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A system view of water quality in the Ravi and Sutlej Rivers, Pakistan

Posted by: sen044

April 26, 2018

The Challenge

The CSIRO team have worked closely with the Pakistan Council for Water Resources Research (PCRWR) to design and conduct water quality monitoring for a year in the Ravi and Sutlej rivers in the Indus River Basin in Pakistan. The Ravi River failed to meet water quality standards for effluent waste streams, let alone riverine waterways, most ground water sources were found to be contaminated with physico-chemical and microbiological contaminants, heavy metals and even pesticides, and not a single drain in the monitoring program complied with the Pakistan National Environmental Water Quality Standards for effluent waste streams.

In reviewing past water quality literature the team found that many previous reports documented the poor state of water quality in these rivers, accompanied by well-considered recommendations and urgent pleas for action. Despite this history, the monitoring measurements by PCRWR showed that water quality trends are not improving, prompting the team to engage with a more difficult challenge: what else can CSIRO science contribute to support meaningful water quality improvements?

Map shwoing Ravi, Sutlej and Chenab Rivers
Research area in the Indus Basin.

Our response

  • Our Capability

The CSIRO team went on to use the PCRWR monitoring data to reveal the biophysical and social drivers of water quality change, reinforcing the vital importance of having such measurements, but they also looked beyond the measurements to the wider system of influences on water quality, its cross-sectoral impacts and its management.

  • Science and Innovation

This work drew upon upon unique capabilities in CSIRO for interdisciplinary integration, and in this particular case the team benefited from CSIRO research into methods for assessing resilience, adaptation pathways and transformation in social-ecological systems.


The synthesis report pointed to opportunities for better cross-sectoral collaboration to open up new options and pathways for improving water quality. The CSIRO team is continuing to work with a range of water resource management agencies to develop an Indus river system model and associated scenarios for guiding integrated water resource management for improved water, food and energy security. Water quality provides a common entry point for including other sectors in water resource management processes because of its importance in health, food security, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation and gender equality, and so the work so far will be one of the building blocks for furthering cross-sectoral dialogue among agencies in Pakistan.

Biological oxygen demand (BOD) at Ravi River sampling sites (Syphon upstream, Cheechawatni downstream). National Environmental Quality Standard for BOD in effluent water in Pakistan is 80 parts per million (green).

Contact Person

Dr Nicky Grigg

Additional Information