Integrated and sustainable management of transboundary water resources in the amazon river basin considering climate variability and change

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Activity III.3.2-A

Development of a Multilingual Geographical Database of Water Pollution in the Amazon Basin

Output 1

Strategic plan for activity implementation, including detailed methodology of work and the detailed index of the final report

Bernhard G. Peregovich


1. Introduction and Rationale


2. The Amazon River – Geographical, Economic and Environmental Aspects


3. Detailed Methodology – Outline, Development and Design of an Interactive Geographic Database


4. Detailed Index of the Final Report

1. Introduction and Rationale

Raising awareness and increasing knowledge will be indispensable for future water resources management to governments, authorities and institutions that are responsible for lasting, environmentally compatible and sustainable development of the entire Amazon region, focusing on treatment, reduction and prevention of water pollution and contamination as well as on improvement of monitoring and control mechanisms.

This project has the broad objective to design and develop an interactive geographic database, providing any information about water pollution and contamination as well as inventory of water quality and monitoring systems in the Amazon Watershed, considering firstly any geographical and environmental aspects, economic development and state of water contamination and pollution as described below, taking into account also short and long-term climate variability.

The overall objective of this activity is to establish a common framework within which governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders, within and outside of this globally significant basin, can store, access, and acquire relevant data necessary for informed decision-making with respect to actions affecting or being affected by the Amazon Basin.

This activity supports the acquisition of specific information on water quality and pollution sources, monitoring systems and control mechanisms to be used, in the first instance, to populate the Integrated Information System developed under Activity III.3.1.

2. The Amazon River – Geographical, Economic and Environmental Aspects

Variation in numbers and figures, mentioned in this report, with other data results from different sources, methods of measuring and interpretation.

The Amazon Watershed

The Amazon River with a total length of about 6,700 km is ranked as the largest in the world in terms of watershed area, number of tributaries, and volume of water discharged.

This river system originates in the Andes and receives tributaries from a basin that covers a drainage area of about 7,000,000 km2, including Tocantins at the south-east of the watershed (Fig. 1).

Around 70 % of the entire area is covered by forest (with an estimated loss of original forest of 15 %), 20 % cropland and 10 % grassland. At a total population of nearly 28 million people, density is around 4 people a square kilometer, but most of them are concentrated in 5 cities of over a million inhabitants and in some 20 cities with population above 100,000. The Amazon Rainforest is recognized as the planet’s greatest reserve of life forms. The region is home to at least 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, 3,000 fish, some 2,000 birds and mammals, and 800 amphibians and reptile species.

Through the Amazon River System flows a sixth to a fifth of the world’s fresh water. The water discharge at the mouth totals 200,000 m3 per second on average, with top values of 300,000 m3 in the rainy season. In Brazil on a total of 3,700 km the waters decline only about 100 m and the average depth of the river is 40 m. At the narrows of Óbidos the bed is more than 90 m below the average surface level of its water. The width of the river ranges between over 1 and 10 km at low stage but expands to 50 km or more in parts during the annual floods; the rate of flow ranges between 2 to 8 km/h, and the crest of the water at flood time can rise 15 m above the norm.

Tropical climate with average air and water temperatures from 26 to 29 °C during all year is prevailing in the lowlands, which makes up the greatest part of the basin. The rainy season begins in September in the south-east and moves in the course of half a year to the north-west.

Figure 1 – The Amazon Basin (shaded), the Legal Amazon (black line) and the Brazilian Amazon (shaded area within the Legal Amazon) – source:

Comparing different estimates of precipitation – based on rain gauge measurements, on a combination of rain gauge measurements and satellite data and on reanalyzed meteorological datasets for the Amazon basin – result in a mean value of 2100 to 2300 mm/yr. But in some areas there are values of over up to 4000 mm/yr, with peaks up to 8000 mm/yr.

Assuming the above mentioned rainfall, discharge at the mouth of the river and the extension of the area, in terms of figures, nearly 60 % of the amount of precipitations are recycled and only 40 % run of.

From in all more than 1,100 tributaries, the major ones on the southern side are, from west to east, Javari, Juruá, Purus, Madeira, Tapajós, Xingu, and Tocantins. On the northern side, the largest tributaries are Japurá, Negro, Branco and Jari. The Amazon and some of its tributaries, called “white” rivers, bear rich sediments and hydrobiological elements. The “black” and “clear” rivers – such as the Negro from north, Tapajós and Xingu from south – have dark or clear water, respectively, with few nutrients and little sediment and suspension.

