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Underpinning knowledge

Sources of funding

None listed.

Similar cases

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Peer reviewed papers

Voulvoulis N, Water and sanitation provision in a low carbon society: The need for a systems approach, Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, 2012, Vol:4

Collins A, Ohandja D-G, Hoare D, et al, Implementing the Water Framework Directive: a transition from established monitoring networks in England and Wales, Environmental Science and Policy, 2012, Vol:17, Pages:49-61

Iacovidou E, Ohandja DG, Voulvoulis N, Food waste co-digestion with sewage sludge--realising its potential in the UK., J Environ Manage, 2012, Vol:112, Pages:267-274

Further articles

Voulvoulis N, The water, energy, food nexus as the basis for decision making to protect future generations and environmental health, Environmental Health 2013, Boston, USA, 03 - 06 Mar 2013, 2013

Voulvoulis N, Will Sustainable Water Use Mean Drinking Treated Effluent?, Water and Environment 2011: CIWEM's annual conference, London, 06 Apr 2011 - 07 Apr 2011, 2011

Voulvoulis N, Low concentrations of chemicals in the environment - Of concern to justify action?, Environmental Health: Resetting our Priorities, Salvador, Brazil, 06 Feb 2011 - 07 Feb 2011., 2011

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Home > WaterR2B > Sectors > Water Utilities > The need for a systems approach to water management

The need for a systems approach to water management

The challenge

Water management problems are often the realm of complex, dynamic systems consisting of interdependent factors and multiple stressors. There is therefore a need to develop a better understanding of these problems from a more systems-based perspective. Science has historically focused too much on understanding individual disciplines rather than developing an interdisciplinary understanding, while decision making has too often focused on solving individual problems by comparing alternative courses of action, rather than on developing a wider understanding of systems and the complex interrelationships within them.

The solution

The work included research on key areas for illustrating the importance of a adopting a systems approach. These include water and sanitation provision, WFD implementation with a focus on monitoring requirements and mining with regard to its implications for water and other resources management.

Key points of the work are the following:

  • Water reuse using desalination processes as a management option was assessed in the context of the water-energy-food nexus. The nexus examines the interdependencies and trade-offs that exist between water, energy and food, that must be considered for determining the sustainability of management options. 
  • Determination of how risk assessment can improve planning, monitoring and management in mining and mineral processing operations focusing on the importance of better understanding source-pathway-receptor linkages for all stages of mining. It was assessed how mining can form an integral part of wider sustainable resources management, with a focus on water resources. 
  • Monitoring, on which the WFD places particular emphasis plays an integral part in its success. The research reviewed the implications of implementing the WFD on monitoring requirements, and compared them to previous arrangements in England and Wales. The challenge associated with making the transition from established monitoring networks to those that support a more integrated approach to water management were evaluated.

Resulting benefits

The research demonstrated that a sustainable solution can only stem from an inclusive understanding of environmental problems, that will account for the wide range of interactions, interdependencies and trade-offs that inevitable occur across the various components of the environment. Priority should shift from optimising decision making processes, which is the current situation, to strengthening understanding that will make the solution obvious.

Findings demonstrated that interdisciplinary, integrated and holistic solutions have the potential to deliver benefits across different sectors, disciplines, and systems, with a real potential for taking us a bit closer to sustainability.

Future directions

A change in mindsets is required in order to reconsider our approach in applying established solutions and utilising current technologies and tools to deliver them, with a renewed focus on re-assessing what the real problems are from a systems perspective. Moreover, there is need to better understand demand and pressure on water resources, followed by appropriate pricing that is inclusive of all environmental costs.

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