Managing our water: Examples from the 2019 Dorset field trip

By Jaswanth Dadi, Kate Cullen, Kavita Upadhyay, WSPM ’19-’20

The sky was overcast and raindrops, emboldened by fierce winds, dashed against our faces. For the twenty-five new students from Oxford University’s MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) 2019-20 cohort, October 3, the first of the three-day induction field trip to Dorset was just as forecasted – cold and rainy. We were in Dorset to learn about what lay beneath the earth—chalk and water. The field trip was also an introduction to the many ways in which people – particularly in Dorset – view water and its uses.

First, we stopped at Wessex Water’s Groundwater Pumping Station at Friar Waddon. The pumping station made thunderous noises as boreholes that were dug deep into the earth sucked up the water resting in the underground chalk. The machines grunted and groaned as the water gushed to the surface to be cleaned and piped out to surrounding towns in Dorset. Wessex Water is a water supply and sewerage services company operational across southwest England. A quick look at the website flashes the words “value for money,” “investment,” “fair return”.[i] Through Wessex Waters’ lens, as a utility company, water is a commodity.

Inside Wessex Water’s Friar Waddon Groundwater Pumping Station, at Weymouth.
Photo Credit: Kavita Upadhyay

But, could water be more than a commodity? On October 4, we travelled to the ancient St. Augustine’s Well at Cerne Abbas, thirteen miles from the pumping station, to find out. A soft, serene stream that used to supply water to a local mill introduced itself to us as we chatted our way to the holy waters of St. Augustine’s Well, which is a chalk spring. Beside the spring are people’s prayers, adorning a tree in the form of colourful ribbons and folded papers. Around the world, water holds important religious, cultural and ecological value that cannot be quantified.

St. Augustine’s Well at Cerne Abbas
Photo Credit: Kavita Upadhyay



Standing in front of the tree, Professor David Bradley, a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment (OUCE), spoke of the Well’s history. “You see, water is more than just a commodity,” he said, and our ears perked up. Suddenly, the narrative had shifted from water being perceived as a commodity to water being “more” than “just” that.

In Dorset, we were introduced to watercress, an aquatic plant used in salads and soups, the production of which is closely associated with the chalk streams central to Dorset. Dr Jocelyne Hughes, the WSPM Course Director, briefed us on how watercress was once harvested in winter by “traditional growers”. There are no traditional growers of watercress left in Dorset. Now, driven by the market, the plant is produced in Dorset mainly in the summer and imported from Spain, Portugal and Florida, USA, for the winter market. The commercial production is more water intensive than traditional methods, which creates significant strain of the unique chalk waters in the area. In Dorset, tradition has clearly been dumped for commerce.

From holy water and cultural traditions to ecological services and dependable utility services, our trip to Dorset illuminated the depth and breadth of how our society views and manages water. In the process, we found ourselves entangled in the perennial debate of whether water should be viewed as a commodity. If so, then to what extent? Also, how does the placing of water as a commodity or “more than” a commodity translate into water management? There were no easy answers.

[i] Wessex Water. “About Us: Our Purpose and Values.” Available at: https://www.wessexwater.co.uk/corporate/the-company/about-us/our-purpose-and-values



Atlantic Salmon Management—An Ocean Away

By Ellen Kujawa, WSPM ’19-’20

Bright and early in early October, the new students of Oxford’s Water Science, Policy and Management MSc program gathered for a three-day intensive field trip to Dorset. I was most excited to learn about a familiar water management challenge from another region’s perspective: namely, Atlantic salmon research and management on the River Frome.

Until last week, I worked for a watershed nonprofit in the U.S. called the Lake Champlain Basin Program. At the time of Euro-American settlement in the Lake Champlain region, landlocked Atlantic salmon were plentiful in the lake and its tributaries; however, the prized sportfish was soon extirpated due to overfishing. Since then, Vermont, New York, and Quebec have spent decades, and millions of dollars, on expensive Atlantic salmon restoration efforts: constructing hatcheries, reintroducing a similar strain of landlocked salmon from nearby Sebago Lake in Maine, and conducting chemical treatments in the lake’s tributaries to decrease the population of parasitic, invasive sea lamprey. In 2017, when salmon began naturally spawning in several of the Lake’s tributaries for the first time in 150 years, it was a huge victory.

