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A five-step assessment of river ecosystem services to inform conflictive water-flows management – the Ter River case

Une évaluation en cinq étapes des services écosystémiques des rivières pour modeler la gestion conflictuelle des cours d’eau: le cas de la rivière Ter
Dídac Jordà-Capdevila, Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos et Mònica Bardina

Résumés

De nombreux travaux ont été publiés au sujet des conflits liés à la gestion des cours d’eau. Cependant, ils ont été peu analysés à la lumière de la relation entre l'appropriation du débit liée et les services écosystémiques (SE). Une telle analyse, réalisée en y intégrant les points de vue et intérêts des parties prenantes, est l'objectif de la recherche présentée dans cet article. Tel qu'observé dans d'autres contextes méditerranéens, une diversité de prélèvements d'eau de la rivière Ter (NE Catalogne, Espagne) - par exemple pour l'hydroélectricité et l'approvisionnement en eau d'autres bassins versants - affecte négativement le débit le long du cours de la rivière. Cette situation a déclenché des conflits locaux et régionaux, devenant un enjeu principal pour la gestion des eaux dans le secteur hydrographique de la rivière TER. Notre approche d'évaluation dans le cadre de cette recherche comporte cinq étapes pour l'étude de la production de SE liés à la fois aux débits détournés et aux débits courants dans le bassin de la rivière Ter. Les étapes sont: (1) l'identification, (2) la caractérisation, (3) la localisation, (4) la quantification et (5) l'évaluation. Un aspect clé de la méthodologie est la participation des parties prenantes, incluant les informateurs-clés et les organisations qui défendent l'écosystème de la rivière et s'oppose aux prélèvements, détournements. La recherche effectuée pendant trois ans sur le terrain (2011-2014) inclut un grand nombre d'entretiens, l'organisation de plusieurs ateliers et deux enquêtes. Les résultats indiquent plusieurs types d'avantages pour la gestion des cours d’eau. Des divergences apparaissent concernant l'utilisation du droit de l’eau, la perspective sauvage contre la perspective récréative, et en raison de l'asymétrie de l'information. De la même manière, des tensions se produisent là où les zones de consommation de SE se chevauchent et les compromis entre SE surgissent. En conclusion, trois façons d’adapter la gestion conflictuelle des cours d’eau d'un point de vue des services écosystémiques sont proposées: (1) la reconnaissance des divers avantages générés par les cours d’eau, (2) l'analyse des modifications hydrologiques qui affectent la production de SE à travers l'espace et (3) l'identification des compromis entre SE.

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Introduction

1The increase of river impoundments and water flow depletions is a global threat for freshwater habitats and biodiversity (Vörösmarty et al., 2010). Subsequent hydrological alterations impair the ecological status of rivers (Poff et al., 1997), and also disrupt the multiple benefits to human wellbeing that instream flows entail both for wealthy and for deprived societies (Postel and Carpenter, 1997).

2The Ter River, a typical example in the Mediterranean basin, is not an exception. Three reservoirs and more than 80 weirs store and divert water for consumptive (irrigation, domestic and industrial uses) and non-consumptive (hydropower) purposes. In many stretches of the river, the water remains blocked up and shallow, with ensuing environmental degradation. This causes temperature raise, macrophyte proliferation and fish mortality (Benejam et al., 2010; Boix et al., 2010), and damages water activities that depend on instream flows (angling, kayaking, etc) (Jorda-Capdevila and Rodríguez-Labajos, 2015). These impacts happen with particular intensity during recurrent drought periods (Martin-Ortega et al., 2012). Then, tensions between water users arise (Ruhí, 2012).

3Ecosystem services (ES) approaches have proved useful to scrutinize the contribution of freshwater ecosystems to human wellbeing (Postel and Carpenter, 1997; Russi et al., 2013). Likewise, some assessments have started to measure the value of those ecosystem services provided by instream flows in economic terms (e.g., Loomis, 2002; Ojeda et al., 2008). Yet, recent publications (Burkhard et al., 2013; Martin-Ortega et al., 2015; Nahlik et al., 2012; Seppelt et al., 2011; Volk, 2013) claim for case-specific and purpose-driven studies that: 1) reconnect the socioeconomic relevance of ES to their biophysical underpinning; 2) involve stakeholders to satisfy user needs; and 3) consider tradeoffs among ES for an enhanced and transparent management.

4With this in mind, and building on previous attempts to systematize stages for ES evaluation (e.g., Jenkins et al., 2010; Kremen, 2005), we present a five-step assessment that is tested for the Ter River case. Such steps entail identification, characterization, localization, quantification and valuation of the provision of those ecosystem services related to water flows. Our specific aim is to study how changes in the instream flow management have an impact on the ES provision, with the motivation to understand how this situation causes social conflicts.

5The article is structured as follows. First, the Ter River basin is described, underlining the socioeconomic interactions with the river and its ecological conditions. Second, we explain in detail each step of the proposed methodology, being particularly careful to clarify the type of stakeholders’ involvement. After presenting the results, we discuss about how the tested methodology helps to better comprehend the tensions occurred in the Ter River basin. Finally, the article concludes.

Case study: the Ter River

6The Ter is a typical Mediterranean river. Its source lies at 2.400 mamsl, in the Eastern Pyrenees. The course flows southwards traversing the inland Vic Plain. Then, it turns east, runs through a hilly area and reaches the sea, forming a flat and marshy area. Figure 1. Shows the location of the river basin.

Figure 1 Study area.

Figure 1 Study area.

