Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A watershed moment for healthy watersheds

The healthy watersheds concept links ecosystem condition with human benefits and helps decision-makers evaluate trade-offs. Implementation requires letting go of technocratic approaches, accounting for ecosystem services, embracing watersheds’ complexity and supporting participatory processes and subsidiarity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: An example of the characteristic complexity of a watershed (Rhone River near Culoz, France).
Fig. 2: A framework for watershed health, illustrating its three pillars and principles.


  1. Patterson, J. et al. Nat. Sustain. 4, 841–850 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Reid, A. J. et al. Biol. Rev. 94, 849–873 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Vollmer, D. & Harrison, I. J. Environ. Res. Lett. 16, 011005 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Zeitoun, M. et al. Glob. Environ. Change 39, 143–154 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bezerra, M. O. et al. Environ. Manage. 69, 815–834 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Souter, N. J. et al. Water 12, 788 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Akhmouch, A., Clavreul, D. & Glas, P. Water Int. 43, 5–12 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Andersson, E. Ambio 51, 1–8 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Huntington, H. P. et al. Nat. Sustain. 4, 672–679 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Soames Job, R. F. Am. J. Public Health 78, 163–167 (1988).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Poff, N. L. et al. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 25–34 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Diaz-Kope, L. & Miller-Stevens, K. Public Works Management and Policy 20, 29–48 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. OECD Financing a Water Secure Future (OECD Publishing, 2022).

  14. Cardascia, S. Financing Water Infrastructure and Landscape Approaches in Asia and the Pacific. Background Paper for 5th Roundtable on Financing Water (OECD Publishing, 2019).

  15. Schlager, E. & Blomquist, W. Embracing Watershed Politics (University Press of Colorado, 2008).

  16. Wehn, U., Collins, K., Anema, K., Basco-Carrera, L. & Lerebours, A. Water Int. 43, 34–59 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Shaad, K., Souter, N. J., Vollmer, D., Regan, H. M. & Bezerra, M. O. Environ. Manage. 69, 752–767 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the Pisces Foundation for supporting this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Derek Vollmer.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Sustainability thanks Chris Dickens and Aliny Pires for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Vollmer, D., Abell, R., Bezerra, M. et al. A watershed moment for healthy watersheds. Nat Sustain (2023).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing