Mankind has used inland waters for transport, hunting and fisheries since the paleolithic times, as evident from archeological finds. Quarried neolithic stone masonry has probably been transported over water (Stonehenge megaliths, for example, came from 200 km westward), as it certainly has been during the last two millennia. For example, Roman occupation forces of the present Netherlands extensively used the river Rhine for transport and to patrol their boundaries. The Romans are also known to have dug out canals to facilitate navigation between different naval bases in the Netherlands (after 47 ad at Forum Hadrianum, presently Voorburg). Commercial shipping developed in medieval Europe in parallel with the expansion of marine and coastal traffic, and the Vikings, for example, expanded their vast network of destinations across Russian rivers into the Black Sea. Similar developments must have unfolded elsewhere in the world, and the spread of the steam engine during the nineteenth century has only enhanced the use of waterways with a parallel expansion of canal networks during the industrial revolution across the Western World. Only the affluence of the twentieth century has witnessed the spread of recreative use of inland waters among wider strata of the population than the aristocracy. Until then, inland waters certainly have been used extensively, but to make a living, not for leisure.

This article reviews the impacts of the present-day variety of human uses on a range of inland waters. For the purpose of structure, a matrix is laid out combining types of use with types of water bodies. This involves categories, which can only be artificial where water bodies form a continuum of size (area, volume), flushing (or residence time), and position in the catchment. The author has tried to adhere to conventional categories of the textbooks and employed the following: (a) lakes and lake districts, (b) temporary wetlands, marshes and ponds, (c) rivers and streams, and (d) artificial waterways, such as canals and ditches. A range of human use categories is listed as rows in the matrix (Table 1). Also, the types of human use differ in the intensity and scale of their impact, ranging from virtually zero in the case of an incidental skating tour over a frozen lake to the trivial, massive effects of land fill on wetlands and excavation of new canals and irrigation networks. The latter may stop rivers to flow and totally alter the hydrology of a region, as in the case of the Aral Sea. The major patterns emerging from the table are discussed first, and a few important issues are then highlighted. Here a basic attempt is carried out to evaluate the effect of a use category by asking the question whether a factor would affect the provision of ecosystems goods and services, positively, negatively or neutrally. This crude three-point scale is entered in each cell of Table 1.

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