7Under undisturbed conditions, the average flow would be around 25 m3/s at the mouth. However, the actual flow that drains into the sea has been 9.65 m3/s for the last 10 years (see data from the control network stations in ACA, n.d.). While global change could partly explain this decline (ACA, 2009; García-Ruiz et al., 2011), the most important reason is the water withdrawal for consumptive uses. In the middle section, a chain of three reservoirs are used to regulate floods and store water for the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona (MRB), which is located in other river basins: a diverted volume of 139-213 Hm3 annually. The withdrawals for within-catchment uses are less important and include irrigation, domestic, industrial and hydroelectric uses (the latter diverts water but does not consume it). In total, nine types of hydrological alterations caused by dams and weirs deteriorate the ecological state of the Lower Ter, also impairing the some of the ES provided (Jorda-Capdevila and Rodríguez-Labajos, 2015).

8Besides those benefits coming from diverted water, the Ter River provides multiple ES from their instream flows. They include the production of brown trout (Salmo trutta fario) and elver (Anguilla anguilla), recreational space for kayaking and other sports, the appreciation of the wilderness, the beauty of the waterscape, education and research materials, etc (Jorda-Capdevila and Rodríguez-Labajos, 2015).

9The water transfer to the MRB and the preferential assignment to these out-of-catchment uses cause the most striking conflict in the Lower Ter subbasin (Ruhí, 2012). Based on our own observations, other controversies related to water management are the overexploitation of the water resources by some hydropower plants, the abandonment of historical canals (ancient and naturalized canals that include protected habitats and endemic species), the increase of water withdrawals from the river because of the groundwater pollution caused by liquid manure, and the supposedly inefficient surface irrigation systems.

10During the field research, four sites placed along the river were used as referential to the diverse socio-environmental landscapes along the river basin: the Camprodon Valley in the Pyrenees, the fertile Vic Plain, the city of Girona and its hilly surroundings and the rural Lower Ter Plain with the Mediterranean Sea influence.

Methodology

General approach to ES assessment

11A main contribution of this study is a methodology for water-flows ES assessment. Originally developed based on insights from previous literature, it includes the five steps outlined in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Step-by-step process of the methodology.

Figure 2. Step-by-step process of the methodology.
  1. The identification is basic to recognize those ES that would be produced under free-flowing conditions for integrating them into assessments (Auerbach et al., 2014). This step does not restrict the recognition of the ES to those present in the literature, such as the ones proposed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2003), but it is open to the whole set of perceived benefits.

  2. The characterization consists of the ecological and economic determination of ES attributes (Daily, 2000). This stage distinguishes the ecological functions that support ES, classifies the public-private good aspect and observes different views from the locals, as in Fisher et al. (2009) and in Kremen (2005).

  3. The localization entails the cartographic representation of perceptions and preferences of valued ES over space (Plieninger et al., 2013). Mapping exercises are essential to limit the ES where they are beneficial and understand their delivery at different scales (Burkhard et al., 2013).

  4. The quantification step describes the interactions between the physical control of water, the ecosystem functioning and ES to provide numeric estimations of ES provisioning. Modeling exercises are argued to effectively represent these complex interactions (Jakeman and Letcher, 2003; Volk, 2013).

  5. The ecosystem valuation is a process by which the beneficial ways that ecosystems affect people are calculated, in the light of prevalent value systems. While being aware of the massive amount of literature on ecosystem valuation (King and Mazzotta, 2000; Kumar, 2010; Mendelsohn and Olmstead, 2009; Wilson and Carpenter, 1999), our working definitions build mainly on contributions from Brauman et al. (2007) and Martinez-Alier et al. (2010). For the Ter River case, a non-monetary valuation was preferred, with the aim of clarifying the stakeholders’ preferences in relation to some specific ecosystem services and management scenarios.

12Through the different steps, key questions help to structure the analysis of the ES delivery and to comprehend the nature of the current and potential conflicts in the Ter River basin. These questions (listed in Table 1) seek the understanding of such aspects by deepening in the knowledge of stakeholders’ positions.

Table 1. Key questions arisen for each step considered to assess ecosystem services

Identification

  • How local people perceive the river? How they benefit from it? Which activities do they perform?

Characterization

  • What components of the river are required to provide such benefits? Under which biophysical conditions?

  • How people enjoy / consume / use the identified ecosystem services?

  • Are there different views regarding those ES?

Localization

  • What is the scale of the ES production and consumption?

  • Where are those ES produced? Where are they exported from? Where are they consumed?

Quantification

  • What indicators can we use to quantify the ES production?

  • How much water remains within the river channel? How much water is diverted?

  • Are there differences along the river? And over the time?

Valuation

  • Are there any tradeoffs between ecosystem services? Are the people happy with this situation?

  • What alternative scenarios do the people propose? How much ES would be provided under these scenarios?

Use of participatory methods

13Stakeholders’ involvement in ES assessment is crucial throughout the entire research process. When the assessment is related to a specific decision-making context, involving stakeholders enables the acceptance of results and the ensuing policy measures (Hage et al., 2010). Since “the complex and dynamic nature of environmental problems requires flexible and transparent decision-making that embraces a diversity of knowledges and values” (Reed, 2008, p. 1), multiple participatory methods were employed.

14As with other examples of water management assessments (e.g., Whitfield and Reed, 2012), we performed a snowball sampling (Goodman, 1961) to identify key informants about stakeholders’ positions towards: a) the ES delivery and b) the current water management and its alternatives. The exercise comprised the entire Ter River basin, involving thirty-three interviews, four workshops and two surveys. Table 2 specifies each participatory method in relation to the five steps.

