This post is specifically related to the WSPM course.

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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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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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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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Osney Lock: Colouring “management” 

by Will O’Sullivan, WSPM 2020-2021

Our focus was tested on Friday November 5th. My classmates and I stood next to the river Thames under leaves just beginning to turn for autumnThat day, there were reports about the unprecedented national case-count of Covid-19 (as passersby unmistakably gave us “the side-eye” for our large group) and the US presidential election was unfolding in a crawling photo-finish (news of which was blaring out of a nearby radio). In this momentous context, we shut it all out, knuckled down and delveinto the subject of an Archimedes screwdriven hydropower project on west Oxford’s Osney island. My first question was ‘What is unique about this project? 

The idea initially came about in 2002 among some friends iThe Punter, a pub a stone’s throw from the lock. Work began on the hydropower site in 2013 and electricity was first generated two years after thatAll the hydro project’s investors are guaranteed (with some risk) a 4% return. The screw is quiet and the artificial reeds lining the fish pass allow them to rest as they swim freely upstream, a significant benefit for the river’s biodiversity and one that is shared by the Sandford hydro project a half hour’s cycle away. The electricity is sold to the nearby Environment Agency depot, and the excess is used to power households locally. The annual target production of 180 kWh is enough to power 2 million kettles. 

With so many benefits and, for an infrastructure project, a comparatively painless inception (let alone for a project without large corporate backing), the question evolved from what is so unique about the project?’ to why is the project so unique? 

Ali, the project’s manager, pointed to funding and careful management; he specifically mentioned that, without the government grant for sustainable technology funding that recently ceased, this kind of project will be impossible. The prohibitive costs of damming the river and building the concrete base would stymie any similar project before it started. Meanwhile, the community project’s collaboration with the Environment Agency ensured a regular buyer of the energy, as well as a collaborator in finely managing the conditions of the river to ensure the screw turns and the area benefits. Ali has an app on his phone that he can use to check the status of the plant remotely. 

 

In the title of our Water Science, Policy and Management course, “management” can sometimes seem secondary in what’s already a mouthful. At best, it might be an afterthought to the clear battle-cries of “science” and “policy” and, at worst, a neutral way of what can be disastrous human intervention in environmental projects. 

But for me this excursion to Osney gave colour to the word “management”. 

big factor in the Archimedes’ screw working is the hydraulic head”: the distance between the elevation of the water when it enters and leaves the system. It’s an invisible, ambient factor that is nevertheless crucial in driving the huge, churning screw. (When rains fill nearby aquifers and the pool at the bottom of the screw, the river height belois raised, thereby decreasing the height difference from top to bottom. This has the consequence that, counter-intuitively, the screw doesn’t work as well in winter when the river is most full.) 

Here is a video of the hydraulic head:

I left the site feeling that management is just a name for the invisible human ingenuity and care that lies behind the physical aspects of water (the science) and the technical nous (the policy) in water projects. Much like the hydraulic “head”, it is the invisible force driving the whole system. For this small Archimedes screw and the largest dams in the world, everything depends on that care... 

and also government grants. 

Thanks to Troy and Helenour teachers, and to Ali Lloyd of Osney Lock Hydro, who led us through the hydropower project’s history and context. 

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The Meaning of “Natural”: Otmoor RSPB Reserve

By Medha Mukherjee, WSPM ’20-21

Photo by William O’Sullivan, WSPM ’20-21

As the global population continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) students, embarked on an induction field trip to the Otmoor RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Reserve on a cold October morning. They were ready to wade through the wetlands in small groups, keeping their face masks on and walking two meters apart but grateful to experience something in person months into the new Covid reality of 2020. The objective was to understand the historical background of the wetlands to be able to critically engage with its current contexts of maintaining water quality, managing water levels along with natural flood management, which are in place to meet the RSPB’s aim of nurturing certain bird species. But all through the trip led by their Course Director Dr. Jocelyne Hughes, Dr. Troy Stenberg and Patrick Thomson, one vital question kept coming to the surface – What does “natural” really mean in a highly manipulated freshwater ecosystem?