The main river is navigable for large ocean steamers to Manaus, 1,500 km upriver from the mouth. Smaller ocean vessels, up to 3,000 tons, can reach as far as Iquitos, 3,700 km from the sea. River steamers of more modest tonnage can navigate further more upstream and on more than 100 of the larger tributaries on tens of thousand of km. The countries within the watershed amongst Brazil are (clockwise) Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana – even though the first and the latter ones are countries with less than one (1) percent area of the watershed (in bold letters – ACTO member countries).

Economic Development in the Amazon Basin

Despite centuries of effort to overcome the dominance of nature, people have made little impact on the Amazon and most of its vast drainage basin. No bridge spans the river. Except near its mouth, the Amazon Watershed constitutes one of the most thinly populated regions in the world. Much of the territory drained by the river system has never been thoroughly explored.

In some stream valleys, Native American tribes continue to live as they did before the arrival of the Europeans. Most commerce is narrowly confined to the navigable sectors of the river system, although the development of highways has improved access and goods transportation into the area.

Large-scale economical development in the Amazon region began in the second half of the last century (after the rubber boom a century before) in the course of the construction of the Trans-Amazon Highway and their “colonization”. Such development cleared some sections of its natural forest cover.

The economy continues to be dominated by artisanal agriculture, hunting and fishing, and the gathering of various forest products. Commercial farming, tourism, and industry play growing roles in the region; mining and lumbering, the principal economic activities, become increasingly important. This influences and affects the soil and water systems, first of all by mining, industrial and domestic use and waste of water, but also by increase of river transport and fertilizing in agriculture and farming, erosion etc.

Water contamination and pollution in the Amazon region

Water pollution can be defined in many ways. Usually, it means “contamination of water by undesirable foreign matter”, in other words; one or more substances have built up in water to such an extent that they cause problems for the environment, i.e. plants, animals or people.

Most pollutants result from human activities – however there are also several natural sources for contamination, like residues from volcanic emission distributed via atmospheric circulation, heating by unusual seasonal temperatures or pollutants released by “natural” forest fires.

Pollution occurs in various forms. There are toxic and conventional pollutants, like heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs, various other chemicals and suspended solids, nutrients, sediments, biological oxygen demand, respectively.

Point source and nonpoint source pollutants cause direct and indirect pollution. Whilst direct sources include effluent outfalls from factories, mines, refineries, waste treatment plant; indirect sources include contaminants that enter the water system from soils, groundwater systems and from the atmosphere via rainwater.

The major water pollutants are chemical, biological, or physical materials that degrade water quality. Some of those substances are persistent; others are more or less degradable. Pollutants can be classed into various categories – although some of them even overlap – each of them presents its own set of hazards.

- industrial effluents and domestic sewage

- mine drainage and mining waste

- sediment, suspended matter, solid waste and garbage

- heavy metals and radioactive substances

- petroleum products and polychlorinated biphenyls

- surface water runoff from urban and other impervious surfaces

- farm fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides

- fecal contamination and infectious organisms

- excess organic matter and nutrients

- eutrophication and biological oxygen demand

- hazardous wastes

- thermal pollution

- acid precipitation

- atmospheric deposition

All of these pollutants can be found in smaller or larger scale in the entire transboundary Amazon Watershed. Due to following anthropogenic activities in the Amazon region they influence, affect and interfere with the natural environment more or less direct or indirectly, in particular with the water bodies, and therefore are to be taken into consideration as potential causes of water pollution and contamination:

- mining

- exploration

- industry

- urbanization

- clearing

- agriculture

- tourism

- timber production

- cattle farming

- damming up

- river transport

- extension of roads

- hunting, fishing and the collecting of various forest products

But, since there are no complete and detailed statistics available, little is known about extent, scope, degree, significance and danger of water contamination, pollution and their consequences for the environment in the Amazon watershed.

Environmental politics in the different neighboring states are not yet always well coordinated, “boundless spaces” of the region, where most parts of it are difficult to get, weakly developed infrastructure, like road links, and quite isolated settlings or settlements; all of these features don’t make the situation any easier.

Whether we look at gold and other mining activities, taking place in remote areas and producing more than insignificant amounts of mercury and other heavy metals bearing residues, finally ending up in the water system; or sewage treatment – if there even is any – in the few, but densely populated urban regions like Iquitos, Rio Branco, Porto Velho, Boa Vista, Manaus, Alta Floresta, Itaituba, Santarém, Macapá, and Belém in the lowlands of the Amazon or the metropolitan areas in the Andes like Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Oruro, Cochamba, La Paz, Cuzco, Huancayo, Pucallpa, Cuenca, Ambato and Pasto; agriculture and farming, not that much, but spread out over the entire region and causing pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer waste – not to forget increasing suspended matter in the waters due to erosion processes; each single one of these “activities” doesn’t seem to harm very much to the huge masses of water in the whole system, but all in all, together with other anthropogenic activities, as mentioned above, their shares of water pollution and contamination are adding up to significant amounts.

