Dr. Chris Perry


Perry, C. (2012). Accounting for water: stocks, flows, and values. In UNU-IHDP and UNEP. Inclusive Wealth Report 2012. Measuring progress toward sustainability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Key Messages from Chapter

As water becomes increasingly scarce, as sectoral competition for water intensifies, and as humanity increasingly interferes with nature’s hydrological cycle, the need to measure and value water flows and stocks has increased.

Such evaluation must proceed in two discrete steps: first, the construction of physical water accounts, designed to figure out how much water there is, where it is, when it is available, how accessible it is, and with what reliability; and second, when the accounts are in place, the analysis can proceed towards placing a value on these resources.

The UN’s System of Environmental- Economic Accounting for Water (SEEAW) is an important step forward in understanding the flows and stocks of water. The flows comprise abstraction, consumption, and return flows; the stocks, which are harder to assess, look at groundwater resources, lakes, snowpack, and the like.

SEEAW has important strengths. It is multisectoral; it clearly distinguishes between consumptive and non-consumptive uses of water; it is hydrologically consistent with the law of conservation of mass; and it can be applied at various scales (project, sector, region, country, and basin).

While SEEAW has been promoted for a few years, Australia is the only country for which detailed implementation plans and progress seem to be available. The process has been lengthy and detailed and has resulted in many reports, reviews, and studies.

SEEAW accounts should be expanded to include the “unmanaged” natural landscape; “managed” areas; and rainfed agriculture.