In Memoriam: Professor W. Mike Edmunds

“It’s all about the rocks!” So, Mike would gently direct students and reticent researchers to the unerring importance of groundwater for society’s sustainable development in the past, present and future.

Mike Edmunds with the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management students on the Lulworth Cove field trip, Dorset (Class 2009/10)

Mike Edmunds with the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management students on the Lulworth Cove field trip, Dorset (Class 2009/10)

Mike’s passion for sustainable and equitable management of groundwater led to dramatic and internationally-significant scientific discoveries that were recognised by the O.E. Meinzer Award (2009) as the first British recipient, and the Whitaker Medal (1999). Seminal scientific advances on controls on water quality in regional aquifers, recharge over time and space, and the origin of mineral and thermal waters were published in over 150 scientific papers and books.

After an outstanding career spanning 35 years at the British Geological Survey (BGS), he joined Oxford University as Research Director of the Water Research Centre at the School of the Geography and the Environment, and a member of Christ Church. He continued to advance global groundwater science and management, notably in the UNESCO G-WADI programme, but also focused on developing and launching a novel and interdisciplinary MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management with Rachael McDonnell, Michael Rouse and David Johnstone. Launched in 2004 it is now in its 11th year with over 220 alumni from 52 countries. Mike’s classes have launched many successful academic and practitioner careers inspired not only by the quality of his scholarship but his celebrated field courses to Dorset and the Ebro basin every year.

The MSc course has been the touch-paper for a renaissance in water research in Oxford now linking over 70 faculty and research staff in the Oxford Water Network established in 2009. Mike has contributed to innovative, interdisciplinary water science including his significant inputs to new programmes on Improving Water Security for the Poor and Groundwater and Poverty. Both programmes reflect Mike’s significant and enduring personal contributions to improving the lives of rural people in Africa and Asia not only through his world-leading science but also his personal commitment, including over a decade as a trustee of Wells for India, which has transformed the lives of thousands of poor people in Rajasthan.

Above all, Mike has been an inspiration to all the staff and students who have had the privilege of working with him over his 13 years at Oxford University. We celebrate his significant achievements to educating the next generation of global water leaders and establishing a legacy for the next wave of water research at Oxford. We are greatly shocked and saddened by his sudden death and our sympathies and thoughts are with Kathy, his four children and his six grandchildren.

Oxford University staff, students and friends
(29 April 2015)

Download the In Memoriam with more photos
Tribute on the G-WADI website
Tribute UNESCO UK website

MSc students get ‘hands on’ with freshwater biodiversity at Otmoor

The MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management class recently journeyed to Otmoor, a historic wetland landscape to the northeast of Oxford, to learn about freshwater biodiversity and wetland restoration. Melissa von Mayrhauser reports back.

Students search for invertebrates in pondwater

Students search for invertebrates in pondwater collected at Otmoor.

Armed with wellies, nets and buckets, we collected invertebrates from elongated ponds to conduct a biological survey. Due to their diversity in freshwater, sedentary tendencies and life cycles that often extend for at least six months, invertebrates are ideal candidates to use as an indicator of water quality.

Netting dragonfly nymphs, water spiders and freshwater shrimp was a welcome change of pace from library revisions. We collected sediment in our nets from different pond mesohabitats and emptied the findings into our shallow containers. We then used spoons to search through the vegetation for hidden species, from damselfly nymphs to ramshorn snails.

Analysing these macroinvertebrates in jars over sandwiches at a local pub, we happily found high biodiversity and species that usually live in freshwater with low pollution, meaning that the water quality of elongated ponds was high.

After lunch, we spoke to the wetland’s warden from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about the ways that they are working to restore the area to a wetland landscape with more robust biodiversity, as it had been prior to the nineteenth century. They are able to manipulate water levels to achieve this goal.

This trip was not only a picturesque excursion to a nearby preserve, but also a hands-on case study, helping us to pin principles from our course to a specific place in our backyard. Several of the students will use similar fieldwork practices for their dissertations to study species richness and biological water quality around the world. And water students in a wetland are as happy as a mayfly nymph in a reed bank!

The Saïd Business School takes on water education

The Saïd Business School recognises water as a pressing global challenge, naming ‘Water Management and Markets’ a theme of its flagship Global Opportunities and Threats Oxford (GOTO) programme in 2015.

GOTO is an action-oriented problem-solving community geared towards addressing some of the most complex issues that the world faces today. It has been running at the Saïd Business School since 2012 and is an integral part of the curriculum, with all MBA and EMBA students participating.

At the core of the GOTO programme is a multimedia platform which connects students, alumni and faculty to discuss, debate and drive new business ideas that address global challenges. The platform features contributions from experts and practitioners, debating forums, research from Saïd Business School’s students and faculty, as well infographics, images and videos.

In 2015 the Business School is taking on Water Management and Markets as a key theme, reflecting the growing concern about global water risks such as water scarcity, pollution and floods. The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Risks Report recently ranked water crises as the risk with highest impact on society in a survey of 900 leaders from politics, business and NGOs.

The Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment is partnering with the Saïd Business School to design the curriculum for a course on Water Management and Markets, to be delivered as part of the GOTO programme in the Spring Term of 2015.

The Water Management and Markets course will engage students and stimulate thinking around private sector risks, challenges, and opportunities related to water. Leading academics, industry experts, international organisations and growing enterprises will give presentations on a range of topics, including: the science of water management, water supply services and systems, corporate water risk and return, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the water sector.

