Freshwater health is defined as the ability to deliver water-related ecosystem services, sustainably and equitably, at the drainage basin scale, thus linking the ecological function and condition of upstream areas of service generation with downstream communities.
The Freshwater Health Index is a tool that measures ecosystem system health by making clear connections between freshwater ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people.
The Index is intended to help track freshwater health over time – thus requiring an iterative process between scientists, end-users and other stakeholders so that the result is salient, credible and useful.
By evaluating potential impacts from climate change, land cover change, population growth and water allocation decisions, the Index can also make trade-offs more explicit and help direct policies and practices that maintain healthy watersheds into the future.
The Freshwater Health Index tool allows end users – including resource managers, engineers, policy makers and other interested stakeholders – to transform data into commonly scaled indicators (on a 0-100 scale), providing a baseline diagnosis of a basin’s health as well as a platform for analyzing changes over time. Users can evaluate scenarios, understand tradeoffs, prioritize interventions and communicate basin health with a broad audience.
The intended scale of application for the Freshwater Health Index is the drainage basin – where resource management decisions are most relevant and decision support is likely to be most useful – but it can also be applied at smaller or larger scales. It can also be adapted to meet socio-political, economic and ecological variations as well as data availability and informational needs.