An integrated representation of the services provided by global water resources

E. Curmi, K. Richards, R. Fenner, J. M. Allwood, G. M. Kopec, B. Bajželj

Water is essential not only to maintain the livelihoods of human beings but also to sustain ecosystems. Over the last few decades several global assessments have reviewed current and future uses of water, and have offered potential solutions to a possible water crisis. However, these have tended to focus on water supply rather than on the range ofdemands for all water services (including those of ecosystems). In this paper, a holistic global view of water resources and the services they provide is presented, using Sankey diagrams as a visualisation tool. These diagrams provide a valuable addition to the spatial maps of other global assessments, as they track the sources, uses, services and sinks of water resources. They facilitate comparison of different water services, and highlight trade-offs amongst them. For example, they reveal how increasing the supply of water resources to one service (crop production) can generate a reduction in provision of other water services (e.g., to ecosystem maintenance). The potential impacts of efficiency improvements in the use of water are also highlighted; for example, reduction in soil evaporation from crop production through better farming practices, or the results of improved treatment and re-use of return flows leading to reduction of delivery to final sinks. This paper also outlines the measures needed to ensure sustainable water resource use and supply for multiple competing services in the future, and emphasises that integrated management of land and water resources is essential to achieve this goal.