This post is specifically related to the WSPM course.

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.