Protected areas are a cornerstone strategy for terrestrial and increasingly marine biodiversity conservation, but their use for conserving inland waters has received comparatively scant attention. In 2010, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) included a target of 17% protection for inland waters, yet there has been no meaningful way of measuring progress toward that target. Defining and evaluating “protection” is especially complicated for rivers because their integrity is intimately linked to impacts in their upstream catchments.

The global number of dam constructions has increased dramatically over the past six decades and is forecast to continue to rise, particularly in less industrialized regions. Identifying development pathways that can deliver the benefits of new infrastructure while also maintaining healthy and productive river systems is a great challenge that requires understanding the multifaceted impacts of dams at a range of scales.