The World's Water Volume 7: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources

The World's Water Volume 7: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources

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Produced biennially, The World's Water is the mcomprehensive and up-to-to date source of information and analysis on freshwater resources. Each new volume examines critical global trends and offers the best data available on a variety of topics related to water.

Volume 7 features chapters on U.S. water policy, transboundary waters, and the effects of fossil fuel production on water resources, among other timely issues. Water briefs provide concise updates on topics including bottled water, The Great Lakes Water Agreement, and water and security.

The World's Water is coauthored by MacArthur "genius" Peter H. Gleick and his colleagues at the world-renowned Pacific Institute. Since the first volume was published in 1998, the series has become an indispensable resource for professionals in governmagencies and nongovernmental organizations, researchers, students, and anyone concerned with water and its use.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610910484
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 09/26/2012
Series: World's Water
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 440
File size: 82 MB
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About the Author

Peter H. Gleick is Presidof the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California, and is a recipiof the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for his work on water issues.

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The World's Water Volume 7

The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources

By Peter H. Gleick


Copyright © 2012 Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-048-4


Climate Change and Transboundary Waters

Heather Cooley, Juliet Christian-Smith, Peter H. Gleick, Lucy Allen, and Michael J. Cohen

Freshwater is a fundamental resource, integral to all ecological and societal activities, including food and energy production, transportation, waste disposal, industrial development, habitat for fish species, and human health. Yet freshwater resources are unevenly and irregularly distributed, with some regions of the world extremely short of water. Political borders and boundaries rarely coincide with borders of watersheds, ensuring that politics inevitably intrude on water policy. Indeed, over 260 river basins are shared by two or more nations. Just as oil creates disputes between states, water also plays a role in international conflicts. Inequities in the distribution, use, and consequences of water management have been a source of tension and dispute. In addition, as previous volumes of The World's Water have explored (see, for example, Gleick 1998), water resources have been used to achieve military and political goals, and water systems and infrastructure, such as dams and supply canals, have long been military targets.

In 1994, the Pacific Institute created the Water Conflict Chronology, which summarizes historical disputes over water resources (Gleick 1994, Hatami and Gleick 1994). Each volume of The World's Water, including this one, contains detailed chronologies of water-related disputes, and an updated online version of the complete Water Conflict Chronology was released in December 2009. The online version links historical information with Google Earth and an interactive timeline (see This chronology suggests that one of the most important changes in the nature of conflicts over the past several decades has been the growing severity and intensity of local and sub-national conflicts and the relative de-emphasis of conflicts at the international level. A growing number of disputes over allocations of water across local borders, ethnic boundaries, or between economic groups have also led to conflict.

The good news is that water disputes are generally resolved diplomatically, and shared water resources are often a source of cooperation and negotiation. An estimated 300 agreements have been developed between riparian states—those states with territory within a shared river basin. But the long history of violence associated with transboundary water resources highlights the challenges associated with managing shared water resources (see, for example, the growing disputes between China and its neighbors in Chapter 6 in this volume).

Future pressures, such as population and economic growth and climate change, could increase tensions, even in areas that in the past have been characterized by cooperation. Global climate change will pose new challenges for freshwater management as a result of changes in water quantity, water quality, water-system operations, and more. For countries whose watersheds and river basins lie wholly within their own political boundaries, adapting to increasingly severe climate changes will be difficult enough. When those water resources cross borders, bringing in multiple political entities and actors, sustainable management of shared water resources in a changing climate will be especially challenging.

To what degree can existing transboundary agreements or international principles for sharing water handle the strain of future pressures, particularly climate change? Climate changes will inevitably alter the form, intensity, and timing of water demand, precipitation, and runoff, meaning past climate conditions are no longer an adequate predictor of the future. At the same time, new disputes are arising in transboundary watersheds and are likely to become more common with increasing pressures. Thus, transboundary agreements are needed now more than ever, but new forms or arrangements for such agreements may be necessary and old agreements may need to be renegotiated in the context of a changing climate. As Goldenman noted in 1990: "One of the major challenges ahead for the international community will be to develop the principles, procedures, and institutions for managing and protecting shared resources, such as watercourse systems, at the same time that the Earth adapts to climate change."

