Understanding flows for integrated catchment management: water quality, quantity and ecosystem services

Date: 29 January 2019

Venue: Campus Drie Eiken, Promotiezaal Q0.02 - Universiteitsplein 1 - 2610 Antwerpen-Wilrijk (route: UAntwerpen, Campus Drie Eiken)

Time: 5:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: Department of Biology

PhD candidate: Dirk Vrebos

Principal investigator: Patrick Meire & Jan Staes

Short description: PhD defence Dirk Vrebos - Faculty of Science, Department of Biology


Human developments, such as increasing urbanization, have a wide range of effects on catchments and river systems. This results in profound changes in the hydrological regime and a deterioration of the water quality, which threaten the sustainable use of these systems and bring considerable costs. To manage these changing catchment characteristics sustainably, both natural and anthropogenic processes need to be understood and evaluated in an integrated approach. Over the past decades, related management concepts, such as integrated catchment management, have been translated into policy and legislation. But their actual implementation remains a challenge. Integrating the concept of ecosystem services might improve the effectiveness of these management frameworks.

The overall objective of this work is the development of methodologies that allow for the implementation of the ecosystem services concept in integrated catchment and natural resources management. But to develop these, first a good understanding of the catchments processes is required. Therefore, in the first part of this work, the impact of human development and land use patterns on flow pathways, water quantity and quality is investigated in the Nete catchment, Belgium. Different modelling and statistical analysis are used to assess spatial and temporal relationships over different scales. Special attention goes to the impact of wastewater treatment infrastructure on catchment functioning. The results signify the fundamental changes that have taken place in river dynamics and reveal a number of specific challenges a complex catchment system poses. In the second part this system knowledge is used to develop methodologies which aim to integrate the ecosystem service concept in ICM and INRM in both data rich and data scarce catchments. Indicators are developed to evaluate the supply and demand of several ecosystem services in an upstream-downstream analysis. The developed methodologies illustrate the opportunities of such an integration, but also the remaining challenges and serious limitations of such an approach are discussed.

This thesis provides evidence of the human impact on the hydrological regime of rivers, with an emphasis on the importance of the sewer system. The temporal and spatial scales at which these changes have taken place, makes it difficult to investigate the relevant processes and flow paths. This hampers the actual implementation of such integrated management concepts. Overall this thesis illustrates how human development has affected natural systems to a point where management from an integrated, system perspective has become almost impossible.

Link: https://www.uantwerpen.be/science