Any future water resources management program requires baseline information and historical data concerning the past and present state of hydrology, water pollution and contamination, control mechanisms and monitoring systems within the transnational Amazon Watershed.

3. Detailed Methodology – Outline, Development and Design of an Interactive Geographic Database

To establish a common framework within which governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders within the Amazon Basin, can store, access, and acquire relevant data necessary for informed decision-making, the acquisition of specific information on water quality and pollution sources, control mechanisms and monitoring systems to be used, is required.

Data Survey

Survey and revision of existing water quality and pollution control mechanisms and monitoring systems and their effectiveness and compatibility across the ACTO member countries will be performed first of all in contact with the national water resources management institutions as there are in:

Bolivia: Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrologia ­ SENAMHI

Brazil: Agência Nacional de Águas/Ministério do Meio Ambiente ­ ANA/MMA

Colombia: Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales ­ IDEAM

Ecuador: Consejo Nacional de Recursos Hídricos ­ CNRH

Guiana: Guyana Water Authority / Hydraulic Research Division ­ GWA/HRD

Peru: Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales ­ INRENA

Suriname: Ministry of Public Works / Hydraulic Research Division ­ MPW/HRD

Venezuela: Dirección General de Cuencas Hidrográficas / Ministerio del Ambiente y de los Recursos Naturales ­ DGCH/MARN

Furthermore OLAGI (Latin American Intermediate Governments Organization), Amazon local communities, UNAMAZ (Association of Amazonian Universities), educational institutions and local academia, CEBDS (Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development) and the private sector, IGBE (Brazil’s Bureau of National Statistics), CPRM (Brazilian Geological Survey), DNPM (National Department of Mineral Production), local media, local cooperatives, NGOs, and regional and local governments will be contacted and concerned for providing additional data, information and support.

Literature review and evaluation of former, recent and ongoing research and related projects, publications, reports, etc. will supplement and complete necessary information and data survey.

Data Harmonization

Identification of mechanisms to harmonize existing data collection programs, data storage and dissemination mechanisms, and related aspects of the water quality monitoring and protection programs of the basin countries are to be carried out in close cooperation with national institutions and authorities of the ACTO member countries considering national and international environmental and technological standards.

Data Storage and Compilation

Set of water quality data, pollution sources and identified hotspots provided by Activity III.3.2-B, according to database formats compatible to the Integrated Information System (IIS) developed under Activity III.3.1, and criteria of the database developed under Activity III.3.2-A, are to be included in the IIS. Additional inputs are expected from related activities of the entire project.

Further details about compilation, organization, storage, and dissemination of data will be worked out together in close cooperation with project partners from activity III.3.1 under subproject III.3.

Database – Structure and Design

Development of a structured geographic database, being based on GIS (Geographic Information System), on water quality and pollution sources throughout the Amazon Basin according the general criteria of the Integrated Information System developed under Activity III.3.1 of the GEF Project is proposed as follows:

Any database is essentially an electronic filing system that houses a collection of information organized in such a way that allows a computer program to quickly find desired pieces of data, whereas GIS is a system of hardware and software used to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, map and present all types of geographical data.

The proposed interactive geographic database, once established, will allow several ways of access to its data and information related to water pollution and contamination as well as control and monitoring systems in the transboundary Amazon Watershed and all of their different aspects. First of all, a clearly arranged site map with structures easy to grasp will inform about contents and arrangement of the database and how to access and to handle.

Aside getting data searchable in a spatial arrangement as well as in a tabular format, key words in texts will be linked to tables, diagrams and spread sheets providing further information. A search engine will allow access to any information, calling up (by means of an index) key words, terms, names, localizations etc., which might on the other hand lead to further wanted information like tables, figures, values and numeric data on selected requests and queries.

Interactive maps of the entire Amazon watershed, geo-referenced and continuously updated, present in different layers diverse features of the same area, like political boundaries, divided in municipal districts, showing then in text and tabular form a further list of links with any relevant information of political and economical activities in their area related to “water sensitive” affairs and activities.

Geographical features, like water bodies (rivers, lakes, wetlands etc.), or rather their symbols on other layers of the same basic map will be linked to further information and data about their characteristics, like names, extension, water discharge, monitoring stations and measuring points for water quality and their values considering their seasonal variations, also data about ports and frequency of river transports. Tags for cities, roads, industrial, intensive agriculture and mining areas etc. will link to information like density of population, their calculated and real (estimated) sewage output, quantity and quality of surface runoff, industrial and mining waste, finally reaching the water system (surface and ground water).

