarily taken place in the US and Europe, but the trend is going worldwide, as climate change makes the safety of dams and the high cost of retrofitting them a serious argument for removal.

River Basin Basics

Buba River, Guinea-Bissau
Land and water are ecologically linked in a natural system called a catchment, drainage basin, or watershed. We are all connected through watersheds. A watershed is a web of life. The life it supports is interconnected, meaning every creature and plant depends on other creatures and plants in the watershed for sustenance. If the whole watershed is like our bodies, then rivers are like our veins – coursing with life and crucial to sustaining it. Learn how they work in this simple summary.
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