Table 2. Stakeholders’ engagement in the assessment.

Method

Information gathered

Steps

Semi-structured interviews to key informants (N= 20)

  • Description of current, past and desired for the future relationship with the river

Identification

  • Identification of components of the nature

Characterization

  • Opinion on the current water management in relation to the ES

Characterization

Workshops (32 stakeholders involved in 4 workshops along the river) and supplementary interviews to key informants (N = 13)

  • River stretches related with a specific ES provision highlighted in a map

Localization

  • Features of the water flows required to provide – null, minimally acceptable, and optimal – level of ES, thus configuring the ‘suitability function’ for each ES.

Valuation

Surveys (to 26 non-governmental organizations struggling for a better water management in Catalonia and to a 10 key stakeholders already interviewed)

  • Opinion on the current management of the dams, the water supply to the MRB and regulation of the hydropower plants

Quantification and valuation

  • Sort of the different uses of water according to their priority.

Quantification and valuation

Methodological steps

Identification and characterization

15In order to identify as many ways of benefitting from the Ter River as possible and to characterize them, twenty semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders were performed. We designed a basic interview script based on the steering questions related to some topics of interest: 1) the relationship between the Ter and the informants in terms of profession, association, leisure, etc.; 2) the list of benefits that the river provides – or provided in the past, or may provide in the future – to the respondent or to the general public; 3) the features of the river that make it profitable; and 4) the problematique of the instream flows (Jordà-Capdevila and Rodríguez-Labajos, (2015).

16We employed Atlas.ti software to analyze verbatim transcriptions. We codified all quotations of interest, especially those concerning ES, but also to hydrological alterations and the so-called ‘components of the nature’, which are certain elements of the ecosystem (e.g., the riparian vegetation, the water quality and specific species like otter or eel) required to provide the ES of interest. This codification allowed to construct a network of cause-effect relationships between those elements (as in Lelièvre and Sérodes, 1995), useful to describe the biophysical underpinning of ES.

Localization

17The localization step was supported on information gathered during the workshops along the river. The participants, arranged in groups, used very accurate maps (scale 1:25,000) with all stretches of the river represented. The groups were asked to mark those stretches where specific ES were produced, together with important features, e.g., distinction between trout-fishing stretches from carp-fishing stretches. We also asked participants to describe those conditions (i.e. biophysical, infrastructural, legal or related to management) that restrict the ES production, especially in stretches where the river had not been marked.

Quantification

18The methodology for the quantification and valuation of ES comprises two different models. The first one is a water allocation model that uses the ‘Water Evaluation And Planning’ (WEAP) software, developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) (www.weap21.org). WEAP is based on a scenario-driven decision support system model, operating on the principle of water balance accounting. It arguably offers integration between biophysical hydrological processes and governance on the allocation of water resources (e.g., Vogel et al., 2007; Yates et al., 2005). As an outcome of this stage, the model provides the distribution of water flows through all watercourses and demand sites. Based on a guideline proposed by Liu et al. (2008), Table 3 summarizes the required information for running the WEAP model.

Table 3. Descriptors of the water management model.

Formulation problem

Research question

How the water is distributed among the variety of ecosystem services?

Desired outcomes

Monthly water flows passing through rivers and canals and used by multiple demand sites

Temporal and spatial scale

Spatial scope

The Lower Ter, from the Pasteral I dam to the mouth (69 km long)

Spatial resolution

River stretches 0.3 – 10.2 km long, depending on the distance between nodes of extraction or return flows

Temporal scope

October 1980 – September 2008

Temporal resolution

Monthly. To avoid extreme values, all daily data was transformed into monthly data using the median

Conceptual model

Watercourses

The Ter River, 8 tributaries; 13 canals; 3 historical canals (supplying wetland areas)

Demand sites

6 areas of urban consumption (3 industrial and 3 domestic); 9 irrigation communities; 13 hydropower plants

Others flow drivers

3 reservoirs (all the ES are provided below the last reservoir); 5 treatment plants (> 0,2 Hm3/year); 53 calculation points of flow requirement in watercourses

Model development

Parameters of demand sites

Annual water use; monthly variability; percentage of consumption; demand priority

Parameters of water flows within watercourses

Monthly values and priority of minimum flow requirements; surface water inflow; monthly headflow of the Ter and tributaries

Water management scenarios

  • Business-as-usual (BAU)

  • Compatibility of uses (COM)

  • Ecosystem priority (ECO)

Validation

Variable for validation

Monthly water stored in the whole reservoirs system

Coefficient of determination (R2) between real and modeled data

0.864

Period validated

January 2004 – December 2008 (all data available)

19We developed three scenarios for simulation. They entail different water demands and priorities of usage. The business-as-usual (BAU) scenario prioritizes all consumptive uses above the preservation of the ecosystem. Besides, two alternative scenarios represent existing claims for a better water management: the compatibility-of-uses (COM) and the ecosystem priority (ECO) scenarios. For developing them, we undertook two surveys of non-governmental organizations (with 11 responses) and other key informants (10 responses). COM is based on the operationalization of desalination plants to reduce the water transfer to the Ter basin. It also forces the operators of all weirs and dams to discharge the approved environmental flows (ACA, 2005). ECO completely prioritizes all within-catchment uses above inter-basin transfers and, particularly, the allocation for the conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

Valuation

20For the valuation process, we developed a second model that performs the ES production by using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Based on the idea of suitability curves thoroughly used to study the preferential hydraulic conditions for river fish (Raleigh et al., 1986), we developed suitability curves for the production of ecosystem services (as in Korsgaard et al., 2008). To this end, during the workshops, participants were asked to provide biophysical indicators representing the level of ES production (i.e. ‘null’, ‘minimally acceptable’ and ‘optimum’ values) in relation to water flows – being either diverted water (e.g., for irrigation, hydropower, domestic supply) or instream flows (e.g., for kayaking, angling, maintaining the ecosystem).

