The extent to which water resources, as currently managed and used by humans, contribute to sustainability can be assessed by considering trends in the ecological, economic and social capacities and conditions that are related to water resources as well as trends in their short-term contributions to meeting human needs and wants.
The indicators in the major categories outlined by the SWRR can provide the information for good assessments. In general, if important ecological, economic and social capacities that are dependent on, or closely related to, water resources are declining substantially over extended periods of time, it would be reasonable to conclude that they are not being managed in ways that contribute to sustainability.
General Framework for Driving Forces and Underlying Processes
In making such an assessment, it is important to consider that sustainable systems are dynamic as well as enduring. Therefore, the assessment should identify long-term trends and should consider the extent to which trends of possible concern are being offset, or adapted to, by other elements of the systems. It is also worth noting that care should be taken when good measures of capacity are not available and attention is shifted to measuring either current performance or processes that cause changes in capacity. Because such measures are indirect indicators of capacity, they may not give a realistic picture of capacity trends. For example, some processes on which capacity depends are able to continue at a fairly constant level of performance until a tipping point is reached, after which performance and capacity decline sharply.
As the above model illustrates, the relationships among the elements of the ecosystem and economic and social system are complex. Population, income, land use, climate change, and energy use are key conditions that affect water allocation through the demands for various uses. They are major drivers of trends in water supply, demand, quality and therefore sustainability and are so broad that they can be overlooked when the focus is narrowed to a particular indicator related to water.
Given our conceptual understanding of the relationships between system processes and impacts on natural and human conditions complex interrelationships, the SWRR developed a list of nearly 400 candidate indicators. As a result, the SWRR identified specific criteria to identify a sample of the most effective indicators. These selection criteria are presented in the following chapter.
The Bellagio Principles
The SWRR began to identify indicators for achieving sustainable water resources with a systematic set of principles. Fortunately, a group of world-renowned experts had gathered at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy in 1996 to assess progress in the art and science of sustainability indicators. They met in response to a call by the World Commission on Environment and Development and others for development of new ways to assess progress toward sustainable development. The result was the Bellagio Principles, a set of ten purpose and process factors that guide the development and use of sustainability indicators, which the SWRR adopted at its June 2003 meeting.
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