Australian water practitioners visit Oxford to learn from innovations in the UK water industry

Gareth Walker, University of Oxford

On Thursday 10 May, a delegation of 18 Australian water management specialists from industry, local government, and engineering consultancies visited Oxford University as part of a Water Sensitive Studies Tour. Speakers from Oxford University and the UK research and technology sector briefed the delegation on trends in policy, research and technology in the UK water industry.

Dr Dustin Garrick presented Oxford University’s Water Security Network which was launched to establish Oxford as a global centre of water science excellence and innovation. The network’s research themes reflect Oxford’s areas of strength and capacity, with relevance to multiple aspects of urban water management. The network fosters links with external partners across the world. “We are actively building partnerships with Australian researchers, policymakers and practitioners in the areas of climate risk and resilience to promote water security,” said Garrick.

Ian Bernard (British Water) and Gareth Walker (DPhil candidate, Oxford University) highlighted the water scarcity challenges faced by the UK Water Industry, along with current policy and regulatory responses.

The drive for innovation and new technology uptake in the UK water sector was discussed by Steven Lambert (Technology Strategy Board), Derek Pedley and Kerry Thomas (both from Oxford’s Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network). Current government initiatives are targeted to overcome the institutional and economic barriers to innovation, while the ESKTN supports coordinated research and knowledge sharing across diverse public and private sector actors.

Discussions included the potential transferability of lessons learnt between the Australia and UK, with a particular focus on utility responses to water scarcity, the impact of regulatory frameworks, and behavioural change in relation to demand management.

The delegates shared several insights about long-term planning under non-stationary conditions. The UK’s experience of a collapse in demand during the economic recession in the 1970s was contrasted with the recent and sudden abatement of drought conditions in regions of Australia. A theme emerged; in the case of investments in projects such as reservoirs and desalination plants, planning horizons can span several decades, yet our ability to forecast climatic conditions and demand trajectories at this time scale are highly uncertain.

How can the political and economic risk of over or under investment be mitigated given these uncertainties?  Innovations in technologies and institutional design were acknowledged to provide potentially more adaptive modes of management. However, the barriers of political will and cultural change remain significant and poorly understood.

 

Highlights from Water Security and Federal Rivers workshop

Federalism has increasing international significance for water security. A global workshop gathered 35 delegates from 12 countries to exchange lessons learned from water reforms to manage water-related risks and conflicts in federal rivers.

Highlights included the development of a common research framework and set of case studies anchored in the insights about river basin management and federalism from public policy, economics, history and complexity science.

A keynote presentation by Dr Jerry Delli Priscoli of the US Army Corps of Engineers chronicled the history and models of river basin management in the US – the world’s oldest federation – to demonstrate the elusive quest for integrated strategies and the significant potential for solutions matched to local and regional circumstances.

Case studies across the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia highlighted the extent and diversity of federal rivers facing common challenges in different contexts, identifying alternative pathways to share risks and manage conflicts.

The workshop culminated with a preliminary synthesis and comparative reflections by George Anderson, President Emeritus of the Forum of Federations, who noted the need to learn from both success and failure: “while some federations have succeeded in putting in place river basins authorities and achieving integrated management, the story more generally is one of failure.” He observed that states often address water conflicts until they become salient enough to trigger federal intervention.

The initial workshop outcomes include a briefing paper and an edited book volume released in 2013 based on chapters presented during the workshop. A global hub on federal rivers will be established at the Global Water Forum in summer 2012 to provide a platform for long range collaboration and comparative research.

Australian National University sponsored the workshop with support from the Forum of Federations. The workshop was organised by Dr Dustin Garrick (Oxford), Drs Daniel Connell and Jamie Pittock (Australian National University) and George Anderson (President Emeritus, Forum of Federations).

 

Highlights from Water Security, Risk and Society conference

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, spoke enthusiastically about Oxford’s key role in the leadership of the global water security agenda on 17th April at the Natural History Museum to over 220 delegates from policy, research, civil society and business participating in the International Conference on Water Security, Risk and Society.

Professor Hamilton’s address followed a public lecture where Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, underlined the UK Government’s increasing priority on water security in the UK and internationally. Greg Koch, Director of the Global Water Stewardship initiative at the Coca-Cola Company warned that we are at a critical point in the history of human civilisation facing unprecedented water risks. There is a strategic business imperative for addressing these risks to protect growth and profits, he said.

