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Multiple Use Systems


Water systems designed for multiple uses often can improve livelihoods, whereas systems designed for a single use can be constraining.





We often think of water systems in terms of a single use: a potable water system here, an irrigation system there, and a small fisheries reservoir somewhere else. CPWF projects learned that rural communities usually don’t think this way but rather in terms of “multiple sources of water for multiple uses”. Our projects found that water systems designed for multiple uses often can improve livelihoods whereas systems designed for a single use can be constraining.

Professionals have a tradition of designing water systems for a single use. They fear that damage may occur when single-use systems are made to serve multiple purposes. The answer of course is to design water systems for multiple uses from the beginning. A water system designed for delivery of water for direct consumption could have been designed to also supply water for home gardens. Another system designed for delivery of irrigation water could also have been designed to supply water for livestock watering, horticulture, fisheries, tree-growing, crafts, or cultural and ceremonial purposes.

This approach to water system design and management has become known as the multiple use or multiple purpose system approach, often reduced to the initials “MUS”. We have applied MUS approaches for households, communities, irrigation systems, small reservoirs and even cascades of large reservoirs used for hydropower generation.


The principal example of CPWF work on MUS was the “Multiple Use Water Services” project, carried out by International Water Management Institute (IWMI), International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) and International Development Enterprises (IDE) in eight countries from 2004 to 2009. The project developed two MUS models, one for homestead and the other for community scale.

It featured Learning Alliances with water service providers, user groups and other stakeholder groups for scaling out of MUS approaches in each project country. Through learning alliances, the MUS partnership was extended to 150 organizations. (A Learning Alliance was defined as a “series of interlinked stakeholder platforms . . . that seeks to improve impacts and up-scaling through involvement of . . . key stakeholders at all stages of demand-led research”.)

One highlight of this project was the “multiple use ladder”. This links a particular amount of available water (measured in liters per capita per day- “lpcd”) to the uses and livelihoods that can be derived from that water. Ladder steps were set at <20, 20-50, 51-100, and >100 lpcd. At each step, the introduction of MUS was shown to help reach development goals.

Other projects explored multiple uses of small reservoirs in the Volta basin. Small reservoirs are used for fishing, livestock watering, small pump irrigation at the reservoir, and larger semi-commercial irrigation downstream of the reservoir. Sometimes, however, small reservoirs cannot be used for some of these purposes because of serious issues of water quality attributable to flow of sediment and agrochemicals from upstream farms.

Finally, our projects worked on improving multiple use of water in reservoirs originally developed for hydropower generation in the Mekong. We found opportunities to use hydropower reservoirs for recession agriculture, fisheries, and constructed wetlands with little to no diversion of water needed for power generation. We also explored opportunities for commercial irrigation downstream of reservoirs – and the often very large but hidden costs to downstream fisheries of upstream construction of hydropower dams.

Browse the tabs to the left to learn more.


Multiple Use Water Services to Advance the Millenium Development Goals (Research report)

Three aspects of multiple use water services are discussed in this paper. First, a typology is developed for the various efforts since the 1980s to overcome the shortcomings of conventional single-use planning and design. Second, the empirical evidence is analyzed to identify generic merits and drawbacks of needs-based and participatory water-services provision compared to conventional approaches. Third, a framework is provided, based on principles grouped in “Learning Wheels” at the community, intermediate and national levels.

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The multiple-use water services (MUS) project (Project report)

Multiple-use water services (MUS) is an innovative approach to water services. It unlocks new investment opportunities for poverty reduction and gender equity in peri-urban and rural areas. MUS takes people’s multiple water needs as the starting point of planning and design of new systems and upgrades.

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Supporting Livelihoods with New Varieties of Cassava for the Yali Reservoir (Outcome story)

The construction of the 720 MW Yali Falls Hydropower Dam in central Vietnam created big changes for local farmers who were forced to confront new land limitations and variable water levels. One CPWF-Mekong research project set out to introduce a new variety of cassava that would thrive in the reservoirs’ fertile drawdown zone, which is exposed for seven to eight months out of the year.

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Climbing the Water Ladder: Multiple-Use Water Services for Poverty Reduction

This book outlines the outcome of action research undertaken over a period of five years in 30 study areas in eight countries under the CPWF project ‘Models for implementing multiple-use water supply systems for enhanced land and water productivity, rural livelihoods and gender equity’. It provides a detailed overview of the rationale and background for the project, as well as the activities undertaken.