Little progress has been made in this area in the subsequent two decades. This chapter outlines some of the risks that climate change poses to transboundary water agreements, drawing from a larger report on the topic released in December 2009 (Cooley et al. 2009). In the following sections, we define the extent and general characteristics of transboundary rivers and aquifers and describe some of the institutional structures that have developed to manage them, including both international guidelines and specific transboundary agreements. We then provide a brief overview of the current understanding of climate change, focusing on potential impacts on water resources in order to analyze how transboundary water management could better adapt to and incorporate climate change impacts. We provide three case studies to demonstrate the range of potential impacts of climate change and degree of integration into transboundary water management and conclude with a series of recommendations to reduce the risks that climate change poses to transboundary water resources.

Transboundary Rivers and Aquifers

Many rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers are shared by two or more nations, and most of the available freshwater of the Earth crosses political borders. International basins cover about half of the earth's land surface, and about 40 percent of the world's population relies on these shared water sources (Wolf et al. 1999). In 1958, the United Nations published the first comprehensive collection of information on shared international rivers of the world (UN 1958). This early assessment identified 166 major international river basins. In 1978, the United Nations published an updated assessment (UN 1978) identifying 214 such basins. By today's standards, the analysis and mapping of these river basins were crude and subject to large errors. Measurements were based on regional maps and taken by hand with a planimeter—a tool today's generation of digital mappers has never used. In the 1978 assessment, only "first order" basins, or those that drain directly to the final water body (the ocean or a closed inland sea or lake), were included to distinguish them from tributary basins.

This approach is still used today, even though some second- or even third-order tributaries of major rivers may be substantially larger in size than most first-order coastal basins. Many tributary basins may also be more important politically and economically. Thus, the scale of analysis is vitally important, and one should not presume that river basins excluded here are unimportant or irrelevant for regional or even international politics. For example, the Cauvery River basin is entirely contained within one nation—India—and hence is not included in international registries. Yet the Cauvery River has been the source of intense interstate rivalry, and even violent conflict, between the Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (Gleick 1993).

The world has changed significantly since the 1978 assessment. The current registry, prepared by Aaron Wolf and several colleagues (Wolf et al. 1999) and updated in 2002, now identifies 263 major transboundary river basins, covering nearly half of the ice-free land surface of the Earth (Table 1.1). The increase in the number of basins since the last comprehensive survey reflects changes in the political landscape, improvements in mapping technology, and the inclusion of river basins on island nations. Our abilities to precisely measure topography, identify geographical characteristics in flat terrain, and accurately map both geophysical and geopolitical borders have dramatically improved. The most important of these changes has been the disintegration of the Soviet Union—once the largest single county in the world—into 15 separate nations. Many of the world's largest rivers flow in the territories of these nations, and the breakup of the Soviet Union has resulted in many new international rivers.

Until recently, little information was available at the global level on shared groundwater basins. Yet, an estimated 99 percent of the Earth's accessible freshwater is found in aquifers, and about two billion people rely on aquifers as the sole source of their water (UNESCO 2009). In October 2009, UNESCO released the Atlas of Transboundary Aquifers, which identified 269 shared groundwater basins. Thus, while groundwater is typically ignored, there are in fact more shared aquifers than shared river basins. The areal extent of shared aquifers has not yet been compiled due to uncertainties about the spatial extent of many transboundary aquifers.

Managing Transboundary Basins

Since transboundary watersheds traverse political and jurisdictional lines, heterogeneous and sometimes conflicting national laws and regulatory frameworks make management a major challenge, particularly when no single national government has authority over another. As such, transboundary water management often requires the creation of international guidelines or specific agreements between riparian states. Thus, transboundary water agreements typically take two forms: (1) general principles of international behavior and law and (2) specific bilateral or multilateral treaties negotiated for particular river basins. We describe each below.

General Principles of International Behavior and Law

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Attorney General of the United States (Justice Judson Harmon) gave an opinion regarding the uses of the Rio Grande, a transboundary watershed shared by the United States and Mexico. In his opinion, Justice Harmon concluded that a state is free to dispose of the waters of an international river that are within its own territory in any manner it deems fit, without concern for the harm or adverse impact that such use may cause to other riparian states. This approach—now known as the Harmon Doctrine—was criticized and ultimately rejected by subsequent legal decisions. In its place, international tribunals drew up a series of general principles that prohibit riparian states from causing harm to other states and that call for cooperation and peaceful resolution of disputes (Salman 2007).

