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Historically, environmental problems have arisen primarily because of inappropriate decisions and a lack of understanding of the impact of these decisions upon the environment.

With the advent of the computer and the ability to study as well as generate valuable data concerning the environment new approaches to our valuable water resources are possible. And many say new approaches must be developed and novel technological developments and engineering must function together in an integrated manner in order for social, economic and environmental benefits to be realized.

Ecological engineering or eco-technology is an example of such an integrated approach. Though sounding somewhat science fiction, eco-technology is a modern and very real option.

Just what is eco-technology and how can it help?

Ecological engineering practices can help conserve and restore the environment through the integration of engineering and ecological principles. An ecologically sound approach to engineering takes into account that nature responds systematically, continuously, and cumulatively. Ecological engineering operates within the natural system rather than infringing on or overcoming it.

Solutions are developed to be as flexible and forgiving as possible, thus avoiding drastic and irreversible consequences when something goes wrong. To support such an approach, it is important to acquire knowledge and understanding about the dynamics of ecosystems and their particular vulnerabilities. Ecological engineering and related eco-technologies are dependent on the self-designing capabilities of ecosystems and nature.

When changes occur, natural systems shift and food chains reorganize. As individual species are selected and others are not, a new dynamic order ultimately emerges that is usually better suited to the environment superimposed on it. This focus on, and use of, biological species, communities, and ecosystems distinguish ecological engineering and related eco-technologies from the more conventional engineering technology approaches that seldom consider integrative ecosystem-based approaches.

Ecological engineering involves identifying those biological systems that are most adaptable to human needs and those human needs that are most adaptable to existing ecosystems while recognizing that it is counterproductive to eliminate or even disturb natural ecosystems unless absolutely necessary. Ecological engineering and eco-technology applications also emphasize understanding of the entire ecosystem rather than components of the system in isolation from one another.

Decision support tools such as modeling and cost-benefit analysis are important, as ecosystem solutions cannot be determined by simply adding up the parts to make a whole. Eco-technology can offer a science and technology-based option to balancing valuable ecosystems affecting water resources. Time will tell just how many more options for environmental protection eco-technology will provide.

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