Human uses of freshwater resources are increasing rapidly as the world population rises. As this happens, less water is left to support aquatic and associated ecosystems. To minimize future human water shortages and undesirable environmental impacts, more equitable sharing of water resources between society and nature is required. This will require physical quantities and social values to be placed on both human and aquatic ecosystem requirements. Current water valuation systems are dominated by economic values and this paper illustrates new quantification and valuation methods that take more account of human well–being and environmental impacts.
The key to the effective implementation of these more equitable water allocation methods is the use of catchment–based integrated water resources management. This holistic framework makes it possible for human and ecosystem water requirements and the interactions between them to be better understood. This knowledge provides the foundation for incorporating relevant social factors so that water policies and laws can be developed to make best use of limited water resources. Catchment–based co–management can therefore help to ensure more effective sharing of water between people and nature.