Rapidly increasing needs for energy and water have spurred river basin development schemes throughout the world. This is especially so in those developing countries with scarce fossil fuel resources where interest in exploiting hydropower potentials is growing and regulated water supply is the key to achieving high yields of new grains, as well as more crops per year in arid and semiarid areas. Likewise, it is necessary to meet rising demands for domestic and industrial water and to offer protection from devastation by floods and sedimentation.
Although river basin planning has led to increasingly better investment choices, generally it has not incorporated the worldwide concern for maintenance of environmental quality and productivity. While it is true that techniques for identifying and evaluating the impacts of development on the environment are known, these have not been used in connection with integrated river basin development because a) generally they are not part of the project formulation activity and b) they are not always appropriate to the kinds of economic decisions that need to be made in river basin planning.
The multinational development scheme for the Plate River Basin in South America has provided a timely opportunity to determine how to incorporate environmental concerns early in the process of river basin studies. Since 1967, the Organization of American States has been assisting the countries which share the Plate River Basin in the conduct of reconnaissance surveys and data analysis, and in successively more detailed investigations leading to investments in reservoirs, hydroelectric power schemes, irrigation, and related land development projects in the basin. Prefeasibility studies for the Upper Bermjo River were completed in 1974 and for the Lower Bermejo River in 1976. These studies constitute a concrete testing ground for the addition of environmental considerations to integrated resource planning at the prefeasibility level.
This need for a clearer and more complete incorporation of environmental concerns into river basin development studies and the opportunity presented by the Bermejo River investigations led to a request from the Argentine Government's Secretariat of Natural
Resources and the Human Environment to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for support of a pilot project to propose a planning methodology for river basin development that would include the analysis of potential environmental impacts. UNEP support was obtained on the basis of Resolution 61, to help countries undertake environmental assessments in representative ecosystems, of the 1972 Stockholm conference. The OAS' Program of Regional Development acted as the coordinating agency for the pilot study from which this document evolved.
The document itself is the result of nearly two years of work by the staff of the Program of Regional Development, Argentine coworkers, and several international consultants (Appendix A). Every effort has been made to make the content and prose applicable to the needs of project directors and field staff working in the planning of river basin development. Consequently, scientific and specialized terminology have been kept to a minimum and the recommendations have been made in full consideration of the realities of developing countries. The document has been purposefully kept short to give it the character of a guidebook rather than that of an exhaustive treatise on the subject of environment and development.
Although the methodology has been designed to guide the early planning stages of river basin development in semiarid regions of the developing world, much of it is applicable to regional and sectoral planning efforts in the more humid regions. Similarly, it should find use as a text and reference material in those training centers and institutions that relate to development planning.
We welcome comments and suggestions from those who use the volume, and hope that the recommendations will be useful in introducing environmental concerns into future studies of river basin development.
Kirk P. Rodgers, Director
Program of Regional Development
Organization of American States
Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
Roberto Casañas, President
Instituto Nacional de Ciencia y Técnicas Hídricas
Buenos Aires, Argentina