21We combined the outcomes obtained from the localization, quantification and valuation steps in order to identify tradeoffs and synergies among the ES, over time and space, and under the conditions of the simulated water management scenarios. Therefore, the results can be used to answer case-specific questions when they are organized and aggregated in different ways. For instance, is the domestic supply guaranteed during a summer coming after a dry year? Which management scenario maintains a regular compliance with the environmental flows along the entire river? Are kayaking and angling compatible activities in a particular stretch?

Results

22In this section, we present the results according to the five steps described above.

Identification

23From the interviews, we identified 28 ways of benefiting from the river (Jorda-Capdevila and Rodríguez-Labajos, 2015). The most recurrent were angling, contemplation of the waterscape and the biodiversity, the security against floods, tourism and the appreciation of cultural heritage. Hydropower – producing electricity now, but allowing mills, forges and looms to run some centuries ago – was especially mentioned in the Upper Ter. Meanwhile, irrigation and the transfer to the MRB were noted in the Lower Ter. Water supply was also mentioned for domestic uses, factory farming and industry. Locals described extinct river uses such as otter hunting for getting fur and washing clothes nearby the canals. Grazing along the riverbanks and timber gathering are current activities that have diminished during last decades, while dumping litter and extracting aggregates have been banned for their destructive effects in the ecosystems.

24The culture towards the river matters. It is a source of inspiration, particularly where there is architectonic heritage in the area closely related to the river, and an object of research and learning. Many recreational activities and sports are practiced along the river: kayaking, boat riding, swimming, walking, dog walking, jogging, cycling, sitting down on the riverbanks, etc. Among the less usual, but locally relevant, there are the romantic scenery of the river and the relaxing sound of the water running. The use of water for snow production in a ski station in the headwaters was hardly mentioned either.

25Furthermore, interviewees also considered the preservation of adjacent ecosystems included in a protected natural park as an ES. These ecosystems are the historical, wetlands and coastal ecosystem, all of them fed by water from the Ter.

Characterization

26Although all these ES appear to be well defined, the biophysical requirements of the river to provide e.g., trout, carps or elvers are actually soundly different. The associated stakeholders’ views are different too. Table 4 shows the characterization from both perspectives, the one from the ecosystem and the other from the stakeholders, for some conspicuous benefits.

Table 4. Examples of ES characterization.

ES identified

Biophysical requirements

Divergence views

Angling

Beauty of the river stretch

Production of a) healthy and edible species (trout or elver) or b) big fishes for recreation (carp or catfish). Instream flow requirements vary between species.

Respect for the nature versus a source of exotic species

Appreciation of the natural environment

Beauty of the waterscape

Biodiversity & presence of autochthonous flora and fauna

Beauty versus hideousness of the wilderness, as well as the beauty of native versus exotic species

Hydropower

As much steady as possible water flow, comprised within a specific interval

Hydropower as a clean, sustainable and local source of energy generation versus its impact on the instream flow regime and the riparian habitats

Inspiration

Extreme (good or bad) ecological conditions

Emblematic species such as otters

No controversy was found

Irrigation

Water storage in spring and summer

Maintenance of the aquifers level

Maintenance of the salt wedge away

Preservation of the traditional landscape and lifestyle versus the idea of inefficiency and source of pollution

Swimming

Beauty and heterogeneity of the morphology of the river stretch (with e.g., beaches, pools, waterfalls)

Good water quality, and suitable depth, velocity and temperature

Lack of dangerous species

No controversy was found

Localization

27The spatial distribution of the eight most relevant ES for the assessment (i.e., those closely related to the water-flows management) is analyzed. Figure 3 represents both withdrawal points – for services such as drinking water supply or the preservation of the historical canals –, and those ES that depend on the level of instream flows, such as kayaking, angling or the aesthetic view. As discussed later, the localization of areas of ES provision makes possible to pinpoint socio-environmental tensions related to the location of uses, e.g., due to spatial competence or to upstream / downstream effects.

Figure 3. Mapping of the ES delivery along the Lower Ter River. Black stretches represent where people use the ES dependent on instream flows, while grey dots are water withdrawals supplying other ES.

Figure 3. Mapping of the ES delivery along the Lower Ter River. Black stretches represent where people use the ES dependent on instream flows, while grey dots are water withdrawals supplying other ES.

28Quantification

29Based on the results of quantification (Table 5), it is apparent that a major water withdrawal is widely blamed to impair all downstream uses. The model shows that around 165 Hm3 of water are transferred every year from the Ter to the MRB. This corresponds to the 35% of the inflow to the reservoirs. This amount is of the same order of magnitude as the set of extractions for producing hydroelectricity (42-270 Hm3/year, depending on the hydropower plant), although the latter water flows are returned to the river. Irrigation is widespread, but the amount of extraction only becomes relevant in the Lower Ter Plain.

Table 5. Water flows resulting from the WEAP model in annual averages (Min, Max, % in relation to the average of water inflows into the reservoir).

