Interbasin water transfer in a changing world: a new conceptual model

Ed Rollason, Pammi Nitin Sinha*, Louise Bracken

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)
    94 Downloads (Pure)


    Water scarcity is a global issue, affecting in excess of four billion people. Interbasin Water Transfer (IBWT) is an established method for increasing water supply by transferring excess water from one catchment to another, water-scarce catchment. The implementation of IBWT peaked in the 1980s and was accompanied by a robust academic debate of its impacts. A recent resurgence in the popularity of IBWT, and particularly the promotion of mega-scale schemes, warrants revisiting this technology. This paper provides an updated review, building on previously published work, but also incorporates learning from schemes developed since the 1980s. We examine the spatial and temporal distribution of schemes and their drivers, review the arguments for and against the implementation of IBWT schemes and examine conceptual models for assessing IBWT schemes. Our analysis suggests that IBWT is growing in popularity as a supply-side solution for water scarcity and is likely to represent a key tool for water managers into the future. However, we argue that IBWT cannot continue to be delivered through current approaches, which prioritise water-centric policies and practices at the expense of social and environmental concerns. We critically examine the Socio-Ecological Systems and Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus models as new conceptual models for conceptualising and assessing IBWT. We conclude that neither model offers a comprehensive solution. Instead, we propose an enhanced WEF model (eWEF) to facilitate a more holistic assessment of how these mega-scale engineering interventions are integrated into water management strategies. The proposed model will help water managers, decision-makers, IBWT funders and communities create more sustainable IBWT schemes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number030913332110650
    Pages (from-to)371-397
    Number of pages27
    JournalProgress in Physical Geography
    Issue number3
    Early online date29 Dec 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


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