Filling the Water Storage Gap: Advancing a resilient and sustainable agenda to ensure a water and food secure future in the face of climate change

  • Date
  • Time
    12:30 pm > 01:45 pm UTC-04:00

UN 2023 Water Conference

Thursday March 23 | 12:30–1:45 PM | Nature Hub – Apella – 450 E 29th Street

This unofficial side event at the UN 2023 Water Conference will highlight the critical need to develop and scale a new, integrated agenda for water storage and management – one that includes nature-based solutions – to achieve shared goals of water security for people and planet.

While water storage and management are essential to societies, economies and ecosystems, there is a large and growing gap in water storage in many places around the world, exacerbated by increasing climate variability and extreme events such as floods and drought. Current approaches to filling the water storage gap have relied heavily on built infrastructure, primarily dams, which have too often resulted in high and unacceptable social and environmental costs and unintended socio-environmental consequences. Instead, addressing this gap must consider the continuum of water storage options available for different contexts. Natural water assets, or nature-based solutions, are receiving increased attention as potential solutions for climate and nature. Such assets, like wetlands and recharge of aquifers, have always played a key environmental role throughout millennia in achieving water security and storage. At the same time, investment and integration of robust and replicable nature-based approaches into human-designed water storage solutions have been lacking.

A global dialogue around sustainable and integrated approaches for closing the water storage gap is therefore urgently needed to develop concrete frameworks, approaches and solutions to address these dynamic and pressing challenges. This session will provide an overview of the growing demand for water resources and storage (especially for agriculture and irrigation), the challenges and opportunities to meet these demands, and the importance of taking an integrated approach to water storage and management. It will examine a number of country case study examples and engage with a wide range of stakeholder perspectives.

Lead organization


Partner organizations

International Water Management Institute (IWMI); CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains; Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska (DWFI); University of Massachusetts Amherst, Stanford University; World Bank; International Association of Geohydrologists.


1. Welcome and overview
2. High-level plenary talks:
  • Matthew McCartney, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), will provide the broad context for integrated water storage and management, and the need for a new agenda and paradigm to scale out solutions for sustainable and resilient water security and development.
  • Eileen Burke, Global Lead for Water Resources, World Bank, will speak about a forthcoming report, What the Future has in Store: A New Paradigm for Climate-Resilient Water Storage.
  • Rafael Schmitt, Lead Scientist, Natural Capital project, Stanford University, will speak on the needs and limits of water storage and constraints on global sustainable intensification of land and water through irrigation (see Schmitt et al. 2022).
  • Christine Colvin, Freshwater Policy Lead, WWF, will speak about the role and potential of natural vs. built infrastructure, highlighting nature-based solutions as an important option for nature, climate and water storage.
3. Country deep dives: Country deep dives will provide the specific context for how water resource issues are playing out in country contexts, including the opportunities, challenges and trade-offs for sustainable intensification of land and water resources in the face of climate change.
4. Panel discussion
5. Closing summary


Header image: Champagne Dam, Chochocho in the Incomati Catchment, South Africa. Photo by E.L.S.K.E. Photography/IWMI.