Webinar: Nature-based solutions for water quality improvements

Earthwatch hosted this webinar today on nature-based solutions for water quality improvements. Dr Steven Loiselle, Senior Research Lead at Earthwater Europe opened the webinar by mentioning the growing problems with water quality across the globe, and the impacts on society and economy. This can relate to excess pollutants entering watercourses due to fragmented land management, and Wastewater Treatment plants.

Maintaining good water quality in rivers and lakes is useful to providing us with benefits such as aquatic biodiversity and maintaining clean water supply. We can improve the quality of our water supply by enhancing our land management practices. Citizen Science can also help us identify the benefits of engaging with our waterways and working to improve and enhance water quality.

Steven passed onto the first speaker, Lucía Madris Ramírez, Consejo Civil Mejicano para la Silvicultura Sostenibl (CCMSS). Lucía started by talking about the challenge of providing water to Mexico City, with 22 million people. They gain water from 6 different reservoirs. One of the largest reservoirs is the Amanalco-Valle de Bravo Watershed in the upper part of the watershed. This catchment is owned by communities who use it for timber production, agriculture and tourism. There are a range of different water related problems occurring in the catchment including water pollution from dispersion of water sewage treatment discharge, eutrophication and high levels of sedimentation in the pipe network.

This has led to these communities developing projects for integrated water and land management. The Integrated Landscape Management project will work with local communities, forest communities and farmers to improve the way they are managing land, forests, creeks and agriculture, and make participative land management plans.

Lucía went on to talk about how they wanted to investigate the impacts of changing practices and using other technologies, and whether this helped improve water quality. They collaborated with EarthWatch to develop this ambitious 3 year water quality monitoring project where citizen scientists volunteered to come to the watershed every 6 months to see what was happening and monitor impacts at 16 monitoring sites. Micro-watersheds were characterised into land use such as forestry, urban, agriculture, fava bean, to determine whether this had an impact on the water quality data that was gathered.

Results showed:

  • Total nitrogen recorded was higher after the Wastewater treatment plant
  • Phosphorous was high in the fava bean production areas, possibly due to the chemical fertiliser used on this product
  • Suspended solids concentration was high in fava bean production areas possibly due to poor irrigation management practices
  • More forested areas showed less total nitrogen concentrations in water
  • More forested riparian zones showed lower water temperatures, and less nitrates
  • Un-forested riparian zones saw higher loads of phosphorous
  • Human settlements saw more E.coli concentrations and higher nitrogen concentrations
  • Agricultural areas in general saw higher temperatures, turbidity and nitrogen levels
  • Potato production areas had higher loads of ammonium, nitrates and higher temperatures
  • Areas of fava bean had a higher concentration of phosphates

What does this mean for public policy?

  • Need to invest in integrated watershed management
  • Payments for environmental services that reward best management practices
  • Supporting sustainable forest management and riparian restoration results in improved livelihoods, CO2 emission mitigation, biodiversity and improved water quality
  • Nature based solutions to clean and treat water are better in terms of costs and water quality results, compared to conventional expensive solutions

The second speaker was James Knightbridge, Catchment Management Lead at Mott MacDonald. James gave an overview of how the UK water sector integrated nature-based solutions for Integrated Water Resources Management, and how this is becoming part of mainstream policy.

James started by mentioning how Integrated Catchment Management should contribute towards achieving all aspects of sustainability – environment, social, economic. Nature-based solutions have been incorporated into UK policy through an integrated approach at a catchment scale. The 25 year environment plan has helped progress green projects, and companies are being encouraged incorporate nature-based solutions.

Integrating nature-based solutions for improved water quality can be implemented in different ways. These include rural landscape management, urban landscape management, and habitat management. Rural management might include introducing different crops and land use types to protect soil, or using more sensitive practices for soil management. Nature-based solutions can help to offset nutrient loads. For example, rather than installing expensive infrastructure, we can work at lower costs and in partnership to benefit the health of the land.

James then mentioned how we can empower communities and organisations to work towards nature-based solutions. He mentioned the importance of working in partnership to engage communities, and introduced the term ‘Social-based solutions’, stressing the importance of recognising that nature-based solutions need to be socially grounded.

We can also work towards ensuring resilience through linking rural landscapes, urban landscapes, water resources and water quality. We must also understand the multiple benefits that nature-based solutions can provide, not just for water quality, but also sustained changes in other aspects.

It is important to consider the connections between different aspects of the catchment. We should consider all reasons for failure and what benefits can be achieved through collaboration and green approaches. James mentioned how we can work towards efficient delivery of nature-based solutions, including incorporating digital innovation, sharing knowledge, and bridging public, private and social.

Nature-based solutions are more effective at scale, and by integrating more sectors, pooling funding and collaborating, can help achieve economies of scale. Nature-based solutions has started to grow and develop, and now is the time to collaborate.

Thanks to EarthWatch and everyone involved in hosting this webinar. It’s great to see examples of how we can collaborate and engage communities to help improve the environment and water resources.


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