Day zero

The Oxford Water Network reflects on the past year and looks towards 2018.

As a wet Oxford welcomes the start of Hilary term, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ feels far removed from the impending water crisis unfolding in Cape Town. How South Africa’s second most populous metropolitan area came to face the prospect of being the first major city in the world to run out of water, will no doubt be a hot topic of discussion among our Water Science, Policy and Management Master’s students as they enter their second term at Oxford, and one they may want to ponder in depth in advance of their exams in Trinity.

Towards Day Zero – the shrinking of Cape Town’s reservoirs. NASA

It is questions such as these which the Oxford Water Network (OWN) was established to address, harnessing the power of our diverse research community to support better water management in a complex and uncertain world.

Last term, the OWN hosted a series of events would no doubt be of interest to Cape Town’s policy-makers. In Michaelmas, we began a seminar series on hydroclimatic extremes which continues in Hilary. This touched upon forecasting weather driven natural hazards; fluvial geomorphy, flooding and hydrometry; droughts (at both local and continental scales); and will reach its conclusion this Thursday (Feb 1, 2018), when Prof Louise Heathwaite (Lancaster University) and Enda O’Connell (Newcastle University), address the subject of natural flood risk management. Both speakers are leaders in their fields, and co-authors of the Oxford Martin School’s comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on natural flood management published last year, and led by Dr Simon Dadson of Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment.

The highlight of Michaelmas 2017 was Valuing Water for Sustainable Development: a one-day forum held at Corpus Christi, to advance new approaches to water valuation, finance and allocation. The Cape Town crisis affirms more than ever the need to reconsider how we value water, amid growing scarcity (both in terms of quantity and quality), increased hydroclimatic uncertainty in the context of climate change, and ever-increasing demand.

This event, convened by the Smith School’s Dr Dustin Garrick, current academic co-lead of OWN, built on Water, the economy and sustainable development, a high-level panel event hosted by OWN in collaboration with the World Bank, at the Oxford Martin School in January 2017, alongside associated workshops which informed the World Bank’s Uncharted Waters: The New Economics of Water Scarcity and Variability report published in October 2017. This, along with Dr Garrick’s earlier engagement in various international processes including the United Nations/World Bank High-Level Panel on Water, its Valuing Water Initiative, and the OECD Roundtable on Financing Water, provided the groundwork for the Nov 7 forum and associated Science paper led by Oxford authors, published shortly thereafter.

The event also provided a number of students the opportunity to participate in the event, with some acting as rapporteurs. It was a reminder of the strength of our student and alumni networks, and in 2018 we aim to build on this by launching a student Water Society. If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email.

OWN research

The past year has been a busy one for our researchers. You can find a current list of all water-related projects on the Oxford Water Network website, and follow our news via our news pages, associated newsletter, or follow our Twitter feed. Larger Oxford-based water programmes, such as REACH – Improving water security for the poor), MaRIUS (Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of Drought and water Scarcity) and ITRC (UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium ) also have their own dedicated websites.

For a review of the REACH programme’s activities over the past year, see their recent tweet-based retrospective on Storify. A number of new REACH partnerships emerged during 2017 including a $15M USAID programme on Sustainable WASH Systems led by University of Colorado Boulder’s Prof Karl Linden.

In Nov 2017, the MaRIUS programme held its MaRIUS-live event in London, detail of which can be found here. Earlier in the year the programme received additional funding from NERC’s UK Drought and Water Scarcity Programme, to extend work until March 2019 via ENDOWS (Engaging diverse stakeholders and publics with outputs from the UK Drought and Water Scarcity programme).

In 2017, the ITRC saw the launch of DAFNI (Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure) – a £8 million new national research facility hosted at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell. Recent water-related outputs from ITRC include a briefing for the National Infrastructure Commission on future water availability scenarios for the UK.

Towards 2018
You can find a current listing of forthcoming water events at the Oxford Water Network website. We’ll shortly begin preparations for our Michaelmas 2018 seminar series, so if you have any ideas for themes, or speakers, get in touch.

In Trinity term, OWN will host a knowledge exchange event exploring ‘water sensing’ on April 26, further detail of which will follow in Hilary. This will bring together sensor designers and those working in water, to help identify sensing problems and potential solutions. We are working with Prof Richard Compton (Chemistry) to convene this event. Richard holds the distinction of having more publications and citations than any of our members. Earlier in 2017, we asked network members ‘how can the Oxford Water Network support your research and improve its impact?’ and Richard responded. This invitation is always open and we welcome dialogue from all our members.

Hosting events is just one many ways OWN supports its members. We can also help with communications and knowledge dissemination via a variety of channels, support funding proposals, and generally help connect people across Oxford’s diverse research landscape and beyond.

The water challenges facing the world, such as those currently experienced by Cape Town, demand action from across and between disciplines: OWN is helping facilitate Oxford University’s response to these challenges.