The Freshwater Imperative Workshop

Network News Fall 1993, Vol. 14 No. 1
Network News

The 36 scientists attending the January 1993 Freshwater Imperative (FWI) Workshop in Friday Harbor, WA, sponsored by NSF and other federal agencies, made good progress in establishing a research agenda for limnology. Limnology, the study of inland lakes, reservoirs, streams, wetlands, and groundwater as ecological systems, is a multidisciplinary field involving all sciences that can be used to understand such waters.

The integrating theme of the FWI is to provide a predictive understanding of inland aquatic systems. The workshop objective was to identify research opportunities and frontiers in inland water ecology.

Fresh water is a strategic resource and an indispensable component of Life for consumption, habitat, transportation and energy. Increasingly, limnologists are being called upon to provide a predictive understanding of freshwater ecological systems, but are unable to respond effectively at a scale commensurate with the issues. Statistics for North America show the increased stress on aquatic systems: from 1950 to 1985 hydropower generation has increased by a factor of 11, water withdrawals for irrigation by 3. Changes have taken place in this century in the distribution, abundance, and quality of water and aquatic resources that represent a threat to the quality of life, environmental sustain- ability, and the viability of human cultures.

The need for predictive understanding is urgent, yet funding and infrastructure have dwindled, and expenditures on waters for nonscience management activities are often not cost effective. Freshwater science today is largely dependent on short- term studies that do not allow separation of anthropogenic from natural variation.

Workshop participants identified the need to predict change at regional scales as a strategic issue for the freshwater sciences. Another was to advance human effects and the sustenance of socioeconomic and environmental integrity. Research priorities included environmental vitality and restoration, biodiversity, modified hydrologic regimes, human health and sustainability, measures of the human and environmental condition, and linkages to policy and management.

Implementation ideas included not only a broad range of approaches aimed at enhancing the contribution of individual scientists, existing programs and training opportunities, but also the development of topical and regional centers and research sires. Long-term research is needed for both “unimpaired” and toxic or significantly altered sites.

Seeds for institutional support are being established in NSF and other water- related agencies. The F’VI is clearly relevant to a range of agencies and to interagency collaboration, owing to the pervasiveness of water in most, if not all, aspects of human endeavor.


Robert J. Naiman, Center for Streamside Studies, University of Washington & John J. Magnuson, University of Wisconsin-Madison