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Options for water storage and rainwater harvesting to improve health and resilience against climate change in Africa (Journal article)

Past studies have shown that when investments in water storage are not guided by environ- mental health considerations, the increased availability of open water surface may increase the transmission of water- related diseases. This is demonstrated for schistosomiasis associated with small reservoirs in Burkina Faso, and for malaria in Ethiopia around large dams, small dams, and water harvesting ponds. The concern is that the rush to develop water harvesting and storage for climate change adaptation may increase the risk for already vulnerable people, in some cases more than canceling out the benefits of greater water availability.

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How To Feed the World Without Destroying the Environment

A new report, released at World Water Week in Stockholm this week, entitled “Ecosystems for Water and Food Security” warns of the urgent need to reconsider to the methods used to boost crop yields, at a time when food production already accounts more than 70 percent of fresh water used in some river basins. The Ecosystem Services Approach called for in the report is revolutionary in that it recognizes as fundamental the benefits that ecosystems provide to people’s livelihoods.

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New agricultural practices could be “game changer” for global food security

A new analysis resulting from the joined forces of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) outlines the urgent need to rethink current strategies for intensifying agriculture, given that food production already accounts for 70 to 90 percent of withdrawals from available water resources in some areas.

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Building Resilient and Productive Agricultural Systems in Bangladesh

Previous research has indicated that agriculture and aquaculture production in the brackish water coastal zone of Bangladesh can be further intensified and diversified. This project is augmenting previous endeavors in looking at cropping intensification and diversification as means to improve people’s livelihoods in the coastal zones of the Ganges.

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Cracking the Productivity Code

In the Ganges coastal zone, on farm trials demonstrate that that system productivity can be increased from 3-6 tons per hectare to 11-19 tons per hectare, depending on location. The key to making the change to HYV rice and cropping system intensification and diversification is improved water management.

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Regreening the Ugandan Cattle Corridor

Ugandan animal science researchers at Makerere University brought an idea from Ethiopia and worked with cattle keepers to corral their animals together at night so as to concentrate manure. Doing this for two weeks before reseeding enabled reestablishment of grass after many years of failed effort. Apparently termites prefer to eat the manure, not the seedlings.

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Taking a multiple-use approach to meeting the water needs of poor communities brings multiple benefits (Policy brief)

Single-use approaches to water development and management do not reflect the realities of poor people's water use. A more integrated, multiple-use approach can maximize the health benefits and productive potential of available water supplies leading to increased incomes, improved health and reduced workloads for women and children. Systems that cater to multiple uses are also more likely to be sustainable, because users benefit more from them, have a greater stake in them, and are more willing and better able to pay for them.

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Multiple Use Water Services for Poverty Reduction: A Background (Sourcebook article)

People’s demand for water is multi- purpose. Yet, water services are usually provided by ‘domestic’ or ‘irrigation’ or ‘fisheries’ sub-sectors for a single use only. The structuring of the public water sector according to single-use mandates leads to ‘projects’ that operate in parallel with each other, even when they serve the same user
at the same site. MUS moves beyond these narrow sector boundaries and seeks to align water services with people’s multiple needs for integrated water resources.

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Five Principles for Multiple Use Services as the Household and Community Levels

The services of the water sector and subsectors can be re-designed to provide for both the domestic and productive uses of water required at the homestead level. This is the experience suggested by CPWF Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) Project. For the domestic water use sector, this means expanding its service to include use of water for homestead-scale productive activities. For the productive use water subsector (the irrigation sector), this entails expansion of its services to include supply of water for domestic and other non-irrigation uses.

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Optimizing Cascades or Systems of Reservoirs in Small Catchments (E-book)

A series of papers that present the findings of a three year research program between 2010 and 2013 in two river basins, tributaries of the Mekong – the Nam Theun/Nam Kading in Lao PDR and the Sesan river in Vietnam and Cambodia, divided into the Upper Sesan and Lower Sesan respectively.

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Companion Modelling: Water Management Learning-by-Doing in Laos

Companion Modelling, or ComMod, is a participatory modelling approach that makes use of role-playing games associated with agent-based computer model. ComMod is an iterative and evolving participative process whereby stakeholders are involved in the design of the simulation tools. Agent-based modelling allows participants to make links between the biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics of the environment and natural resource systems.

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