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Research article2009Peer reviewed

Nature as the "Natural" Goal for Water Management: A Conversation

Bishop, Kevin; Beven, Keith; Destouni, Georgia; Abrahamsson, Katarina; Andersson, Lotta; Johnson, Richard K.; Rodhe, Johan; Hjerdt, Niclas


The goals for water-quality and ecosystem integrity are often defined relative to ‘‘natural’’ reference conditions in many water-management systems, including the European Union Water Framework Directive. This paper examines the difficulties created for water management by using ‘‘natural’’ as the goal. These difficulties are articulated from different perspectives in an informal (fictional) conversation that takes place after a workshop on reference conditions in water-resources management. The difficulties include defining the natural state and modeling how a system might be progressed toward the natural, as well as the feasibility and desirability of restoring a natural state. The paper also considers the appropriateness for developing countries to adopt the use of natural as the goal for water management. We conclude that failure to critically examine the complexities of having ‘‘natural’’ as the goal will compromise the ability to manage the issues that arise in real basins by not making the ambiguities associated with this ‘‘natural’’ goal explicit. This is unfortunate both for the western world that has embraced this model of ‘‘natural as the goal’’ and for the developing world in so far as they are encouraged to adopt this model


reference conditions; integrated water resource management; pre-industrial

Published in

AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
2009, Volume: 38, number: 4, pages: 209-214
Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences