Rich Countries Trash Their River Systems and Make Things Worse With Expensive Engineering Fixes — Global Study in Nature

Jaw-dropping fact: Rivers in US and Europe in Worst Shape

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE Canada, Oct 5, 2010 (IPS)

Failure to protect and invest in nature has left the world’s rivers in crisis, threatening the water supply of more than five billion people according to a new study.

Pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, conversion of wetlands, and water-works engineering have severely impacting global river systems, the first- ever health assessment of the planet’s riverine ecosystems reported in Nature last week (subscription req’d).

What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe,” says Peter McIntyre, a co-author of the report who is a zoologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the U.S.

“Our study reveals, that on average, the richer the country the greater the threat to river systems,” McIntyre told IPS.

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Expensive water-works engineering to control freshwater quality and quantity in rich countries decimate rivers’ natural abilities to control and clean water the Nature study found. River systems provide an estimated six to seven trillion dollars in services to humanity every year, but the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on engineering systems impairs those services for short-term gain, says co-author Charles Vörösmarty of the City University of New York, an expert on global water resources.

“We need to take another approach, to join hands with nature and work together,” Vörösmarty said in an interview. “If we do humanity will get a far better payback in the future.” Continue reading