Atlantic salmon management in the U.K. is quite different: at our visit to the Freshwater Biological Association’s facility on the River Frome, we learned from Rasmus Lauridsen that Atlantic salmon have continued to spawn naturally on the river, and this spawning has been tracked since 1973 (one of the longest-term sources of salmon population data!). Salmon reproduction has decreased since the early 1990s at this location, and the reason for this decline is as-yet unclear. Interestingly, there is no need to manage (chemically or otherwise) for sea lamprey, as the species is native to the region and does not pose a serious threat to the Atlantic salmon population.

This contrast in management foci, challenges, and opportunities was fascinating to me: learning about issues that are personally familiar from a differing international perspective was actually one of the most attractive components of the WSPM program for me. Other incoming WSPM students have other areas of previous expertise: public health and epidemiology, journalism, and shipping and harbor management, to name a few, and I’m looking forward to hearing their comparative perspectives in the months to come as well as developing a working knowledge of subjects related to water that are new to me like groundwater management and geology.


Rivers and cities: exploring their complex water-risk and its governance

Congrats to OWN DPhil student Safa Fanaian who has recently secured a National Geographic Explorer grant for 10,200$. This grant will contribute towards her fieldwork to build a basic understanding of the network of actors involved in governing water-risks of her case study of India’s Guwahati City and its rivers. This information can provide valid insights to improve responses to water risks. The grant will also include participatory mapping of projections and perceived probabilities for improvement through a workshop carried out with relevant stakeholders in Guwahati. This process will collect recommendations and perceptions of the involved actors for how the governance system can evolve in the future.

What sorts of challenges will Safa explore related to urban water governance? Rivers running through cities in India have become open drains filled with plastic and dark murky waters. India has more than 100 riverine cities. Governing the risks that emerge from the connection between cities and rivers is complex. Because rivers flow beyond city jurisdictions, not only local city departments but also other actors like national departments and interest groups are involved in governance processes. Coordination among various departments and agencies in cities is perceived as one of the biggest challenges to address water risks.

Safa’s DPhil research seeks to identify frameworks and relevant methods that allow context-specific approaches to understand and improve water risk governance for a riverine city in India. Guwahati was chosen as her case study because it is the physical gateway to the North-Eastern part of India and emblematic of growing urbanization on Brahmaputra River. The water risks under examination for Guwahati City and its rivers are linked to the incoming and outgoing waters. They include urban floods, domestic water supply, and waste-water released into rivers.


Increasing capacity for water-related climate adaptation: Identifying opportunities from lessons learned in Ethiopian river basins

Credit for conference photo: Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth



Recently, Future Climate For Africa hosted the African Climate Risks Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme of the conference was dismantling barriers to urgent climate adaptation action. REACH participated by hosting a panel discussion on water-related climate adaptation in Ethiopia and through presenting research on East African rainfall.

Dr Ellen Dyer of REACH hosted a panel discussion centred around understanding opportunities for increased interdisciplinary capacity in water-related climate adaptation in Ethiopia. Dr Dyer wanted to share the REACH project’s experience of working across disciplines by creating a diverse panel that included Ethiopia’s National Meteorological Agency (NMA), its Ministry of Water Irrigation and Energy (MoWIE), and the Awash Basin Development Office (AwBDO). Panellists explored what kind of capacity exists across sectors, institutions, and at the individual level in the context of Ethiopian river basins, and how this affects the use of climate information in water planning.

Several broad themes emerged from the discussion on how to improve capacity to enhance adaptation. One major theme was improving data availability. Panellists highlighted how collaboration between water authorities and meteorological agencies is essential to lessen gaps in data availability. Some users currently have issues with accessing climatological data due to coarse spatial forecast representations and delayed access to forecasts, but meteorologists (NMA) and water experts (MoWIE) recognize the issue and are discussing how to improve data sharing.

Another theme around data was about getting the right type of data to the right users. Tailored hydro-climatic information is necessary, and though it does happen through some case-by-case consultation, this kind of customised information could be scaled up to help different sectors (pastoralists, farmers, dam managers) across East Africa. Forecasts that consider the risks different water users face would also provide better insights into what actions different users should take. Such forecasts would require meteorologists and water practitioners to collaborate more closely on tailored forecasts that respond to different water users’ needs.

