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Nature as the “Natural” goal for water management : a conversation.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • Kevin Bishop
  • Keith J. Beven
  • Georgia Destouni
  • Katarina Abrahamsson
  • Lotte Andersson
  • Richard K. Johnson
  • Johan Rodhe
  • Niclas Hjerdt
Journal publication date06/2009
JournalAMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
Number of pages6
Original languageEnglish


The goals for water-quality and ecosystem integrity are often defined relative to “natural” reference conditions in many water-management systems, including the European Union Water Framework Directive. This paper examines the difficulties created for water management by using “natural” as the goal. These difficulties are articulated from different perspectives in an informal (fictional) conversation that takes place after a workshop on reference conditions in water-resources management. The difficulties include defining the natural state and modeling how a system might be progressed toward the natural, as well as the feasibility and desirability of restoring a natural state. The paper also considers the appropriateness for developing countries to adopt the use of natural as the goal for water management. We conclude that failure to critically examine the complexities of having “natural” as the goal will compromise the ability to manage the issues that arise in real basins by not making the ambiguities associated with this “natural” goal explicit. This is unfortunate both for the western world that has embraced this model of “natural as the goal” and for the developing world in so far as they are encouraged to adopt this model.