Located to the northeast of Oxford, Otmoor is a low-lying area of roughly 1000 hectares, the social history of which relates directly to its current hydrological and environmental issues. Once a marshland, with the River Ray as its primary source of water, Otmoor was drained after the 1815 Act of Enclosure, and the River Ray rechanneled, in an attempt to turn the wetland into a farmland. The move had disastrous effects, causing severe downstream floods with the villagers rioting and breaking the embankments to let Otmoor flood naturally again. Then in 1997, the RSPB established the nature reserve, isolating the wetland from the river system. It is now a precipitation-based wetland, with a strong water balancing system in place for the creation of a conducive habitat for bird species such as snipe, redshank, lapwing and others, in a rather expensive attempt to control the ecosystem. The water levels are maintained with the help of pump stations up and down the reserve, with trenches cutting through the grasslands, and scrapes and surface ponds dug out to hold water. To further conserve biodiversity, cows are used to graze out dominant plant species and increase biodiversity, and electric fences keep predators such as foxes and badgers out, thus ensuring a safe nesting ground for the birds. One student commented how surprised he had been that a seemingly pristine wetland was actually sustained with hidden pipes and pumps.

The WSPM team was joined by Heather Bond, an Oxford WSPM alumna currently working for the Environmental Agency, who further explained the hard engineering approaches for natural flood risk management and the efforts to create an optimal balance between letting the wetlands flood naturally, and keeping the rising water levels from affecting nearby farmlands and villagers. As the students stood on a bund constructed for flood risk mitigation, they looked out onto the vast green stretch of serene wetlands under the pouring grey sky, realizing how the sheer magnificence of this “natural” habitat is actually held in place and carefully managed by a highly mechanized system. Thinking about the meaning of “natural” in the age of the Anthropocene, thus, becomes a moral imperative in environmental and socio-political enquiry.

Owing to increasing rainfall, the field trip finally ended in a barn with a deeply insightful session conducted by two local female farmers who manage an award-winning flock of sheep at the nearby Hill End Farm in Noke. They shared first-hand experiences of living in a wetland area, tackling the binary of either being too wet or too dry—the need for a very delicate balance to maintain equilibrium for natural wildlife and the sheep–while dealing with water pollution from raw sewage discharge, which is poorly managed by a private utility company.

Two days later, Hill End Farm messaged the group about the weekend of rain, “I had to evacuate the ewes out of the lower field yesterday morning. I recorded 50mm in 24 hours…It does seem weather patterns are changing.” In some locations 50mm in a day would be high but not unusual. In Oxfordshire, that amount marked the highest amount of rainfall in 24 hours since observations began in 1827. On this field trip, students had seen first-hand humans have manipulated the environment at Otmoor to ensure co-existence between wildlife and humans, but can that balance be maintained by anthropogenic activities when it comes up against the looming extremes of water in the climate change crisis, also propelled by anthropogenic activities?

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Turning MSc research into a short film

As a new cohort of WSPM start at Oxford, it’s inspiring to see where they may be in just a few years.

Esteban Boj García, WSPM alumn from the 2018/2019 cohort, and with the help of others has transformed his MSc research for his dissertation into a short film entitled ‘Los Conductores del Agua – The Drivers of Water’’. It documents the impacts of climate change in accessing water in the city of Morelia, Mexico. In the summer months of the WSPM MSc programme, students undertake an original research dissertation as part of their course, involving field work in the social sciences or natural sciences, either in their home country or overseas. Students undertake primary data collection on applied water resources management. The micro-documentary is based on Esteban’s MSc dissertation research fieldwork about the role of water tankers in the urban water supply context.

The documentary was selected as a finalist in the We Art Water International Film Festival. The festival includes an Audience Award. Below are instructions from Esteban on how to vote if you would like to support his short film for the Audience Award before the deadline of 20 October 2020.

1. Go to https://filmfestival.wearewater.org/en/vote_337081
2. Watch our 3-minute micro-documentary ‘‘Los Conductores del Agua – The Drivers of Water’’.
3. Below the text to your right-hand side, scroll down and click on ‘register’.
4. Fill in your personal details.
5. Check your email inbox or spam folder and click on the verification link to complete the registration process.
6. Go back to the website and vote for our video.
7. Thanks for your help! 