Looking into these needs means more collaboration and information exchange between the water and climate sectors. For example, the NMA is now focusing on climate modelling and evaluation and on building that capacity in-house. In fact, increased capacity in using of large-scale model projections for resilience planning would benefit all stakeholders in this space because climate resilience planning requires engagement from all basin sectors from the local to national level.

For example, the Awash River Basin in Ethiopia is a basin of extremes, with flood and drought management historically being the primary concern. Traditionally, the interaction between water and meteorological sectors have revolved around short-term forecasts but that is not enough for long-term resilience planning. More climate information and tighter regulations across sectors like industry and agriculture is needed for water allocation planning and projections under climate change. These changes can only happen with better data availability, more customised data for various water users, and better capacity to engage on this topic for all users. These gaps are ones that REACH hopes to be able to assist with in the future.






REACH is leading research on model projections and evaluation that can assist in this process of capacity building. At the conference, Dr Dyer also presented a poster showcasing REACH’s work on East African model evaluation for the long rains. The REACH team has determined a set of atmospheric diagnostics which they are applying to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble of global climate models. Using a combination of diagnostics of moisture fluxes into and out of East Africa, this research underscores the importance of the Indian Ocean and Central Africa on rainfall and how that influence is represented in the models. Such measures of model skill will help inform confidence in future climate projections for East Africa, which can help determine what types of urgent climate adaptation are needed. But models alone are not enough to solve barriers to effective action for climate adaptation and REACH continues to value its interdisciplinary partners and approach to this work.


Inaugural Philomathia Award presented for innovative work on the future of the commons

Dr Dustin Garrick is the recipient of the inaugural Philomathia Award.

Read more here.

Balancing social and environmental capital for sustainable development in Africa

If you weren’t able to make this 16 Sept event in person, you can catch up on the podcasts as 3 African Oxford Initiative Visiting Fellows discuss water and sustainable development.

Listen here.


An Alumni Weekend of Water

Beyond the exciting WSPM 15th anniversary celebration on Friday night, last weekend’s alumni weekend held several events that highlighted the importance of the work of OWN members.

On Saturday morning, Dr Dustin Garrick represented the water sector during the School of Geography and the Environment (SOGE) debate entitled ‘The Perfect Storm – a Perfect Solution? – Sustainable water, energy and food for the 8 billion few’. This discussion around the water-food-energy nexus provoked great questions from the alumni audience who challenged all three panelists on everything from how biodiversity fits in to how academia can make a difference. Dustin discussed water in a broader context by looking at water allocation between urban and rural areas and how formal and informal markets can come together to improve water security.

A lucky few alumni were quick enough to snag the limited fifteen slots for the Oxford Water Walk, which was a new chance to discover some of the major water challenges of the 21st Century via eight stops across the university and town. It also helped participants understand water research across different departments at Oxford in addition to Oxford’s water history. Organized and led by Dr Jocelyne Hughes, contributors to the water walk included Dr David Johnstone from SOGE, Dr Ian Griffiths from the Mathematical Institute, and impressive MSc and DPhil students. It was very insightful, highlighting everything from water quality issues and invasive species to water solutions like smart handpumps and sustainable urban drainage systems.


Smith School Water Programme Manager joins WEF Expert Network

It’s been a big month for OWN member Dr Johanna Koehler who has just received her first grant as a principle investigator (PI) and who has been invited to join the World Economic Forum Expert Network.

For this network, she will contribute to the thematic areas of Water, Sustainable Development and Africa. The World Economic Forum’s Expert Network brings together close to 5,500 leading experts from academia, business, government, international organizations, civil society, the arts, and the media committed to improving the state of the world by helping to shape the global agenda. The Expert Network is designed to promote interdisciplinary and innovative thinking about the future, challenge conventional wisdom, and develop new ideas related to regional and global agendas.

Johanna’s first grant as PI together with Co-I Dr Stefania Innocenti (SSEE) is from GCRF Research England for fifteen months to uncover people’s preferences concerning how their water is delivered. For decades rural waterpoints in Africa have been managed by heterogenous communities but not always with great results: 25% of sub-Saharan African handpumps are non-functional. New options for communities to have better access to water delivery, such as FundiFix, are emerging. How do communities make decisions when faced with the choice of signing up for reliable water services? Who are the leaders people are likely to follow when making such decisions? Using a novel interdisciplinary approach, Johanna’s study will combine anthropological and experimental methods to examine whether people follow others’ decisions depending on their leadership status and current water management arrangements. This research is part of helping policymakers understand how to achieve universal and equitable water service provision by 2030 by better comprehending how local behavioural and institutional norms and community structures which might hinder uptake of new water service models are understudied.



