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The concept of Source to Sea

Intensification of human activities can affect ecosystems from land and along rivers to the coastal zones and in marine environments. The relationship between upstream pressures and downstream effects highlights the importance of coordinating efforts on the management of freshwater and oceans.

Foto: Jonas Forsberg

Access to water is a pre-requisite for human well-being and for much of the food, energy and industrial production that is necessary to achieve a sustainable economic growth.

However, these opportunities and developments alter a number of water-related flows that connect land and/or urban areas with freshwater systems, rivers, deltas, coasts and oceans which can affect ecosystems in the whole continuum.

Several pressures that can affect ecosystems downstream, in the coastal zones and in marine environments, originate from upstream developments on land and along rivers. These include direct pressures from production on land such as agriculture, industrial activities, forestry and energy production and through indirect pressures such as consumption. In addition, there are several pressures at sea derived from fisheries, transports, extraction of non-living-resources (mining, sand, oil and gas) that affect the marine environment. It may also have effects on coastal zones and upstream in deltas and rivers.

These challenges, together with climate change and increased future needs of water, food and energy call for new forms of holistic and integrated management approaches that take the whole continuum from source to sea into consideration. Policies and management systems need to allocate water between sectors and downstream/upstream users, secure reliable delivery and adequate water quality, and protect people and the environment from hazards and degradation of ecosystems. Hence integrating complex economic, social and environmental aspects and dimensions with a source to sea approach is a necessity to achieve sustainable development.

How does SwAM apply the Source to Sea approach?

In order to strengthen and streamline the work on marine and water issues within Sweden and take a comprehensive approach to the management of oceans and freshwater ecosystems the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM) was established. The concept of Source to Sea was of high relevance to the government when deciding on establishing the agency that started its operations in July 2011. The agency has the main responsibility in Sweden for the management of seas, lakes and rivers including fisheries management, to secure healthy ecosystems and human needs.

However, close collaboration between SwAM and other Swedish authorities such as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) and Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU) is necessary to achieve a management system that takes the whole source to sea continuum into consideration, integrating land-based activities affecting water recourses and ecosystems in decision-making processes.

A source to sea approach can and need to be applied on different geographical scales when identifying and implementing measures and management arrangements. SwAM is assigned to work on water related issues from a local to a national, regional and global scale with a broad area of responsibilities. Several of them have a distinct source to sea relevance and impact.

The agency is for example responsible for issues regarding bathing water quality (in swedish) which could be affected by i.a. local land-based pollutions. Another example is small-scale (onsite) wastewater systems which may have very local effects on water systems from source to sea.

On a national scale the agency are responsible for implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Since the agency has both directives under its assignment the agency has the possibility to align the program of measures of the two directives to better meet the challenges of upstream pressure and downstream effects.

The importance of cooperation across national borders to address source to sea challenges cannot be stressed enough. Regionally SwAM is engaged in multilateral policy collaboration in the Baltic Sea through the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) and the Oslo-Paris Convention (OSPAR) for the North Sea. Both HELCOM and OSPAR apply a source to sea approach by inclusion of pressures from terrestrial freshwater catchments in the conventions.

Bilateral cooperation as well as engagement in multilateral policy processes within the water area are important ways of work for SwAM to develop effective environmental administration for mutual strategic benefit such as implementation of commitments under international environmental conventions to foster the work of applying a source to sea approach.

Furthermore SwAM has a long-term development program that engages in relevant projects and policy processes to promote integrated management of fresh and marine waters in order to minimize negative impacts on ecosystems and ensuring ecosystem services that poor people depend upon for their livelihoods and food security.

SwAM also contributes to many activities within the Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management, a multi-stakeholder initiative that helps freshwater, coastal and marine experts to contribute to global knowledge generation on source-to-sea interconnections, connect and engage in collaborative projects, promote best practices, and take collaborative action to improve the management of land, water, coastal and marine linkages.

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Published: 2017-05-12

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