Jean-Francois Donzier

Permanent Technical Secretary of the International Network of Basin Organizations

5 June 2015

water Q&A

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On Preserving Water Resources
5 June 2015
Jean-Francois Donzier | Permanent Technical Secretary of the International Network of Basin Organizations

water Q&A by RevolveTeam

An exclusive interview with Jean-Francois Donzier, Permanent Technical Secretary of the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), about the expansion of dams, the need for water preservation and the positive side of water management

  • Hydropower production is expected to double by 2020 with the focal point being Asia. What do you think about this?

    Increasing renewable energy production is a key issue for human wellbeing and economic development. Hydropower is inexpensive, produces no greenhouse gas emissions, and is renewable; it also allows adaptation to peak consumption and storage of the energy produced at low consumption. It could play a key role also for regulating flow regimes and help adapt to the effects of climate changes, which will increase the frequency, the intensity and the seriousness of floods and droughts. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in focus to address the general necessity to minimize its social impacts and to balance the water resources management and ecosystem protection requirements, with those of renewable energy production. There are about 58,000 dams with elevated heights larger than 15 meters around the world; 8,000 of which produce 90% of the total amount of hydro-energy used today. These figures continue to increase. The potential for its advanced development in Africa and Asia are also increased as Europe and North America maintain a large part of their technically and economically feasible sites. Many new dams are being developed in various projects and construction sites, and it is clear that excessive development of hydro-power infrastructure could contradict the objectives of the ‘good water statute’ – if it is not established in an integrated manner. Hydro-energy technology must calculate environmental requirements within is projected equation – in studies and production. It is not enough to study only hydro-energy with respect to its ability to share and store water or its ability to produce electricity. We must learn to minimize its environmental effects while considering real compensation measures: it is necessary to optimize electricity production while securing water allocation for all uses and environmental flows, minimizing flood and drought risks, protecting river ecology while taking into account social issues. The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol is now accepted by all its signatories and may address such concerns. New projects of big infrastructure must be carried out in conformity with negotiated and integrated basin management plans based on the principle of up-stream and down-stream solidarity. The hydro projects must avoid and prevent damages for down-stream populations and take into consideration agreements between riparian countries concerned in the case of transboundary rivers.

  • Some countries are increasingly forced to regulate water use and limit production in respective industries. Is water becoming more important than energy or should they be managed together?

    Water and energy must be managed together within the realm of the “water, energy and food security nexus” as these key issues are linked to global changes visible everywhere in the world. We need strong and lasting political will in the long-term to be able to face critical situations. The current circumstances are serious: the quality of water deteriorates, the aquatic environments are eutrophic, the ecosystems are destroyed or in poor ecological status, polluting waste is insufficiently treated, and the non-point source pollution – mainly from agricultural origin – is not controlled. Water is now, and for a long time will be: “the first victim of climate change”. By then, our rivers and aquifers will be significantly modified! What will we do for a supply of drinking water when catchments are dried up; or for hydropower, when dam reservoirs are no longer filled; or for food, when there’s shortage of irrigation water? What will we do for a supply of drinking water when catchments are dried up; or for hydropower, when dam reservoirs are no longer filled; or for food, when there’s shortage of irrigation water? What will we do if we remain unable to cool thermal power plants, or worse, nuclear power plants? How will we guarantee waterway transport or the production of fish for food? We must take action now to adapt to these inevitable changes. We must organize the management of water and aquatic ecosystems at the relevant level of basins, sub-basins, rivers, lakes and aquifers; and we must do this locally, nationally or internationally.

  • In an attempt to tackle water scarcity, some governments are embarking on large-scale projects to connect rivers. What implications will this have for river management?

    On this subject, it is useful to make a distinction between drought and scarcity, the latter being initially related to a permanent and structural imbalance between available resources and abstractions. Before providing water to poor regions that lack resources and have increasing and uncontrolled demands, stakeholders should introduce a new approach based on water preservation. Avoiding excessive wastages, detecting leaks, recycling, reusing treated waste water, recharging groundwater, desalinating sea water, taking measures to retain up-stream water, and finding methods for low-consumption must become priorities. If critical circumstances worsen, it will be more and more difficult to explain to the exceeding basin population why they have to give their precious water to another deficit basin or region where there is no effort to increase water efficiency. We must work “out of the water box" and in an inter-sectoral way. Nothing can be done in the future without the agreement and involvement of representatives from different economic sectors, local authorities and associations, all working in the field and who are the real agents of change. A partnership in particular between the sectors of electricity, navigation, mining and agriculture is essential. We must work “out of the water box" and in an inter-sectoral way. A water transfer outside of a given basin is to be considered as a new “water consumer” when establishing a resources balance within the basin management plan. Instilling public knowledge on the status of water resources and aquifer ecosystems is insufficient to allow real diagnostics, set priorities or implement responsible management and monitoring.

  • Is there a lack of internationally-binding water frameworks and is their implementation so difficult?

    I do not think so! Since the 1990s, water management at the level of basins of rivers, lakes or aquifers has experienced rapid development in many countries, which made it the basis of their national legislation or at least tested it in pilot river basins. The European Water Framework Directive of 2000 imposes, for example, good management of the national or international river basin districts to the 28 Member States and the candidate countries of the European Union. The management of the transboundary basins of the 276 rivers and hundreds of aquifers are taken more and more into account within Commissions, Authorities or International Basin Organizations, which are being created or strengthened on all continents. Significant progress has been made: basin management works when there is a strong will among all stakeholders!

  • Staumauer Spitallamm Grimselsee. Source: Sabine Wunderlin

  • River Lairig, Trossachs, Stirlingshire, Scotland. Source: Simon Swales/Flickr