Natural resources on Earth are finite, and some of them - such as water – are crucial to the fate of societies and human life. If water is scarce, droughts, wildfires and famine can appear. If water is too much, floods and landslides can be expected. Water quality is crucial for human health and wellbeing: Organic, chemical or radioactive pollution can make entire water reservoirs unfit for drinking and/or agricultural purposes. In particular, the increasing human population will put larger pressures on natural water resources, including shallow and deep aquifers. On top of this, water plays a fundamental role in ecosystems: the availability and quality of water determines ecosystem functioning and modulate ecosystem services. For all these reasons, there is widespread consensus that water is one of the essential resources of future decades, whose distribution and availability are exposed to the vagaries of global and climate change. New Earth Observation approaches are needed to quantify water quality and quantity, together with ecohydrological and socio-economic models capable of describing what is happening and estimating the future fate of water resources. Such models should incorporate uncertainty estimates and cope with multi-risk exposure, and include societal response. Innovative and more efficient management and distribution systems are then required, together with improved ability to desalinize sea water. Relevant themes include public versus private water management (a topic with significant implications on environmental policies and the type of society we aim at), the best approaches to technology transfer to developing countries, and the contrast between the needs and views of different interest groups. Central to any foresight exercise, the issue of future water quality, quantity, availability and management is a complex arena where science, technology, policy and ethics meet each other, not without clashes. It is to the scientists to develop indications on the best strategies to address these problems, helping to build the future we want.


The topic of future water quantity and quality is central to ongoing discussions at all policy and science levels, as well as to many European and international research, technology and management projects. Here, we adopt a long-term view and address the issue of water in its broadest sense, from changes in precipitation owing to climate and land-use change, to water pollution, effects on soil and ecosystems, the expected dangers of flooding and droughts, the identification of the best management strategies and the related geopolitical hazards. Special attention is given to the problems of uncertainty quantification, interaction between different risks, and societal response. In April 2016, an exploratory workshop on the theme of future water quality, quantity and management was organized at the Fondazione Comel in Pisa. As a result, a summary on the future water challenges identified in the workshop was prepared, and it can be found in the report section.

WG COORDINATOR: Antonello Provenzale
E-Mail: antonello.provenzale@cnr.it