Green Infrastructure – effective and sustainable solutions in water management

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have produced a water management manual based on the principles of green infrastructure. The purpose of the publication is to popularise the solutions, and to present efficient and sustainable projects already in operation that use green or hybrid (traditional – gray and natural – green) infrastructural solutions in the field of water management.

The solutions to today’s complex water management challenges are increasingly furnished by the application of the services of natural or Green Infrastructure. Within water management, any solution in which natural or quasi-natural systems offer efficiency or productivity on par with built water management systems can be considered an application of the green infrastructure approach. Green infrastructure solutions endeavour to utilise the services offered by the natural ecosystem in a manner that is more holistic, and which has a more positive effect on other areas of life than built solutions. As a result, green infrastructural solutions can be utilised for the implementation of a number of directives. For instance, retaining the natural condition of flood plains reduces the risk of flooding, but it also has a positive effect on water quality, it replenishes groundwater and has a beneficial impact on fish management and game protection, while also offering opportunities for recreation and tourism. While built infrastructures depreciate in time and their efficiency also decreases, green infrastructural developments are continuously able to utilise everything that the soil and vegetation produce and reproduce.

Source: IUCN Water Programme

The use of solutions based on green infrastructure in water management is crucial for reducing the national, regional and global-level impacts of climate change and also in meeting the demands of areas with water shortages. Therefore the demand for their application is complex: on the one hand, urgent, sustainable solutions are needed to counter the accelerating impacts of climate change, while it is also similarly exceptionally important to maintain and secure resources of drinking water, to make investments efficient and to create solutions that are sustainable in the long term from the environmental perspective as well.

One of the most important virtues of the publication is that it emphasises green infrastructure services and the best practices of their utilisation which had not received much attention previously, despite the fact that they can be used to render the water management services provided by traditional, built infrastructures more effective and cost-efficient. The manual also contains a methodological outline for assessing the details of a proposed project, including financial specification, environmental impacts, economic and cost-benefit assessment and risk analysis. It is important to note that the publication does not evaluate green projects in relation to projects involving traditional solutions, but places the emphasis on an integrated approach and evaluation, thereby providing an excellent basis for selecting ideal and sustainable development solutions.

The manual is available for download from the electronic library of IUCN.