II Major Water Engineering Projects – Challenges, Problems, Opportunities

Major Water Engineering Projects: Definitions, Framework Conditions, Systemic Effects

Sebastian Hoechstetter, Christine Bismuth, and Hans-Georg Frede

Abstract This chapter aims at providing an overview of major water engineering projects as they are perceived within the scope of this volume. Furthermore, general principles of water technologies and their role in water conflicts and for solving water-related problems are outlined. An evaluation framework of technological measures for water management is meant to serve as a guiding concept for the indepth analysis of the two study regions dealt with in this volume, i.e. the Fergana Valley and the Lower Jordan Valley.

Keywords Water technology • Definition of MWEPs • Trends in water engineering

• Path dependency • Evaluation framework • Water storage • Water distribution • Water use • Integrated water resource management • Water engineering

Definition of Major Water Engineering Projects – A Proposal

Major water engineering projects (MWEPs) have been the subject of a large number of studies and analyses in a variety of scientific disciplines. However, a precise, standardised and generally accepted definition is missing so far.

Thinking of MWEPs, one of the first associations coming to the mind of many people might be large dams and reservoirs. A rather simple definition of large dams has been provided by ICOLD (International Commission on Large Dams). ICOLD has defined them as dams with a height over 15 m. Other institutions (such as the World Commission on Dams) additionally designate dams as “large” when they have a height between 5 and 15 m and a reservoir capacity of more than 3 × 106 m3. Similar specifications, however, are not available for other MWEPs.

Large-scale technological approaches, however, are not limited to dams and reservoirs, but also comprise irrigation management, industrial usage and many other purposes. Therefore, an attempt to a general definition of MWEPs is made in this chapter. We argue that the planning, implementation and evaluation of such projects should not be reduced to merely technical aspects. Instead, a more generic approach is pursued here, and the implications of MWEPs for economy, society and the environment are considered as well.

“Water engineering” has been defined by Lotti (1980) as the subject that includes (among others) “everything connected with the use of water resources, namely: the study of the element 'water' (hydrology and hydraulics); the definition of its uses and the structures needed for these; flood control; the maintenance of water quality standards; socioeconomic aspects; and the relationship between water resources and the environment.”

Accordingly, within the scope of this volume, major water engineering projects are regarded as technical operations and construction schemes related to these fields with a spatial, temporal and economic extent that is likely to result in relevant and far-reaching effects on society and the environment. Their specific characteristics affect many sectors of public life. The most prominent feature of MWEPs, however, is their significant effect on and their (usually permanent) intervention into natural hydrological regimes.

The most important purposes of MWEPs relate to the following types usage (according to Lotti 1980):

• Water supply

• Irrigation

• Industrial use

• Energy production, conversion and storage

• Inland navigation

• Fishing

• Recreation

As a result, major water engineering projects feature both potentially beneficial and adverse outcomes and can be described by the following common characteristics:

• MWEPs are of high national or even transnational relevance.

• They exhibit a high degree of complexity, resulting in a high demand in financial and human resources. As a consequence, they may involve major financial obligations or even risks.

• Expert knowledge and highly skilled personnel are needed for the establishment and the operation of MWEPs.

• Various stakeholders and social interest groups are affected by MWEPs. Thus, such projects imply the necessity of a reconciliation of different interests of individuals, groups and the society as a whole, national and international.

• The consequences of these projects are in many cases irreversible, i.e. the initial state of the system (ecological, constructional, social) cannot be restored.

• MWEPs tie up a large amount of resources and, therefore, limit the choice of options for action both for the presence and for the future.

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