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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!

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Passing of Dr Jill Crossman OUCE (2010-2017)

Co-Director of the NERC Macronutrients Programme – Oxford Directorate

I’m writing today to share some very sad news. As some of you already have heard, our friend and colleague Dr Jill Crossman passed away suddenly and far too young on last Saturday, September 11.

Jill was a driving force in Oxford helping me to direct the NERC funded Macronutrient Cycles  Programme. This programme involved 12 university groups and 4 NERC Institutes with over 120 Staff involved ranging from senior Professors to Post Docs and PhD Students, plus many Policy People from DEFRA, the UK Environment Agency and the Scottish and Welsh Governments. There was also an international advisory committee and a team from NERC. Jill helped coordinate the programme and organize many fascinating science meetings and policy groups, held mainly in the SoGe Department or in St Peters College. Despite her young age at the time, nothing fazed her and she was super-efficient and incredibly helpful to all the researchers and staff involved.

Jill was a funny and lovely person and an astute scientist. She was preparing the paperwork for promotion to associate professor at the University of Windsor in Canada, had won some major grants for environmental research in the areas of microplastics and eutrophication. Jill published widely (see her last publication https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/13/5/723 – a major intellectual and multidisciplinary contribution). Many of her colleagues and friends have been shocked at her early passing. Jill was always happiest surrounded by a bunch of scientists, talking non-stop and enjoying the odd glass of wine. The world will not be the same without her.

 

RIP Jill!

Prof Paul Whitehead

Macronutrient Cycles and School of Geography and the Environment

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Dr Kevin Grecksch as new WSPM MSc Course Director

It is with pleasure that we celebrate that Dr Kevin Grecksch is the new WSPM MSc Course Director. Kevin is excited to take on the course directorship and to meet the students and new colleagues. He is keen to share his interdisciplinary research and teaching experience and to strengthen the bridges between disciplines.

Kevin holds a doctorate in (Ecological) Economics and an M.A. in Political Science, English Literature and Communication Science. He is a social scientist who specialises in governance, particularly water and climate change adaptation. His research interests include (multi-level) environmental governance, water governance, climate change adaptation, governance of societal transformation processes, property rights and the governance of natural resources, and sustainability. Before joining SoGe, he was British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford. His project dealt with sustainable underground space governance in the UK. Other work at the CSLS included the multi-disciplinary ENDOWS (ENgaging diverse stakeholders and publics with outputs from the UK DrOught and Water Scarcity programme) and the MaRIUS (Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of drought and water Scarcity) projects. Kevin recently published a monograph with Palgrave Macmillan on ‘Drought and Water Scarcity in the UK. Social Science Perspectives on Governance, Knowledge and Outreach’.

Kevin is passionate about public engagement with his research and research impact. For example, he has organised drought walks. He recently contributed to the widely reported British Academy evidence review ‘The COVID decade: Understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19’ and the accompanying policy analysis ‘Shaping the COVID decade’.

Water governance is a ‘glocal’ issue and in his role, Kevin will be keen to provide WSPM students with a holistic and integrative perspective on water governance. His previous positions and experience have given Kevin a unique perspective on water issues ranging from political science, ecological economics to socio-legal, a perspective he is eager to pass on to students thereby equipping them with methods and approaches to make a difference in their future professional roles and beyond.

 

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WaterSciencePolicy relaunches

A cohort of WSPM students and alums created Water Science Policy (WSP) as a digital platform last May during lockdown, and this week they have relaunched it as an independent magazine to deliver original and multilingual content around water to a global audience. The platform offers a broad range of views about the most fundamental element of life at the intersection of the economy, climate, health, nature, and society’s issues. You can read the WSP manifesto here. This relaunch contains some important features for a global audience including articles in languages other than English and a greater variety of formats, including policy briefs, podcasts, and photostories. They have expanded the team contributing to WSP to include an impressive cohort of young water professionals from around the world.

So far this impressive initiative is 100% volunteering with no source funding, but it has a big vision and thus has many opportunities for support and engagement. If you would like to become involved with WSP, you are encouraged to do so by donating, translating, contributing with written/visual content to the platform either as an author or as a photographer, or by becoming one of WSP’s regional ambassadors. You can also follow Water Science Policy on social media: FacebookLinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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5th Mike Edmunds Memorial Lecture

On Friday over 140 people gathered to learn from groundwater experts in Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, and Uganda. This was the fifth annual Mike Edmunds Memorial Lecture, jointly organized online by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Oxford Water Network because of Mike Edmunds’ significant contributions to both institutions during his career.  Mike Edmunds began his career at BGS in 1966 and just after his retirement moved to the University of Oxford in 2002 to continue academic research on groundwater.

The keynote was delivered by Mike’s long-time friend and colleague Professor Cheikh B. Gaye, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal. The keynote covered the unsaturated zone groundwater research that he and Mike undertook in Senegal beginning in 1985 and which continues to this day, but Cheikh also shared personal stories of Mike and their friendship with each others’ families. It was a touching tribute to the Mike Edmunds that everyone knew; while a great researcher, Mike is missed deeply for his passion, warmth, and generosity of spirit that touched the lives of many.

An insightful panel examined similarities and differences of groundwater realities between regions in Africa and covered geological and chemical challenges relating to groundwater. The panel experts were Chikondi E Shaba of University of Malawi, Chancellor College, Malawi; Professor Daniel Olago of University of Nairobi, Kenya; and Dr. Robinah Kulabako of Makerere University, Uganda. Prof. Richard Taylor of University College London who worked with Mike chaired the panel. Both Prof. Alan McDonald of BGS and Prof. Rob Hope of Oxford worked directly with Mike during his time at these institutions and opened and closed the event, respectively.

You can see the event recording here.