One of the first of these sets of principles was the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers (the Helsinki Rules), adopted by the International Law Association (ILA) in 1966. The Helsinki Rules were the first comprehensive, international guidelines to regulate the use of transboundary rivers and their connected groundwater aquifers. They established the principle of "reasonable and equitable utilization" of the waters of an international drainage basin among the riparian states as the basic principle of international water law (Salman 2007). For that purpose, the Helsinki Rules specified a number of factors for determining the reasonable and equitable share for each basin state, including (a) the geography and hydrology of the basin, including the contribution of water by each basin state; (b) past utilization of the waters of the basin; (c) the economic and social needs of each basin state; and (d) the availability of other resources (ILA 1966). Although these principles are widely recognized and have greatly influenced subsequent agreements, there is no mechanism in place to enforce them.

The Helsinki Rules were followed by the Convention on the Law of the Non- navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Convention), adopted by the UN General Assembly in May 1997 after two decades of negotiations. The UN Convention is the strongest international legal instrument regarding transboundary water management to date. Several articles of the UN Convention are designed to reduce the risks of disputes over shared rivers: Article 7 obliges states to take all appropriate measures to prevent harm to other states from their use of water; Article 8 obliges watercourse states to cooperate on the basis of equality, integrity, mutual benefit, and good faith in order to optimally use and protect shared watercourses; and Article 33 offers provisions for the peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or appeal to the International Court of Justice. More than a decade after its adoption by the vast majority of the General Assembly of the United Nations, however, the Convention has not obtained the necessary number of signatures to enable it to enter into force and effect. As of February 2011, only 16 countries had ratified or acceded to the Convention; 35 signatures are needed for the Convention to enter into force.

The most recent set of international rules for transboundary water management were established in 2004 and are known as the Berlin Rules. These rules draw heavily from both the Helsinki Rules and the UN Convention, although they also attempt to better integrate emerging principles, such as ecological integrity, sustainability, public participation, and minimization of environmental harm. These principles, according to Dellapenna (2007), are not reflected in the Helsinki Rules and are developed only in rudimentary form in the UN Convention. Thus, the Berlin Rules are an effort to bring all relevant established and emerging international law together in regard to transboundary water resources. Salman (2007) points to three basic features that distinguish the Berlin Rules from their predecessors:

1. Provisions in the Berlin Rules apply to both national and international waters;

2. The Berlin Rules incorporate emerging principles from international environmental and human rights law; and

3. The Berlin Rules have developed coequal goals of both equitable and reasonable utilization and the obligation to cause no harm.

Specific Transboundary Agreements

In addition to basic principles of international law, hundreds of bilateral and multilateral river treaties have been signed by parties to allocate water, regulate navigation and power, monitor and control water quality, and influence all other aspects of joint water management. Given the lack of enforceable international guidelines for transboundary water management, specific transboundary treaties are currently the strongest mechanism for encouraging transboundary cooperation. The International Court of Justice has shown its desire to uphold the power of these treaties by not allowing Hungary to nullify its 1977 treaty with Slovakia regarding management of the Danube River (the Budapest Treaty) based on increased understanding of the environmental harm associated with planned infrastructure (the Gabcíkovo-Nagymaros case).

The first transboundary water agreements were written in the early and mid-19th century between countries that share the Rhine River, which flows from its headwaters in Switzerland through Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the Netherlands and empties into the North Sea. These treaties established rules for allowing navigation, dividing fish harvests, and withdrawing water along the Rhine. Today, there are approximately 300 transboundary agreements on record (Gleick 2000, UNEP/OSU 2002). Of the 145 agreements negotiated in the 20th century, an overwhelming 86 percent are bilateral, suggesting that many states that should be a party to the agreement are excluded (Jägerskog and Phillips 2006). The Nile Basin Treaty, for example, was negotiated between Egypt and the Sudan, despite that fact that eight other nations are located upstream of these nations. Only recently have efforts been made to bring the other nations together for a more comprehensive agreement.