Layers with basic maps and satellite images will allow to show or to link to real time (meteorological and hydrographic) data, like monthly and annual rainfall, water levels and discharge, extend of river arms and wetlands, extension of farming and agricultural used areas, clearing, forest fires, (erosion and increase of suspended matter in the waters!) and further similar features, important and necessary for an assessment and evaluation of water pollution, contamination, their effects, impacts and consequences for water quality in the transboundary Amazon Watershed.

A very important and remarkable feature of this geographic database will be its easily handling and user-friendly function, or in other words, it will be searchable without any specific software and knowledge and admit sharing information and maps devoid of being GIS and database expert or professional.

Therefore, among other things, KLM format (Keyhole Markup Language) is suggested to be applied for dissemination and divulgation to make available data and information in many common applications, including Google Earth, Google Maps, ArcGlobe, and ArcGIS Explorer, etc., all of them free of charge and easily assessable and available.

Content of the Database

The database will include inter alia:

- Principal geographic, physical and political map information

- Hydrological and meteorological stations

- Control and monitoring systems of the Amazon countries

- Measuring points and methods, their localities and density of distribution

- Range and extent of water pollution in “hotspot” areas

- Economic activities with potential risk for contamination

- Uncontrolled and continuing inputs of sewage and wastewater

- Mapped key regions and protected areas with increased risks and sensitivity

- Hazards and damages due to spills and accidents

- Contacts, links and communications with authorities and institutions

- Review on former and ongoing projects, publications, reports and comments

- National and international environmental standards

These and additional supplementary information will be supported by results and outputs from the other activities and subprojects.

The description above can give only a coarse and summary idea, how the database about “water pollution and contamination in the transboundary Amazon Watershed” might look like and work; further details of this interactive geographical database and its features will be developed, designed, improved and worked out in course of the project (outputs 3 and 4) in closed agreements with project partners, in particular within Activity III.3.1, and involved authorities, and their needs and desires in relation to sustainable development and improvement of water resources management for Amazonia.

4. Detailed Index of the Final Report


COMPONENT-III Response Strategies

SUBPROJECT-III.3 Integrated Information System

ACTIVITY-III.3.2-A Development of a Multilingual Geographical Database of Water Pollution in the Amazon Basin

  • Geographical and Environmental Aspects, Background and Rationale

      • The Amazon River – Geographical and Environmental Aspects

        • The Amazon Watershed

        • Economic Development in the Amazon Basin

        • Water Pollution in the Amazon Region

      • Methodology

        • Project Outputs 2 to 5

  • Control and Monitoring Systems (Output 2)

      • Existing Systems and Stations

        • Implementation History

        • Operating Institutions and Companies

        • Local and Regional Distribution

        • Areal Density

        • Types (Hydrological, Meteorological, Chemical, Physical, etc.)

        • Further Needs and Demands

      • Technical Evaluation

        • Measurable Parameters

        • Measuring Techniques

        • Analytical Methodologies

        • Data Storing and Transfer

        • Spatial and Temporal Resolution

        • Revision and Maintenance

      • Compatibility

        • Acquisition and Storage

        • Harmonization Mechanisms

        • National and International Environmental Standards

        • National and International Threshold Values

  • Geographic Database (Output 3)

      • Technical Structure (according to criteria within Activity III.3.1)

        • Acquisition and Employment of Database Software

        • Acquisition and Employment of GIS Software

        • Acquisition and Employment of Software for Interactive Maps

      • Suggested Content

        • Principal Geographic, Physical and Political Map Information

        • Hydrological and Meteorological Stations

        • Pollution Control and Monitoring Systems

        • Range and Extent of Recent Water Pollution in “hotspot” Areas

        • Localities of Economic Activities with Potential for Contamination

        • Uncontrolled and Continuing Inputs of Sewage and Waste Water

        • Key Regions and Protected Areas with Increased Risks and Sensitivity

        • Known Hazards and Damages due to Spills and Accidents

        • Additional Information Supported by Outputs from other Subprojects and Activities

  • Multilingual Interactive Geographic Database – Covering Brazil (Output 4a)

      • Compiling and Storage of Available Data and Information from Brazil

      • Outline and Design of Interactive Maps

  • Multilingual Interactive Geographic Database – Covering Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname (Output 4b)

      • Compiling and Storage of any Available Data and Information from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname

      • Outline and Design of Interactive Maps

  • Final Project Report (Output 5)

      • Background and Rationale

      • Detailed Results from each Output

      • Future Demands and Challenges

      • Strategic Orientation for the SAP

      • Executive Summary in the other Project Languages

      • Bibliographic References

      • Appendix

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