Demand site

Management scenarios

Business as usual (BAU)

Compatibility of uses (COM)

Ecosystem priority (ECO)

Hm3

Min-Max

%

Hm3

Min-Max

%

Hm3

Min-Max

%

Water inflows into the reservoirs

173-924

100

173-924

100

173-924

100

Outflow discharged from the reservoirs

98-793

68

138-822

74

206-861

89

Water transfer to Barcelona

165-165

35

134-165

30

31-112

16

Intra-basin domestic supply

18-18

4

18-18

4

18-18

4

Water for irrigation

55-106

17

45-68

12

35-52

9

Diversions for hydropower

42-270

17-32

18-293

19-38

70-312

19-50

Note: Percentages of hydropower diversions depend on the HPP. HPP always return all the water to the river.

30Generally, the instream flow regime is poor and insufficient. Only the 68% of the inflows is discharged from the reservoirs to preserve the river ecosystem and supply all within-catchment uses. This obviously has an effect on many ecosystem services, especially in those hotspots of spatial competition. This is the case of the stretch just upstream Girona, where the preservation of a good quality of the ecosystem coexists with recreational activities such as angling, kayaking or walking, but also with water extractions particularly for hydropower production. Another similar case is the stretch before the river mouth into the sea, where the extraction for irrigation is important and competes against diverse recreational uses.

31COM and ECO scenarios appear as alternatives that better guarantee the preservation of the ecosystem and the instream uses. Being the former more pragmatic and the latter more utopian, they basically increase instream flows at the expense of the decrease of the water transfer to the MRB as well as the withdrawal for irrigation. The water allocation model simulates the water flows diverted from each withdrawal site. Run with climatic data from the 1981-2008 period, the model analyzes all hydrologic fluxes under the three mention scenarios. However, to know the suitability of these flows to provide ecosystem services depend on the stakeholders’ preferences. This is explained in the following section.

Valuation

32Through an ES production model, we use suitability curves to transform the outcomes of the water allocation model into levels of ES production. Figure 4 shows two examples of suitability curves concerning the provisioning of the services calm-water kayaking and maintenance of coastal wetlands. So, from series of water flows we obtain series of ES production, including information per season (autumn, winter, spring or summer), per type of year (normal, dry or rainy) and per management scenario.

Figure 4. The use of suitability functions to estimate the ES production along the time, for rainy, normal and dry years, under the three management scenarios proposed (BAU, COM and ECO).

Figure 4. The use of suitability functions to estimate the ES production along the time, for rainy, normal and dry years, under the three management scenarios proposed (BAU, COM and ECO).

Legend : 0 is a null level of ES provisioning, 0,5 is the minimum acceptable level and 1 is the optimum.

33In these two examples, we see that in rainy years the river does not reach the suitable level of flow for kayaking, except in the summer; and ECO is the scenario that fits better its requirements. ECO is also more positive for wetland preservation. BAU and COM scenarios do not guarantee the preservation in dry years, particularly in May and September.

34All this process was performed for each ES considered in our model. The comparison among the production of the multiple ES is also a noteworthy possibility of the methodology here presented. Figure 5 illustrates the ES performance, for the different selected types, across different scenarios (BAU, COM and ECO) and across hydrological years (normal, rainy and dry) and seasons. This way of visualizing results unveils synergies and tradeoffs between ES. Thus synergies appear when levels of different ES increase simultaneously, while tradeoffs are related to diverging patterns between ES.

Figure 5. ES performance in different seasons and types of hydrologic year. The outcomes in autumn and in normal years are not shown, since they are pretty similar to those found in winter and the total average, respectively.

Figure 5. ES performance in different seasons and types of hydrologic year. The outcomes in autumn and in normal years are not shown, since they are pretty similar to those found in winter and the total average, respectively.

35For instance, it is possible to observe a likely synergy between the services ‘river ecosystem’ and ‘trout fishing’, which evolve similarly across the different scenarios. Oppositely, the influence of the water transfer drags the bulk of water away from the river channel hence impairs those ES mostly related to instream flows: fishing, kayaking, the maintenance of the ecosystem and the protection from saltwater intrusion. The water transfer is especially favored by BAU and afflicted in ECO, even in rainy years.

36The withdrawals for within-catchment uses are less variable among seasons and scenarios. Domestic and industry water supplies are stable and very close to the level perceived as the optimum by the local stakeholders. Only in the ECO scenario there is a small decrease of water for industry. The hydropower production is also stable, with the highest production in ECO, except in the summer and rainy years, when COM is preferable.

37In all scenarios, the irrigation service remains above the minimum acceptable level, but very close to this threshold of acceptability in the COM and ECO scenarios. Oppositely, the historical canals always reach an acceptable level of provision, but almost reaching the optimum in COM and ECO. Wetlands are maintained in good conditions in the ECO scenario. However, they lack acceptable water flow levels in the summer (COM) and in dry years (BAU and COM).

38The requirement of 3.4 m3/s to protect the aquifers from saltwater intrusion is almost always achieved, with the exception of the summer in BAU . The elver fishing depends on the same variable as the protection from saltwater intrusion. However, it is much more flow demanding hence the instream flows are not suitable in dry years (for BAU) and in the summer (for BAU and COM). Brown trout fishing is even more demanding in terms of instream flows. It almost never reaches the minimum acceptable level in the BAU and COM scenarios, while it always does in ECO.

39Freestyle kayaking demands as much flow as possible, but it also accepts very low flows. Therefore, there are no values below the acceptable level. Obviously, the values of freestyle kayaking are much higher in rainy years and in the ECO scenario. The calm-water kayaking, however, is sensitive to both high and low water flows. It does not reach acceptable levels in the winter, spring and wet years in BAU.