The conference was earlier opened at St Hugh’s College by the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Ian Walmsley, and the Director of the Oxford Martin School, Professor Ian Goldin. “The scale of the challenge, and therefore the scale of the opportunity it presents, is unprecedented,” said Professor Ian Walmsley. Professor Ian Goldin stressed the need to tackle water insecurity as a defining 21st century challenge.

Over the three-day event, more than 70 presentations addressed the status of and pathways to water security with contributions from more than 15 countries.

Oxford University’s Professor David Grey urged for small, bold steps led by “a coalition of the willing and the capable, beginning to move an agenda that includes interdisciplinary science, business, civil society and government. We need to be innovative, coordinated and courageous, and at Oxford we are embarking on this journey with a number of partners around the world.”

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Stephen O’Brien MP, gave a keynote address on the UK government’s commitment to water security to promote economic growth and poverty reduction with a multi-million pound research investment to be shaped by the conference outputs.

The new cross-university website on ‘water’ – www.water.ox.ac.uk – was launched at the conference as part of the Fell-funded Water Security Network, led by the Director of the Environmental Change Institute, Professor Jim Hall.

A range of academic outputs and reports will be released shortly including material to directly feed into the ‘Rio +20’ conference later in the year and the global task force examining the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation post-2015.

 

 

Water scarcity to drive conflict, hit food and energy, experts say

Reuters AlertNet, Laurie Goering, 17/04/2012

Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource and shortages could drive conflict, hit food and energy production, and threaten growth in renewable energy technology, experts warned at a water security conference on Monday.

And climate change – which appears to be bringing more extreme weather events such as droughts and floods – is likely to make the situation even more difficult, they said.

Article includes quotes from David Grey, a University of Oxford water expert; Ian Walmsley, pro-vice chancellor for research at the University of Oxford; and Jim Hall, an expert on water and risk at the Oxford Environmental Change Institute.

Oxford University conference Water Security, Risk and Society responds to society’s most pressing water security challenges

Water security is a major challenge for society today. A recent study in Nature concluded that 80% of the world’s population is threatened by water insecurity. The World Economic Forum recently predicted water security to be among the world’s greatest threats.

In developing countries, limited access to an acceptable quality and quantity of water defines the lives of millions of poor people. In the UK, ongoing drought and predictions of future water shortages due to climate change remind us of the relevance of the issue to developed countries also.

The Water Security, Risk and Society conference aims to map research priorities and lay the foundations of a shared agenda for science, policy and enterprise communities to respond to water-related risk.

Conference highlights include plenary talks from the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sir John Beddington, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development Stephen O’Brien, the business perspective provided by Greg Koch (The Coca-Cola Company) and Gerry O’Hagan (Diageo), and a number of leading academic thinkers from across the globe.

“The risk of water insecurity has never been greater but global capacity to respond does not match up to the scale of the threat” says Oxford University’s Professor David Grey. “From the current UK drought to the recent floods in Thailand, the world is already facing multi-billion dollar impacts with an increasingly uncertain and challenging future. A failure to link science, policy and the private sector is limiting local and global progress on society’s most pressing challenges. This event will form a coalition, unified by a risk perspective, to define future policy priorities and action for the UK and the world.”

Researchers at Oxford University’s will be taking forward the partnerships forged at the conference, providing the rigorous scientific base to inform decision making and respond to current and future water challenges.

Water security and federal rivers workshop tracks the global influence of federalism on river basin management and climate adaptation

An international workshop will generate a global picture of the world’s federal rivers, the climate risks they face and the diverse river basin management strategies developed in response. The workshop – sponsored by Australian National University and the Forum of Federations – will convene scientists and practitioners from 12 countries to exchange lessons about climate adaptation and river basin management in federal political systems.

Water Lives – a new art-science animation produced for BioFresh

“Water Lives…” is a science communication animation designed to draw attention to the important (yet largely invisible) life that underpins and sustains our rivers and lakes. The animation was produced by Paul Jepson and Rob St.John at the School of Geography and the Environment for the EU project BioFresh.

Find out more »