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Introducing the new OWN Leadership Team

Earlier this year, Louise Slater and Kathryn Pharr, the Oxford Water Network (OWN) chair and coordinator respectively, stepped down from their positions. After three years at the helm, Louise is stepping back to focus on her research on Dynamic Drivers of Flood Risks , while Kathryn has taken up the role of Senior Policy Analyst for International Climate Action with WaterAid. On behalf of OWN, we want to thank them for the excellent work they did shaping and leading the network.

We are pleased to introduce the new team leading the network: Katrina Charles and Saskia Nowicki are co-chairing OWN, and Pan Ei Ei Phyoe has taken up the coordinator role.

Dr Katrina Charles‘ research focuses on environmental health risks, using interdisciplinary approaches to analyse how we construct our understanding of environmental health risks, and how to communicate those risks to affect change. With her research team, which includes expertise in water quality, health and social sciences, and through partnerships with UNICEF and governments, she is leading work on drinking water quality and climate resilience that will help progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal for safe drinking water quality for all (SDG 6.1). Katrina has a track record in delivering real-world impact advancing water security through large interdisciplinary programmes, such as REACH and Water Security Hub. She aims to ensure that OWN is supporting Oxford’s water researchers to achieve impact through strengthening relationships with partners policy and practice.

“I am excited to bring my experience of developing science-practitioner partnerships to the network, to support and promote the role that Oxford research has in tackling global challenges in water security, from the SDGs to climate adaptation.”

 

Saskia Nowicki works on environmental health risks and management trade-offs. She applies an interdisciplinary systems-based approach to research, drawing on her background in environmental science, with specialisation in water security. Her postdoctoral work with the REACH water security programme focuses on drinking-water safety in low-income contexts. She is working on collaborative projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh – using mixed-methods to seek insight for systems change at scale.  Saskia joined the OWN in 2015 when she arrived at the School of Geography and the Environment (SOGE) for her MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM). During her DPhil, she joined the leadership team as the early career researcher representative. Now, with her role as co-chair, she is working to encourage engagement in the network and foster connections across the social and physical sciences.

“Water is an inherently interdisciplinary topic and everyone who works in this space deals with systemic complexity in some form. With the OWN we can foster knowledge exchange and collaboration to better engage with this complexity.”

Given her background in engineering, Pan Ei Ei Phyoe is passionate about bridging the gap between water research and technology and broader policy goals, and she is particularly interested in the links between water systems and climate change. She finally completed her MSc in Water Science, Policy, and Management at the University of Oxford, where she focused on the climate communication network and how it affects water management decisions in the Turkwel river basin in Kenya. She also earned a master’s degree in water resources engineering from the University of Stuttgart, where she focused on reservoir management, notably numerical modelling of the Schwarzenbach hydroelectric dam’s hydrodynamic system. As part of her policy consulting work with the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, she is currently supporting the organisation of the first-ever historical water and climate pavilion during COP26 in Glasgow. She’d previously worked on integrated water resources management (IWRM) projects in Myanmar, the Netherlands, and the UK.

“Water has always been an interdisciplinary subject and a connector that intertwines all sectors. The OWN can serve as a collaborative and bridging environment, with excellent networks and connections, providing access and opportunities to all of the university’s cutting-edge science, technology, innovative policies, and practical solutions in water-related research and education.”

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Dorset trip- Consolidating Water Science and Management in the field

By Aaron Acuda (WSPM 2020-2021)

This year, unlike the previous years, the residential field trip was at the end of the course. The disruptions caused by COVID were obvious. Nevertheless, having a field trip at the end of the course was one of the silver linings of the dark cloud. It was advantageous because the vast readings, classes, talks, and discussions during the year became clear when we observed their practical applications in the field. No wonder the questions the students asked at various locations were insightful since they were able to integrate the different course themes into the field. Often, the discussions exceeded the planned times. In the trip, there are key things that stood.

Visit to Maiden Castle

Dorset is a unique part of the UK with most of what we require to know about water. It has unique climatic, hydrological, ecological, economic, political, and social dimensions that provide an exciting opportunity to explore water management. For example, the geology composed mainly of chalk provided an important location for groundwater discussions. The geological discussions started off the field trip at a marvellous location at Maiden Castle, one of the largest Iron age hillforts in Europe and a World heritage site because of the unique rock composition.

Wessex Water groundwater abstraction station

The day got more interesting at the Friar Waddon groundwater pumping station of Wessex water. Since the aquifer where the pumping station is located is mainly recharged through rainwater infiltration, it is liable to contamination from the extensive agriculture in the area. Nitrate and pesticides contamination of groundwater were the major issues. It was interesting to learn how the company (Wessex Water) addresses the issues through catchment-based management (CBM), working with farmers in a win-win approach. For example,  they pay farmers for their yield deficit if they give up certain quantities of fertiliser. They combined CBM with engineering solutions such as the multimillion cryptosporidium filtration plant that enables the company to comply with drinking water standards.

