Rivers maintain unique biotic resources and provide critical water supplies to people. Rivers in Crisis is a global dataset that highlights threats to biodiversity, eutrophication, sediment loading, cropland, wetland disconnectivity, soil salinization, pesticide loading, and river fragmentation. The Earth’s limited supplies of fresh water and irreplaceable biodiversity are vulnerable to human mismanagement of watersheds and waterways. Rivers in Crisis provides geographic data on multiple environmental stressors, such as agricultural runoff, pollution and invasive species, threaten rivers that serve 80 percent of the world’s population. These same stressors endanger the biodiversity of 65 percent of the world’s river habitats putting thousands of aquatic wildlife species at risk. Efforts to abate fresh water degradation through highly engineered solutions are effective at reducing the impact of threats but at a cost that can be an economic burden and often out of reach for developing nations. The River in Crisis dataset, reported in the September 30 issue of “Nature”, presents the first global-scale initiative to quantify the impact of these human-induced stressors on human water security and riverine biodiversity.
Overcoming this global crisis of water insecurity for both humans and biodiversity requires deliberate prevention of impairment rather than simply offsetting threats once they arise. It is more cost effective to ensure that river systems are not impaired in the first place. The Rivers in Crisis dataset emphasizes the need for better land use management, better irrigation techniques and emphasis on protecting ecosystems and the life forms within them.