Ecohydrology conference, Lodz, Poland, May 2008

28/05/2008

Ecohydrology – towards a new paradigm?

In 1992, during the first global water conference in Dublin, awareness grew among hydrologists that the worldwide deterioration of water quality and water-related ecosystem services for human societies needed new concepts and new solutions. This was later taken up by UNESCO through the Man and the Biosphere (MaB) and the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) with the aim of furthering the understanding of the role of biological processes in the hydrological cycle, and of demonstrating that ecosystem services are essential to improving the status of global water resources. As a consequence, scientific efforts to integrate ecology and hydrology into a new discipline of applied environmental science – ecohydrology - became part of UNESCO’s IHP. Ecohydrology focuses on trans-disciplinary scientific research to understand the relationships between hydrological and biological processes at the water catchment scale. And it works under the IHP with real-scale projects in demonstration basins and by offering education and training programmes.

Classical hydro-technical engineering solutions for flood management still focus in many places simply on runoff acceleration through river regulation, combined with water retention in reservoirs. However, in a context of progressing urbanization, deforestation and climatic change, such technical solutions negatively modify the processes of water infiltration, groundwater recharge, biodiversity and biological productivity. Extreme peak water flows enhance the transfer of nutrients and pollutants downstream and reduce the deposition of pollutants and sediments, of self-purification and their biological transformation. The ecohydrology concept was developed to provide an integrative solution framework to such problems and to use the ecosystem properties as a management tool.

Under the auspices of UNESCO-IHP, a European Regional Centre for Ecohydrology (ERCE) was opened in 2006 in Lodz (pronounced “Woodge”) in Poland (cf. www.erce.unesco.lodz.pl). This research and competence centre organized on 19-23 May 2008 an international conference on “Ecohydrological Processes and Sustainable Floodplain Management” to discuss opportunities and concepts for water hazard mitigation in view of achieving ecological and socio-economic sustainability. The organizers benefited from institutional advice and support by UNESCO’s International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM) in Japan and the Institute for Water Education (IHE) in the Netherlands, by the Institute for Water Resources of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the International Society of Limnology (SIL) and the Universities of Vienna, Tours and Algarve, among others. The Polish Ministries of Science and Higher Education and of the Environment, the City of Lodz, and the Ramsar Secretariat acted as Honorary Patrons.

The conference brought together more than 100 experts, representing the institutions listed above and field projects in demonstration basins, often focusing on the ecohydrology of Ramsar sites, in a significant number of countries on all continents. The conference sessions addressed hydro-geomorphological processes and ecological engineering in floodplain formation, ecohydrological links between the conservation of ecological services and the enhancement of sustainable economical development, ways of sustainable floodplain management in view of global climate change, and ecosystem biotechnologies as a tool for Integrated Water Resources Management.

The conference opened in Lodz’s prestigious Neo-Baroque Poznanksi Palace and also provided a long overdue opportunity to expose to ecohydrologists the recent work of Ramsar’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel’s (STRP) to update the integration tools for wetlands and river basin management (to be submitted to COP10). It was a first opportunity to exchange respective experiences and know-how, to discuss how to work more closely together, and to facilitate the implementation of better solutions for the future of river basins and floodplains. The Ramsar Convention provides an ideal, and in fact the only existing, global policy instrument to support the implementation of ecohydrological concepts in and around Ramsar and other wetland sites and throughout their water catchments. National Administrative Authorities responsible for Ramsar implementation in their country can get inspired, when applying Ramsar’s “critical path”, by the concrete illustrations and experiences provided through the ecohydrological demonstration projects supported by UNESCO in selected basins. Iwona Wagner, from ERCE, recently presented this to the 6th Meeting of the European Ramsar Parties in Stockholm, cf. www.ramsar.org/mtg/mtg_reg_europe2008_abs_wagner.pdf.

And on the other hand, UNESCO’s IHP urgently needs a global policy outlet for its findings which the Ramsar Convention can provide. Closer exchanges among experts and regular cooperation between STRP and ecohydrologists are therefore strongly encouraged for the coming years.

-- Tobias Salathé, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe

Opening of the Ecohydrology Conference in the Poznanski Palace in Lodz

Conference participants visiting the floodplain of the Pilica river demonstration project in central Poland, being directly exposed to the hydrological cycle.

Outlet of an experiment to remove nitrogen from groundwater at the field station of the University of Lodz at the border of the Pilica floodplain forest near Sujejow town.

Conference participants listen to Maciej Zalewski (left), director of the European Regional Centre for Ecohydrology, who explains an ecohydrological argument to William Mitsch, director of the Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park of Ohio State University (right, both in red rain cloth).

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