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NGI Co-Director Shares Words of the Wise to Protect Water Resources

September 24, 2014

Limited water resources and shortages created by population and economic growth, climate change, pollution, and other factors have major impacts on our social, economic and environmental well-being. The world's water is increasingly becoming degraded in quality, threatening the health of people and ecosystems and increasing the cost of treatment. Steve Ashby, Co-Director of the Northern Gulf Institute, recently attended the IPN-Israel Water Week (I2W2) international conference in Mexico City, Mexico which primarily focused on water resource management in watersheds such as lakes, groundwater, irrigation and potable water supply.

The I2W2 conference brought in over 150 participants from educational institutions, research organizations and government and industry groups from countries such as Mexico, Israel, India, Switzerland and the United States. Ashby was an invited keynote speaker and his presentation to the group titled, Hydrologic Resources: An Ecosystem Based Approach for Coastal Management, provided a holistic approach by connecting watershed processes to estuarine and coastal environments. Coastal areas are complex systems with unique habitats, recreational opportunities, economic activities, and highly urbanized areas, as well as being the downstream area of a watershed.

Ashby said, "I explained how the critical resources of coastal environments such as seafood, industry, and tourism were impacted by watershed processes and the need to translate the science into understandable terms for the general public."

The NGI expert's presentation also stressed how catchment basin management impacts the public in terms of human well-being and quality of life and translated those concerns into tips of how residents could influence politicians to improve management actions. For instance, recent studies of some coastal systems indicate that hydrologic modifications and urbanization are the two top stressors that threaten hydrologic regimes, followed by upstream management flood damage reduction and navigation.

"Hydrologic modifications impact the quantity, quality, and timing of freshwater inflows that are critical to coastal habitats. Decreased freshwater flows will increase the salinity in an estuary and greatly alter the habitat quality." Ashby further clarified, "For non-mobile organisms such as oysters, this could greatly impact the local fishery and commercial harvest. Even mobile marine species, such as crabs and shrimp utilize estuaries during their life cycles and require a variety of salinity gradients at critical times."

Ashby also emphasized that it is important to reap the knowledge from citizens, politicians, industry, scientists and managers to create that delicate balance between societal and environmental needs. Ecosystem based management's goal is to provide a framework that can ultimately influence the way we think about, value and manage our water resources.