Visit to Freshwater Biological Association to learn more about macroinvertebrates

On the second day, there was no other place better than the River Frome and Piddle catchments (both rivers flow towards Poole Harbour) to learn about surface water quality issues, most importantly, the use of macroinvertebrates to monitor water quality. It is also interesting that much of the surface water is abstracted for various uses, including agricultural, industrial, and fisheries uses. Thus, river augmentation schemes are typical in the area to maintain environmental and base flows.

 St Augustine’s Well

The visit to St. Augustine’s Well, a holy well in Cerne Abbas, dating back to the 9th Century, relates more to this year’s World Water Day theme of valuing water. Here, water is conceptualised as sacred, a source of fertility, and a place of celebration.  It attested to the multiple ways people view, conceptualise, and value water beyond what is delivered in people’s taps.

We can use such narratives behind water to create powerful stories that can foster communication of climate change, environmental, and water issues”—Kevin Greskch, WSPM Course director.

Students at Durdle door, Lulworth

There was no way we could have gone to Dorset and not reached Lulworth Village and the Durdle door. Lulworth (Jurassic coast) is the only English natural World heritage site famous for its distinctive coastline. The Durdle door area has all the geological successions from upper chalk to upper Jurassic. Besides the learning, we also went down on record as part of thousands of tourists that visit the location every year.

Discussions at the coastal management and flood protection schemes

As Grey and Shadoff (2007) argued, water extremes (too little or too much) cause insecurity. Flooding is one of the most common water security risks in the UK, and Poole, a low-lying coastal city, is at high risk. Discussing flood risk and the coastal defence schemes were the activities for day four. Poole council invests heavily on flood protection and coastal defence schemes to protect the property and the people. Poole, according to the city council, is where the most expensive estates are in the UK. It was thus fascinating to explore the issues of justice between the rich and the poor in funding the defence schemes and how best to implement the funding mechanisms.

Pictures at Wessex Water treatment plant, Poole

The last day before leaving for Oxford, we stopped at one of the Wessex Water treatment plants in Poole.  The students seemed to agree with one of the professors, David Johnstone, that wastewater is more exciting, and that water treatment processes reveal human behaviour. Clearly, a lot of work goes into ensuring that safe water is delivered to people’s taps as well as ensuring that wastewater is treated to a standard that meets the various standards. The issues may not dominate the public discourse on the wastewater side but are crucial, sometimes beyond water supply issues.

Of course, it was also a fun trip, where the students got more chances to bond with their peers and the professors, play a couple of games, and as water students, swim. It was also an opportunity for the students and the staff to reflect on the year and the future.

The field trip reinforced the course learnings, but more importantly, it reminded me of the bond we shared, as a collective part of something greater. It was the perfect way to come together one last time, and celebrate each other, before we embarked on our individual quests for making the world perhaps a slightly better place”— Medha Mukherjee

Credits to all the professors, facilitators at the various locations we visited, and the students who went for the field trip and made the experience worthwhile.

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Welcome to WSPM 2021-2022 Cohort

Although the year has begun in the pandemic and the COVID-19 is still current, we are excited to welcome the new batch of students with strong enthusiasm for water, whether in person or online! Every autumn since 2004, a new group of students from around the world has arrived at the University of Oxford to pursue a master’s degree in Water Science, Policy, and Management (WSPM). Dr Kevin Grecksch, Course Director, and Dr Katrina Charles, WSPM Academic Lead, are especially looking forward to this cohort’s Induction on the week (0) of the Michaelmas Term.

This year’s class is the largest in the WSPM’s history, with a total of 29 students. These students hail from 19 different countries and have a variety of backgrounds, with some having recently completed their undergraduate studies and others returning to academia after working for a while. They have already visited Farmoor on the 1st of October as part of the course. They come from various sectoral backgrounds, enriching discussions and fitting perfectly with this interdisciplinary course, cross-cutting themes in economics, climate and catchment processes, governance, water quality, water and health, and water policy and management. This year-long MSc course enables students to develop a theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded understanding of sustainable water management. Including this group, almost 400+ students have enrolled in WSPM since it began in 2004.

2019 marked the 15th anniversary of the programme, and to celebrate; an Anniversary Fund was created to help WSPM students pursue overseas work for their dissertations.

We cannot wait to see the WSPM 2021-2022 cohort’s Oxford Journey. Welcome to Oxford!