Discussion

How does ES assessment help to understand social conflict on water-flows management?

40Water allocation decisions have historically emphasized the production of ecosystem services – such as hydropower and irrigation – that depend on the construction of infrastructure, usually at the expense of altering the hydrologic dynamics of the river. Such decisions have typically imposed tradeoffs that reduce benefits from free-flowing services (Auerbach et al., 2014). The growing competition over water resources has triggered political disputes among stakeholders hence it has raised academic interest on conflict resolution (e.g., Mianabadi et al., 2014) and, in general, on tools for informing water management in the context of conflict. Specific aspects of potential conflict that are addressed through the different steps of the presented methodology are summarized in Table 6 and discussed below.

Table 6. Usefulness of the ecosystem service approach as a tool to understand social conflicts related to water-flows river management.

Steps

Addressed aspects of potential conflict

Identification

  • Unrecognized or ignored ecosystem services by the management policies

  • Higher attention to the economic benefits than to the social ones

Recognition of the diverse benefits from river flows

Characterization

  • Divergent views because of knowledge gaps

  • Requirements for the ES production damaging for other ES

Hydrological alterations affecting ES production through the space

Localization

  • Coexistence / competition of multiple river uses within the same river stretch

  • Upstream / downstream effects of the provision of a given ES

Quantification and valuation

  • Non-achievement of the minimum acceptable ES-production level for the water flow supplied

  • Inequity on the ES production

  • Restrictions of the share of the available water, especially during dry periods

Tradeoffs among ES

Recognition of the diverse benefits from river flows

41Many features of freshwater ecosystems are relevant for people who daily live with rivers. The lack of recognition may entail the absence of public participation, and in many instances this goes hand in hand with unequal distribution of the resources (Guha and Martínez-Alier, 2013). Even disregarding distributional issues, lack of recognition has been identified as a major dimension of environmental injustice (Schlosberg, 2007). This issue – poorly studied in the context of the Ter River – has already been pointed out, for instance, in relation to cultural ES linked to indigenous values of rivers in Australia (Poirier and Schartmueller, 2012).

42In the case of the Ter, eighteen NGOs (69 % of the surveyees) answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘do you detect any kind of injustice in the management of the Lower Ter?’. When then asked what the origin of such injustice was, 9 out of 18 detected a socio-cultural origin, 13 mentioned a political reason, and 15 thought that the cause was economic. For the Upper Ter, the responses to the same questions were 8, 11 and 11 out of 16, respectively. Therefore, there is the perception of recognition issues, lack of participation and distributional inequalities involved in the management of the environmental flows in the Ter River.

43Focusing on the identification step, some ES absent from the reviewed literature are the relaxing sound of the current water, the mystic atmosphere of the riverbank, the inspiration coming from emblematic species, and the appreciation of historical canals as natural and cultural heritage. In fact, the historical canals sometimes look abandoned because neither the watershed administration (Catalan Water Agency) nor the Natural Park managers nor the landowners (the irrigation communities) are taking responsibility for their management. Actually, an activist group (‘Gent del Ter’) was created with the specific purpose of protecting these canals.

44Other cases of disregarding stakeholders’ values occur in relation to the commission in charge of operating the reservoirs’ discharge, where mainly water consumptive users can participate. One environmental NGO was recently invited to this commission but other actors, such as the anglers associations, are not included. In the Lower Ter, the newly created ‘Water Users’ Community’ explicitly excludes indirect users of water in compliance with the Spanish Water Law. Then agencies in charge of water management tend to recognize only economic uses of the water.

45This lack of recognition also brings to knowledge gaps and hence to misunderstandings and divergences often easy to solve. During one workshop, some participants directly accused an elver fisherman of depleting eel populations, when fishermen are actually part of a European repopulation program. Likewise, hydropower producers blame the expansion of great cormorants throughout the headwaters or the otters’ presence of depleting the brown trout, probably to protect themselves from environmentalists’ criticism. Some other complaints exist regarding the surface irrigation because many people ignore that maintains the aquifer level and the waterfowl habitat.

46Nevertheless, not all disagreement comes from gaps of knowledge. Other common divergences arise from traditional versus new environmental approaches, feelings toward wilderness versus what is exotic, private versus public use of the river, and monetary versus non-monetary values. Even, what is perceived as just at one level may cause an injustice at another level (Patrick et al., 2014). Some decades ago, the benefits of the river were perceived as common goods hence one could gather wicker, extract cobbles or angle trout by their own. Nowadays, the Catalan Water Agency controls all resource extraction and mostly companies can profit from the river.

Hydrological alterations affecting ES production through the space

47Besides the characterization of people’s views, our results also point out the need of giving more room for exploring the biophysical support of ES production. On the one hand, a benefit may need plenty of river attributes to be successfully provided. For swimming, children require the maintenance of morphologically diverse stretches with beaches, pools and waterfalls, combined with certain water conditions in depth, velocity, temperature and physicochemical quality, and the conservation of aesthetically pleasant settings. On the other hand, the same element of the ecosystem may provide a wide range of services depending on its features – e.g., water supplies for the refrigeration of industrial processes, irrigation or domestic uses have different requirements.

48The alteration of the hydrological features of rivers has an impact on this biophysical functioning, as already analyzed for Mediterranean rivers (e.g., Belmar et al., 2013). However, some activities have become adapted to the existing conditions of the river, either altered or natural. Freestyle kayaking and trout fishing are practiced in stretches dominated by riffles and rapids, while calm-water kayaking and carp fishing require dammed stretches. However, although one could find alliances between freestyle kayakers and trout fishermen to preserve the natural flow regime, they also compete for the same space and this creates tensions. While boats may scare fishes as they pass through the angling zones, kayakers sometimes complain about the litter abandoned by anglers in what they expect to be a ‘natural’ waterscape.

