Rationale and Definition

This section provides foundational concepts and information on conjunctive water management.

This page presents an overview of part of the content of the publication Conjunctive Water Management: A powerful contribution to the Sustainable development goals.

Sea water, atmospheric water, ice and snow cover, surface water, groundwater, soil water, water in the human water use chain and wastewater are all interconnected within the hydrological cycle. Water development planners and water resources managers should be aware of this and take it fully into account. Unfortunately, this is often not (or not yet) the case. In practice, fragmented approaches to water resources development and management prevail, in which water resources professionals tend to focus on one single water cycle component and overlook interactions with the other ones, or opportunities offered by these. This attitude – sometimes called ‘hydroschizophrenia’ – can be corrected by embracing the Conjunctive Water Management paradigm.

Definition of ‘Conjunctive Water Management’ (CWM)

Conjunctive Water Management is an approach to water resources manage­ment in which surface water, groundwater and other components of the water cycle are considered as one single resource, and therefore are managed in closest possible coordination, in order to maximize overall benefits from water at the short and at the long term.

The different water cycle components are directly linked by their hydraulic connectivity in the natural water cycle, and indirectly by the human water use chain. In the latter there are often alternative water source options for meeting a certain water demand and for discharging used water; the choices made by people have repercussions for the state of each of the corresponding water cycle components. 

“Conjunctive Water Management is only one dimension of Integrated Water Resources Manage­ment – but a very important one.”