As the pressure on water is increasing, the risk that the required amounts of water will not be available is also increasing in many semi-arid areas. Interbasin water transfers are designed to secure access by artificially conveying water to locations where people need it. These are typical supply oriented engineering measures to large societal challenges. The engineering works are frequently daunting, involving diversion works, tunnels and/or large pumping schemes and reservoirs, and the costs are correspondingly large. The scale of engineering works and funds required are indicative of the magnitude of the needs and interests to be served. Interbasin water transfers trigger pertinent questions from different interests groups and communities involved and affected.
This paper assesses the phenomenon of interbasin water transfers from a multi-disciplinary perspective, and attempts to answer the question whether such transfers are compatible with the concept of integrated water resources management. The problems related to interbasin water transfers are first introduced by reviewing four selected interbasin transfers taking place in different parts of the world. Then the criteria for assessing such transfers as proposed by international commissions, policy communities and scientists are reviewed, from which a coherent set of evaluation criteria are distilled for interbasin transfer schemes. This set of criteria is subsequently applied to the River Linking project in India, in order to provide a preliminary assessment. This is followed by a discussion of the temporal, spatial and resource scale effects, and finally conclusions are drawn about the required institutional capacity to control water and to adapt to changing policy environments.