49Spatial localization of ES production allows to pinpoint these hotspots of concentration of activities in particular stretches. In Girona, a bulk of water is extracted for hydropower and irrigation. However, as it is so frequented by runners and cyclers, they would rather prioritize the preservation of the waterscape. Despite the challenges imposed by such competition among users, some stakeholders claimed this to be an opportunity for agreeing a responsible management scheme to be exported to the whole basin. Other cases of ES mapping provide similar insights (e.g., Videira et al., 2009). For visualizing the spatial distribution of ES and analyzing the concentration of activities, GIS applications are indispensable (e.g., Sherrouse et al., 2011; Villamagna et al., 2014). GIS also helps to match the cartography of ES production with additional information (e.g., natural parks, fishing reserves and access points) to contextualize the outcomes.

50The observations during the mapping process as well as the results obtained illustrate the geographical distribution of tensions. For instance, water donor basins (the Ter River) versus receptor catchments (in the MRB). But also the distribution of synergies. E.g., water demand for irrigation improves the flow conditions for kayaking during the most frequented months.

Tradeoffs among ES

51In sum, we have identified tradeoffs among ES linked to diverging hydrologic conditions or to the use of the same space. Yet some questions still need to be addressed. What is the magnitude of those tradeoffs? To what extent are the multiple stakeholder types satisfied with a specific level of ES provision? Quantifying and valuing the ES production help to answer these questions. Performing this by modeling not only permits that, but also focuses on specific time periods and stretches of the river, as well as contrasts the results with multiple hypothetical water management or climatic scenarios. In addition, the relevance of these tools increases, since Mediterranean areas of southern Europe are being subject to dramatic changes that will deeply affect the quantity of water resources hence the sustainability of their management (García-Ruiz et al., 2011).

52Modeling also provides a perceived neutral atmosphere for discussing political disputes because of water scarcity, growing consumption and non-equitable distribution of resources (Gaddis et al., 2010; Homer-Dixon, 1994). However, social factors are as important as technical ones in modeling for natural resource planning (Gaddis et al., 2010). Namely that not only environmental and economic sustainability is essential for the water management. The question of what social sustainability means for communities living off of rivers should be also addressed (Andre, 2012). This is why the contribution of the people benefiting from rivers and especially the valuation processes are so central in assessments aiming at being comprehensive and supporting management. More so, gathering that information from this variety of local views, and acknowledging that some benefits are generated because somewhere else the river ecosystem is providing ES, avoids the oversimplification of likely tradeoffs, creates potential for cooperative management decisions and gives room for socially accepted policies (Hirsch et al., 2011; Whitfield and Reed, 2012).

53For the Ter River case, the bulk of water is found to be transferred to the MRB as was expected. The disconnection of this transfer would mean an almost perfect harmony among within-catchment uses, as ECO illustrates. However, the supply of the MRB would be in question; in particular, considering that water resources from the Llobregat River, the other main source of water for the MRB, are expected to decrease between 3 and 49% under climate change conditions (Bangash et al., 2013).

54Bangash et al. (2013) also predicts a decrease between 5 and 43% of the total hydropower production, the second withdrawal in terms of flow amount. Therefore, the already damaged instream uses, especially in dry years, will be seriously threatened if there is no effort to change the current situation. The COM and ECO scenarios appear as alternatives claimed by the civil society, also partially shared by some technicians from the public administration. The main difference between these two alternatives is the level of reduction of the water transfer to the MRB. The more reduced the water transfer is (the maximum in ECO), the more improved the instream uses are expected to be.

55As a result, the ES production model is contrasted with tensions perceived during the fieldwork. In any scenario, the harvest may be jeopardized in dry years, as it happened in 2008 (Martin-Ortega et al., 2012), unless farmers irrigate more efficiently. The industry would be somehow affected if the management changes according to the COM or ECO scenarios, but the conditions of the natural park (including the wetlands and historical canals) and associated services such as tourism would improve. Results also show that hydropower producers do not have to fear an implementation of the environmental flows in case this measure goes accompanied by the reduction of the water transfer. Thus, the COM alternative seems to be a committed alternative in case of good attitude to seek other sources for drinking water supply like the already constructed desalination plants; while the ECO one bets on within-catchment uses, even those that consume water.

Beyond the reach of ecosystem services approaches

56To end the discussion, we need to consider what our study cannot encompass and, particularly, what an ES-based approach does not solve. First, other plausible scenarios are possible. For instance, a reduction of the water transfer that guarantees the current consume of water irrigation, decreased in COM and ECO. Second, there are other conditionings for ES production besides the water flows, and the list is long. From biophysical limitations (e.g., protected waterfowl impede kayak activities during breeding seasons) to management or infrastructural barriers (e.g., many anglers complain that the riverbank is not ‘clean’ so they cannot accede the river). Even, there are other hydrological events not considered in our model that also influence the ES provisioning. They are performed in a temporal scale finer than a month resolution such as floods or rapid changes of the river level caused by sudden maneuvers made in weirs.

57Finally, there are political forces related to water management beyond the biophysical contribution to the ES provisioning. Besides technical solutions for environmental and economic purposes, Sorg et al. (2014) and Andre (2012) suggest institutional solutions to address social sustainability. Sometimes, tensions come when there are two opposite views regarding how the water should be managed, even if both aim at providing an equal distribution of ES.

