Accounting for water quality


Daniela Russi, Geneva, 6 January 2013

While there is already considerable experience with accounting for water quantity, water quality accounts is still at a beginning phase

Water quality accounts can support water management and water policy by collecting and systematizing information in a structured and coherent way, in order to allow for monitoring of trends over time and across different geographical areas. In addition, water quality accounts can be analyzed together with water quantity accounts and other kinds of environmental-economics accounts (e.g. land accounts, environmental protection expenditure accounts), in order to shed light on the links between different environmental areas.

While there is already considerable experience with accounting for water quantity, water quality accounts are still at a beginning phase. The ‘System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) – Water’ guidance manual includes a general discussion on key methodological challenges related to accounting for water quality and some examples, but it does not provide a standard.

Water emission accounts can also provide useful information on water quality. However, they measure a key pressure on water quality, but not water quality per se. The reason for that is that water quality can be influenced by other factors than the emission of pollutants into water, like for example the level of dilution, which depends, in turn, on water abstraction and precipitations. Water emission accounts are prepared by many countries and the SEEA Central Framework provides guidance on how to develop them.

Ecosystem accounts measure the extent and condition of ecosystems and the flows of ecosystem services (i.e. benefits that humans receive from ecosystems, like for example the water purification role played by healthy wetlands). Since water quality plays a key role in ensuring healthy ecosystems and ecosystem services, ecosystem accounts can give useful information on water quality. Ecosystem accounts are also at a beginning phase, with first attempts being currently developed by the European Environment Agency and the State of Victoria, Australia, among others.

Many challenges remain related to the preparation of water quality accounts and related kinds of accounts, including methodological development, terminology, data collection, systematisation and sustained production of the accounts. National experimentation and dialogue between those developing accounts and those potentially making use of them will be essential in the coming years to improve the quality and policy use of water accounts.

All these issues have been discussed during the expert workshop “Natural Capital Accounting and Water Quality”, which has been held at the Institute for European Policy on 13th December 2013, with the participation of Strahil Christov (EU DG Environment), Jacques Delsalle (EU DG Environment), Bram Edens (Statistics Netherlands), Kremena Gocheva (Ministry of Environment and Water, Bulgaria), Dagmar Kaljarikova (EU DG Environment), Jan-Erik Petersen (EEA), Jana Poláková (IEEP), Daniela Russi (IEEP), Marianne Schuerhoff (Statistics Netherlands), Patrick ten Brink (IEEP), Rob Tinch (Eftec) and Jean-Louis Weber. The workshop was organised in order to discuss a first draft of a briefing note on natural capital and water quality accounts that have been prepared by Daniela Russi and Patrick ten Brink (IEEP) for UNEP, thanks to financing from the Norwegian government, and as a follow-up of the TEEB for Water and Wetlands report. The briefing note will be published soon and will be available in the TEEB webpage.

About the author

DanielaDaniela Russi works as a senior policy analyst at the Institute for European Environmental Policy. She deals with a wide range of topics related to Ecological and Environmental Economics, including Payment for Ecosystem Services, Ecosystem Capital Accounting and water policies. She is the first author of the TEEB Water and Wetlands report. She holds a PhD in Environmental Sciences/Ecological Economics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain.

Picture credits: Lawrence Hislop

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