Figure 1.1 provides a summary of the transboundary agreements negotiated during the 20th century. Most treaties (40 percent) focus on hydropower and, not surprisingly, are often among mountainous nations at the headwaters of the transboundary rivers. Nepal alone, with an estimated 2 percent of the world's hydropower potential, has four treaties with India (the Kosi River agreements, 1954, 1966, 1978, and the Gandak Power Project, 1959) to utilize the huge power potential in the region (Hamner and Wolf 1998). Surprisingly few treaties, only 37 percent, address water allocation and include volumetric allocations among riparian countries (Hamner and Wolf 1998). In cases where volumetric allocations are specified, they often are fixed, leaving little flexibility for changing flow conditions. As discussed below, this characteristic is especially problematic in the context of climate change.

A number of important elements of the hydrologic cycle are commonly left out of transboundary agreements. Groundwater is typically excluded; if it is mentioned at all, it is usually in reference to contamination rather than to use of groundwater resources. Many transboundary agreements that identify water allocations fail to include any standards for the quality of that water. This omission proved problematic in the 1950s and 1960s for farmers in Mexico, where increasingly saline Colorado River deliveries impaired crop production. Extensive negotiations and several amendments were made to the U.S.–Mexico Colorado River treaty (Hundley 1966), and today, deliveries to Mexico are subject to salinity thresholds. Annual water deliveries to Mexico at Morelos Dam, for example, must have an average salinity of no more than 115 parts per million (ppm) (±30 ppm) greater than the salinity of the river at Imperial Dam.


Excerpted from The World's Water Volume 7 by Peter H. Gleick. Copyright © 2012 Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


About Island Press,
About the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security,
Title Page,
Copyright Page,
List of Tables,
CHAPTER 1 - Climate Change and Transboundary Waters,
CHAPTER 2 - Corporate Water Management,
CHAPTER 3 - Water Quality,
CHAPTER 4 - Fossil Fuels and Water Quality,
CHAPTER 5 - Australia's Millennium Drought: Impacts and Responses,
CHAPTER 6 - China Dams,
CHAPTER 7 - U.S. Water Policy Reform,
WATER BRIEF 1 - Bottled Water and Energy,
WATER BRIEF 2 - The Great Lakes Water Agreements,
WATER BRIEF 3 - Water in the Movies,
WATER BRIEF 4 - Water Conflict Chronology,
DATA TABLE 1 - Total Renewable Freshwater Supply, by Country,
DATA TABLE 2 - Freshwater Withdrawal by Country and Sector,
DATA TABLE 3 - Access to Safe Drinking Water by Country, 1970–2008,
DATA TABLE 4 - Access to Sanitation by Country, 1970–2008,
DATA TABLE 5 - MDG Progress on Access to Safe Drinking Water by Region,
DATA TABLE 6 - MDG Progress on Access to Sanitation by Region,
DATA TABLE 7 - Under-5 Mortality Rate by Cause and Country, 2008,
DATA TABLE 8 - Infant Mortality Rate by Country (per 1,000 live births),
DATA TABLE 9 - Death and DALYs from Selected Water-Related Diseases, 2000 and 2004,
DATA TABLE 10 - Overseas Development Assistance for Water Supply and Sanitation, by Donating Country,
DATA TABLE 11 - Overseas Development Assistance for Water Supply and Sanitation, by Subsector (total of all donating countries),
DATA TABLE 12 - Organic Water Pollutant (BOD) Emissions by Country (% from various industries), 2005,
DATA TABLE 13 - Top Environmental Concerns of the American Public: Selected Years, 1997–2010 (% Who Worry "A Great Deal"),
DATA TABLE 14A AND 14B - Top Environmental Concerns Around the World; Concern for Water Issues (% "Very Concerned") for Seven Major Countries,
DATA TABLE 15 - Satisfaction With Local Water Quality, by Country, 2006–2007,
DATA TABLE 16 - Extinct (or Extinct in the Wild) Freshwater Animal Species,
DATA TABLE 17 - U.S. Federal Water-Related Agency Budgets,
DATA TABLE 18 - Overseas Dams With Chinese Financiers, Developers, or Builders (as of August 2010),
DATA TABLE 19 - Per-Capita Bottled Water Consumption by Top Countries, 1999–2010 Liters per Person per Year),
Water Units, Data Conversions, and Constants,
Comprehensive Table of Contents,
Comprehensive Table of Contents,
Island Press, | Board of Directors,

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