WSPM Hosts A Night at the Museum

By Samuel Rob and Lucy Chen, WSPM ’18-’19

As part of the Oxford Alumni Weekend 20-21 September, Oxford’s Museum of Natural History reunited over 150 Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) MSc alumni from around the world and academics of the Oxford Water Network to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the MSc programme and what has been and can be achieved in this sphere.

There was no shortage of acknowledgement of how large the task of meeting water challenges is, as evidenced by the title chosen for the anniversary book launched as part of the event, a compilation by WSPM academics and alumni—Water Science, Policy and Management: A Global Challenge. The Chancellor of Oxford, Lord Patten, opened the evening discussing the immense challenges facing water management in the future, particularly its role in combating climate change. Dr Claudia Sadoff, Director General of the International Water Management Institute, gave a keynote emphasizing new ways of thinking about water management, including ways to reduce demand, increase production, enhance resilience and governance while striving for equity. WSPM’s Founding Course Director, Dr Rachel McDonnell, then led a panel of MSc alumni who shared the varied ways they have created careers from the hallmarks of the course in a variety of topics from water pricing, science policy, water and finance, rural water supply and municipal sanitation. To conclude the evening, the current WSPM Course Director, Dr Jocelyne Hughes, announced the goal to raise £50,000 for dissertation fieldwork over the next 5 years as part of the inaugural WSPM anniversary fundraising campaign.

Photo by Donna Palfreman

A reception inside the museum’s main exhibits followed, which allowed alumni and academics to reconnect and to learn about the research of current MScs, DPhils and post-docs through the Oxford Water Network showcase. While reflecting on the assembled group, current WSPM Academic Director, Prof. Simon Dadson, noted that the diversity of WSPM alumni highlights the programme’s unique outreach and impact.


Oxford Water Network: Report on Hydro-JULES Internships (2019)

By Marcus Buechel and David Crowhurst

This summer, three Oxford Water Network postgraduate students joined the inaugural eight-week Hydro-JULES Summer Student Programme in Wallingford. This summer internship allowed them to work on specific research projects related to the new Hydro-JULES programme
recently launched by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

The Hydro-JULES project is a Natural Environment Research Council-funded programme aiming to develop a global leading, three-dimensional, open source community model of the terrestrial water cycle. The resulting model will enable UK scientists to tackle a range of outstanding scientific questions related to hydroclimatic extremes, hydrological forecasting, and land-atmosphere feedbacks. Professor Simon Dadson from Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment leads the project in conjunction with a range of scientific and academic partners including the Met Office, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, and the British Geological Survey. Culminating the two-month internship, all interns received positive feedback after presenting their work at the Next Generation Land Surface and Hydrological Predictions conference on 11 September.

The Oxford interns worked on a variety of projects:

  • Olivia Becher, MSc (Water Science, Policy and Management): Flood inundation modelling in Africa: evaluating large-scale model predictions with satellite earth observation
  • Marcus Buechel, DPhil (Geography and the Environment): Developing climate and landscape change scenarios for large-scale modelling with Hydro-JULES
  • David Crowhurst, DPhil (Geography and the Environment): Deriving in situ actual evaporation from the COSMOS-UK environmental monitoring network

Thanks to this internship opportunity, they gained valuable insights and skills to advance their careers in water research and were able to be part of research that is providing a strong foundation to the new programme at CEH. For Marcus, the internship really improved his understanding of running complex earth system models and analysing large datasets. This will be invaluable as he takes his DPhil further, investigating how future climate and landcover change will impact hydrological systems in the UK. David will continue his internship in the fall and aims to publish with CEH colleagues a paper on a new evaporation data system for COSMOS-UK, which David developed during his internship. This dataset is producing the first in situ evaporation dataset from a UK environmental monitoring network. Olivia’s internship involved evaluating a global flood inundation model against earth observation data before its application in coupled studies of feedbacks between inland waters and regional climate. She plans to continue to collaborate with CEH in quantifying the risk of compound flood events in the UK through interactive model coupling.

The Hydro-JULES Summer Student Programme will return in Summer 2020, and applications will open in March 2020. More information about Hydro-JULES can be found on its website: https://hydro-jules.org/.