58In the Ter basin, we detected two divergent profiles among the people struggling for a better water management. Both share a scrupulously defense of the implementation of environmental flows and the reduction of the water transfer to the MRB. On the one hand, some are totally against any water transfer hence they struggle to remove them, recognizing that an extra effort should be made in order to reduce the industrial consumption of water within the MRB and to improve the water quality of its intra-basin sources. On the other hand, others would be content by enforcing the Sectoral Plan for Maintenance Flows (ACA, 2005), but they think that the pressure should be shared among all the river basins, hence a network of inter-basin water connections should be constructed – also called ‘water-bank’. Therefore, the results from the valuation need to be read considering these two views. Within the Ter basin, an inclination to the business-as-usual is hardly found, even among the interviewees from the Catalan Water Agency. As it is mention, it is unavoidable that tensions appear in front of such different views regarding the water management and an ecosystem services approach cannot help here.

Conclusion

59In relation to potential conflicts in the Lower Ter, our methodology based of a five-step assessment offers several insights. First, even those stakeholders with the least significant relationship with the river need to be recognized. Since all ecosystem services have their own hydrologic requirements and each beneficiary its perception towards them, the ES provision become complex, but the characterization may facilitate the disentanglement. Second, different users compete for flows to generate different types of services, interfering in spatial coexistence. Thus, ES localization pinpoints those competition hotspots that should be managed. Girona is a good example where hydropower production coexists with tourism and local recreation. Third, ES modeling spots critical moments of competition over the hydrologic year and for rainy, dry and normal years. In the summer, demands for irrigation are higher and, consequently, the dams discharge a larger amount of water, which enhances the instream conditions for kayaking. Finally, developing different management scenarios, and changing the priorities of water allocation, uncovers those water uses that restrict the provision of the others. In particular, the water transfer to Barcelona drags the bulk of water flows, impacting the production of the rest, especially during dry years; and hydropower production does not particularly threat the river ecosystem when the transfer is low.

60The model here presented is a useful tool to understand the complexity of managing rivers that frequently suffer natural droughts and intense human pressure, as the case of the Ter River, in the Mediterranean basin. Multiple stakeholders are involved to describe their relationship with the river, to incorporate their requirements in terms of water flows and to design management scenarios preferable for them. This paper shows sound tradeoffs in specific stretches and at specific moments, giving an idea of where and when a conflict can erupt under the controversial business-as-usual scenario. The compatibility-of-uses and ecosystem-priority scenarios appear as management alternatives with the aim of sharing the benefits that a well-preserved river provides. Making these results explicit improves transpare­­ncy hence facilitates informed negotiation for a better river management.

Acknowledgements

61This work has been funded by the project CSO2010-21979 from the Spanish National Program for Basic Research. B. Rodriguez-Labajos also acknowledges funding from the FP7 EU project EJOLT (G.A. 266642) and from the BMBF project LEGATO. Our gratitude to Andreu Manzano (Catalan Water Agency) and to Mark Mulligan and Arnaut van Soesbergen (King’s College London) for their help regarding the water allocation modeling. We also thank Teresa Monje, Marc Ordeix, Ivan Bustamante, Gerard Cruset, Daniela del Bene, Raúl Velasco, Camilo Martínez, Alexandre Franquesa, Patricia García, Ferran Alsina and Sara Maestre for their support organizing and leading the workshops.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 Study area.
URL http://vertigo.revues.org/docannexe/image/17462/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 248k
Titre Figure 2. Step-by-step process of the methodology.
URL http://vertigo.revues.org/docannexe/image/17462/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 200k
Titre Figure 3. Mapping of the ES delivery along the Lower Ter River. Black stretches represent where people use the ES dependent on instream flows, while grey dots are water withdrawals supplying other ES.
URL http://vertigo.revues.org/docannexe/image/17462/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 102k
Titre Figure 4. The use of suitability functions to estimate the ES production along the time, for rainy, normal and dry years, under the three management scenarios proposed (BAU, COM and ECO).
Légende Legend : 0 is a null level of ES provisioning, 0,5 is the minimum acceptable level and 1 is the optimum.
URL http://vertigo.revues.org/docannexe/image/17462/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 604k
Titre Figure 5. ES performance in different seasons and types of hydrologic year. The outcomes in autumn and in normal years are not shown, since they are pretty similar to those found in winter and the total average, respectively.
URL http://vertigo.revues.org/docannexe/image/17462/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
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Référence électronique

Dídac Jordà-Capdevila, Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos et Mònica Bardina, « A five-step assessment of river ecosystem services to inform conflictive water-flows management – the Ter River case », VertigO - la revue électronique en sciences de l'environnement [En ligne], Hors-série 25 | août 2016, mis en ligne le 26 août 2016, consulté le 23 juillet 2017. URL : http://vertigo.revues.org/17462 ; DOI : 10.4000/vertigo.17462

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Auteurs

Dídac Jordà-Capdevila

Institut des Sciences et de la Technologie de l’environnement (ICTA), Université Autonome de Barcelone (UAB), Plaza Cívica, s/n, 08193 Bellaterra, Espagne, Courriel : dd.joca@gmail.com

Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

Institut des Sciences et de la Technologie de l’environnement (ICTA), Université Autonome de Barcelone (UAB), Plaza Cívica, s/n, 08193 Bellaterra, Espagne

Mònica Bardina

Agence Catalane de l'eau (ACA), C/ Provença, 204-208, 08036 Barcelone, Espagne

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