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Welcome to WSPM 2020-2021 Cohort

While this year is the most unusual start for a new cohort to date, we are thrilled to welcome them (in person or virtually)! Since 2004, every autumn has brought a new cohort of students from around the world to attend the University of Oxford to study Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) on a masters course.  Dr Jocelyne Hughes, Course Director, and Prof. Robert Hope, Academic Lead for WSPM, are especially excited for this cohort to have their Induction on 1 October.

These students hail from fifteen countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds–some just out of undergraduate studies while others are returning to academia after time in the work force. They are coming from a variety of sectoral backgrounds, which will add richness to discussions and fit perfectly with this interdisciplinary course cross-cutting themes in economics, climate and catchment processes, governance, water quality, water and health, 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.

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Jubilee River Scheme: A Flagship or a Failure?

By Harnoor Kaur, WSPM ’19-’20

On 18th October 2019, WSPM students explored the Jubilee River Scheme in Maidenhead and Eton. The “Jubilee River” flood alleviation scheme opened in 2002 with the goal of averting flooding in Maidenhead, Windsor, Eton and Cookham by creating an artificial waterway parallel to the River Thames; the new channel allows additional capacity of water to flow through during times of flooding, bypassing over 3,000 properties in the area.


[Figure 1] The main channel of the River Thames at Maidenhead. The Jubilee River channel leaves the Thames upstream of Maidenhead and re-joins it downstream of Windsor.

During the field trip, the UK Environment Agency described the planning and creation of the Jubilee River Scheme. The scheme’s parallel channel has helped avert floods 30 times since 2002 and has prevented damage to property and life during the floods of 2003, 2012, and 2014. Additional benefits of the project were also highlighted: this £110 million project has provided the local community with new water and recreational services—religious & community feasts, embankments, footpaths, landscaping, navigation, water quality assurance—beyond flooding prevention.

 

[Figure 2] The WSPM class exploring the Dorney Wetlands.

In assessing residents’ perception of this project, the Agency found people living in the flood zone were extremely satisfied, while those living downstream of the installation were not. However, this was not a formal survey, and they did not conduct an inquiry to understand and incorporate residents’ opinions into the project.  The Environment Agency believes the scheme has led to greater resilience to floods, and has thus labelled the project a success.

Though the project was a flagship in the field of flood risk management in England, Ewan Larcombe, a local activist whom we met, viewed the scheme as a “structural” failure. Larcombe claimed that the design capacity of the project was disclosed to be 215 cubic kilometres during the Public Enquiry, but upon inauguration, it was only 170 cubic kilometres. He considers that the scheme led to structural flooding because the Agency undermined the construction by extracting excessive soil & gravel in Eton.

Larcombe has broader concerns that the issues of structural integrity and lack of integration of public input are more of a standard operation for the Environment Agency than one-off issues with the Jubilee River Scheme. For example, the Myrke Embankment, built in 1999, had a ratio of bend radius to watercourse at 2:1, which is greater than the required 10:1. Also, the backfill material of unconsolidated gravel was not favourable for compaction and foundation support, thus making the embankment prone to flooding during high waters. Additional fixes to repair the bend added to the expense of the project.

With regards to residents’ perception, the populace of Wraysbury and Datchet has felt that their reservations regarding extensive construction have been disregarded during the project appraisals. Even Larcombe pointed out that his parish in Slough was neither consulted nor briefed on the construction of the Jubilee River.

To counter his controversial claim, Larcombe has taken positive steps to create changes by joining the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC), established by the Environment Agency as a mechanism for ensuring flood projects link relevant stakeholders and consider both communications of risks and assessment of risk-based investments.  Now he is working with the agency to solicit and incorporate people’s opinions in different phases of project planning such as initial decision-making and post-implementation monitoring. 

[Figure 3] Jubilee River in Eton.

Like any other project, the Jubilee River Flood Alleviation Scheme has its advantages and disadvantages. Through this field-trip, the students discovered the different approaches to flood risk management including the importance of public participation.