Event Details 

Welcome: Professor Alan MacDonald, British Geological Survey

Keynote: Professor Cheikh B. Gaye, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal

Panel Discussion

Chikondi E Shaba  University of Malawi, Chancellor College, Malawi

Professor Daniel Olago, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Dr. Robinah Kulabako, Makerere University, Uganda

Chair: Professor Richard Taylor, University College London

Concluding Remarks: Professor Rob Hope, University of Oxford

 

In 2013, Mike and colleagues began working on a review of Groundwater Recharge in Africa which has been published recently in memory of Mike and is open access.

If you knew Mike, you may be interested in this website in memorial to him.

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OxForWater: A student-led running and fundraising challenge

By Jeremy Stroud and Mariana Portal

Acknowledging the UK’s impending winter lockdown, a group of friends from different disciplines came together with an intention to do something helpful, stay active, and make the most out of a limiting situation.

After exploring several ideas, a goal was set and the campaign named OxForWater launched on February 12. The event consisted in a COVID-compliant, semi-virtual running challenge to raise money for clean water projects in rural and isolated regions.

OxForWater challenged classmates, friends and family members to set two goals for themselves over a ten-day period: a running distance objective and a fundraising goal.

Originally, the target was to fundraise enough money to provide clean water access to 50 people, through the not-for-profit charity: water. In order to achieve this, our financial target was £1,500. Due to the incredible attitude and support received, OxForWater raised £3,608, and funds are still coming in. This means that an additional 120 people will now have access to freshwater. It’s a small number compared to the extent of the issue, but it’s important to start with a small difference and continue chipping away at it.

The positivity during a time of solitude was something unique. This began as an experiment on how a group of students from Canada, Argentina, Belgium, Mexico, and England could come together safely and make the most of an otherwise limiting situation. Today we are incredibly grateful to have had participation from all around the world.

The OxForWater challenge is something we won’t forget from our time at Oxford. We learned about solidarity as well as promoting health, and charity during a difficult time. Perhaps our experience will inspire others to identify a global need, develop a strategy and implement it effectively and creatively.

 

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2020-2021 DPhils Welcomed to OWN

OWN is pleased to welcome a new cohort of DPhil students in the School of Geography and the Environment. If you want to learn more or contact them, you can find them in our OWN directory. Below is a bit of what each is expecting to research. The DPhil programme has a mix of postgraduate students; some are working on projects outlined through external funding and others are solely responsible for determining the topic of their research and therefore start out in a ‘wider’ research space.

Olivia Becher’s research interest is in large scale water system risks and adaptation–in particular, guiding water infrastructure development in the context of climate, hydrological, and water quality related risks.

Deng Majok Chol is modelling the wetlands and simulating hydrological responses to future climatic change in the Sudd Basin of South Sudan. He is also exploring the human and societal impacts of largescale hydrological variability, historical resilience, climatic migration as possibly adaptation to the tipping points, and socio-technical interventions that may enhance or detract resilience.

Sophie Erfurth is a hydrologist conducting research on common pool resource (CPR) governance in the context of fragile political systems. Her research strives to shed light on the evolution of water institutions in relation to political instability and hydroclimatic risks and contributes to coupled systems modelling and analysis of social and hydrological interactions.

Rob Ferritto’s research interests include women’s empowerment and gender equality at the intersection of sustainable development.

Ella Fleming works on water scarcity, climate conflict and migration in Africa and studies its implications for UK security and defence.

Gina Gilson is studying the governance of informal water markets in East Africa, with a particular focus on property rights, collective action, and resource sustainability. Gina’s research is part of NEWAVE.

Katie Kowal’s research focus is on opportunities for seasonal forecasts to enhance drought preparedness with a focus in Central America.

Johannes Wagner’s research examines the payment behaviors of rural consumers and facilities in sub-Saharan Africa to attract non-traditional funding. He focuses on policy and governance issues informing how rural consumers pay for water across service delivery models, payment methods, and political spaces using both qualitative and quantitative methods. His work is part of NEWAVE.

 

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New members of the OWN Leadership Team

The Oxford Water Network is pleased to announce three new members of the Leadership Team: Dr Hussam Hussein, Dr Troy Sternberg, and Saskia Nowicki.

Dr. Hussam Hussein is a Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Research Fellow in Transboundary Resources Management at the Oxford Martin School, member of the Middle East Centre, and Fulford Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College. His expertise is on transboundary water governance and on the political economy of water scarcity, with a geographical focus on the Middle East. He has previously worked at the World Bank, UNICEF, and at the EU Parliament. Hussam joined the Leadership Team of the Oxford Water Network to widen the network towards Early Career Researchers and students looking at water and natural resources from a politics and international relations angle, supporting interdisciplinary interactions and conversations.

Dr Troy Sternberg’s research has focused on extreme climate hazards (drought, dzud), environments (water, steppe vegetation, desertification) and social dynamics (pastoralists, social-environmental interaction, mining and communities). Since 2005 Troy has continued to research in Mongolia; in 2010 northern China and in 2015 Central Asia became additional study sites. His Gobi Framework project develops a model for sustainable infrastructure development to promote inclusive social and economic development and sustainable environments in the context of Chinese investment initiatives in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Troy joins the Leadership Team as the interim Course Director for the Water Science, Policy and Management MSc programme.

Saskia Nowicki is a devotee of interdisciplinary research with a background in environmental science. She works on water related risks and trade-offs, especially those involving water quality and public and environmental health. Her current research focuses on drinking-water safety in rural Kenya, using a systems-based approach to seek insight at multiple levels from the molecular to the institutional. Saskia joined OWN in her MSc (Water Science, Policy and Management) year and has continued to benefit from the network during her DPhil. She joined the leadership team to increase engagement with graduate students and ECRs and is keen to hear your ideas for events or other offerings that the network could support.