The celebration of World Water Day on March 22 provides a good opportunity to reflect on the needs of users, the importance of water resources for the maintenance of ecological functions and the value of having digital tools such as HydroBID to assess and establish measures to ensure a sustainable management of the resource.
Latin America and the Caribbean account for one third of the freshwater available on the planet. Ensuring adequate management of this valuable resources will determine whether we are able to improve access to drinking water and use it as a source of electricity, in the agricultural industry, or to reduce vulnerability in populated areas, while promoting the conservation of ecosystems and the species that inhabit the watersheds. For this reason, water is currently recognized as a central element that links different sectors, given it has no substitutes and it is related to social, economic and political issues, as well as to the very subsistence of human beings and ecosystems.
Water in IDB’s Environmental and Social Policy Framework
The IDB’s new Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF), effective October 2021, comprises ten Environmental and Social Performance Standards (ESPS) that describe the requirements for IDB-financed projects to be environmentally and socially sustainable. ESPS 1, on assessment and management of environmental and social risks and impacts, highlights the importance of identifying risks and impacts related to ecosystem services and natural resource use. In turn, ESPS 6, which covers the protection and conservation of biodiversity, the maintenance of ecosystem services and the sustainable management of living natural resources, defines ecosystem services as the benefits that people, including businesses, obtain from ecosystems.
Water provisioning is an ecosystem service on which different stakeholders depend and is the basis for the development of the water and sanitation projects in which the Bank is actively involved in the region. Therefore, the environmental and social assessment of projects must include methodologies to identify risks and impacts on the use, access and availability of the water supply service throughout the project cycle.
HydroBID: tools to manage the water resource
At the IDB, we are working on optimizing the impact assessment process through the use of innovative digital tools such as HydroBID WAM and HydroBID WaterAlloc. Their use will allow us to obtain objective information to assess impacts on ecosystem services and to incorporate sustainable environmental and social management measures.
- HydroBID WAM (Water Assessment Model) is a simulation tool focused on water resources planning and management in the region. It consists of two components: a rainfall-runoff simulation model that estimates spatial and temporal availability (daily, monthly and annual) at the basin and sub-basin level, and a database that includes the characterization, connectivity and parameterization of more than 300,000 basins in Latin America and the Caribbean. HydroBID WAM is a powerful and unique tool at the regional level, with which to assess the effects of climate change or changes in land use, sediment generation, water quality, ecological flows and the theoretical hydropower potential of the region’s watersheds.
- HydroBID WaterAlloc (Water Allocation) is a tool to calculate water balance that incorporates the capabilities of HydroBID into the MODSIM demand optimization model, with which the distribution of water among the different users in a watershed (population, agriculture, hydropower and others, such as the ecosystem) can be analyzed. The effect of water transfers, reservoirs, water treatment plants, non-revenue water and the contribution of wells can also be studied with this model to evaluate water allocation schemes, infrastructure needs, efficiency in irrigation areas and to implement master management plans and drought management plans. HydroBID WaterAlloc also has an economic evaluation module that estimates the costs related to rationing that may occur in the system.
In 2016, the IDB created the HydroBID Technical Support Center for Latin America and the Caribbean (CeSH), which provides free access to tools and technical support to strengthen activities related to integrated water resource management and planning, adaptation, mitigation and preparedness for extreme climate events. It also seeks to support the preparation and implementation of resilient and sustainable investment programs, in line with institutional priorities.
Tools such as HydroBID are often thought of as complicated and designed to be used by technicians. However, they have great potential not only to assess environmental impacts, but also to better communicate to different stakeholders about actions in the watershed that impact ecosystem services. Therefore, we are working to facilitate the use of these tools by non-technical users for impact assessment and for the presentation of results.
Would you use these tools to conduct environmental assessments? What kind of results would you expect to get? Let us know in the comments.