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Welcome to 2014/15 MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management

The School of Geography and the Environment welcomed the new cohort onto the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management at the beginning of October.

The class of 2014/15 on the Lulworth Cove field trip, Dorset

The class of 2014/15 on the Lulworth Cove field trip, Dorset

The first event, a three-day induction fieldtrip to Dorset, was a great success. Visits to Wessex Water and the Freshwater Biological Association provided the students with an introduction to the interaction between science, regulation and management in the UK, and between competing water users within the catchment. The Course Director Dr Katrina Charles said, “we are now in the 11th year of the course, and we are excited to be welcoming 23 students from 13 countries, including from Ecuador, Kenya, Zambia and Mexico.”

University of Oxford and University of Khartoum explore collaboration

In September, members from the Oxford Water Network hosted Professor Gamal Abdo, Director of the Water Research Centre of the University of Khartoum, Sudan.

<em>Professor Mike Edmunds and Professor Gamal Abdo</em>

Professor Mike Edmunds and Professor Gamal Abdo

This four day meeting emerged from two ongoing relationships including 25 years of collaboration between Oxford Professor Mike Edmunds and Professor Abdo in the field of groundwater hydrology, and DPhil Candidate Kevin Wheeler’s work in seeking collaborative trans-boundary river management alternatives through consulting with the Nile Basin Initiative.

Professor Abdo met with faculty and students from the School of Geography and Environment, Environmental Change Institute, and the Department of Politics and International Relations to discuss the possibilities for collaboration in educational resources, research opportunities and knowledge dissemination.

A number of educational collaboration mechanisms were identified for further exploration including course and lecture support, bibliographic support, and expanded bilateral MSc and DPhil student support.

The potential for furthering research collaboration emerged through shared interest in Professor Edmunds hydrological and hydrogeological studies in Sudan, Dr Simon Dadson’s research on the effect of water management strategies on land-atmosphere feedbacks in Africa, and Kevin Wheeler’s ongoing work on impacts of Ethiopian dam operations on Sudanese water security.

We welcome any additional expressions of interest from members of the University to conduct water-related work with University of Khartoum – please contact Mike Edmunds

Groundwater and poverty research in Marrakech

Oxford University research on Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro) was presented at the International Association of Hydrogeologists in Marrakech, Morocco in September.

Jacob Mutua Representing the NERC catalyst grant led by Dr Rob Hope, Jacob Mutua (pictured on right) presented results from the Kwale study site in Kenya linking groundwater science with institutional and poverty assessments. Jacob is part of an international consortium including Kenyan universities (University of Nairobi, JKUAT), government and private sector (RFL Ltd., Base Titanium Ltd., KISCOL) and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). Jacob is now starting the DPhil programme at the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, with matched funding from Base Titanium and Oxford University.

To find out more about the research, view the poster ‘Groundwater risks and institutional responses, Kwale County, Kenya


Celebrating a decade of the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management

Alumni from across 10 years of the School of Geography and the Environment’s MSc Water Science, Policy and Management gathered in Oxford on 30 May – 1 June 2014 for a weekend packed with celebrations and networking. The Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton gave a special address and commended the course’s achievements.



In 2004 when the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) was launched in response to global water security challenges, it was unique of its kind in offering a multi-disciplinary course with scientific depth and practical and policy relevance. Last weekend the course’s 10th anniversary was celebrated by 69 alumni and current students from 25 countries, 15 current and former teaching staff, and another 40 guests including supporters and sponsors.

The weekend event offered a rich array of activities and talks, with reflections from former and current course directors, shared experiences from alumni working around the world, insights from sponsors and employers, as well as plenty of networking opportunities, college dining, alumni-led discussions and a reception at the Museum of Natural History.

The Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton

The Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor, spoke enthusiastically about the importance of WSPM. “Looking at the influence of graduates of the Masters programme and the roles that they are playing around the world is absolutely superb. It’s a magnificent example of the role that this great University can play when it really focusses its mind on issues of massive importance in the contemporary world. And there are few of greater importance than water.”

Alumni perspectives were given by Dr Alex Guerra Noriega (2005/06), Director, Private Institute for Climate Change Research (ICC), Guatemala; Amos Chigwenembe (2011/12), WASH specialist, Catholic Relief Services, Malawi; and Saima Mian (2011/12), Environmental Consultant, Woods Hole Group Middle East, Pakistan.

During a productive networking day held at Wolfson College, alumni identified six key water challenges and discussed ways in which the alumni network can work to address these: risk reduction, innovation, governance, infrastructure, the water-energy-waste nexus and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The alumni profiles are impressive in terms of diversity of organisations in which they now work, seniority of positions, and geographical spread of influence. “The best part is seeing how well the alumni have done” said Rachael McDonnell, the first director of the course. “Looking at their profiles – you see major organisations, major government roles, people taking on terrific responsibilities – and from talking to them I know that they are using the knowledge that they gained from those days in Oxford lecture theatres.”

Dr Rachael McDonnell and Professor Mike Edmunds

Professor Mike Edmunds and Dr Rachael McDonnell

The current WSPM class, just recovered from post-exam exhaustion, enjoyed this exciting welcome into the WSPM alumni network and took the opportunity to connect with water professionals from around the world.

Dr Katrina Charles, current Course Director said, “it was wonderful to welcome back alumni from across the 10 years of the course for our 10 year anniversary weekend. It was amazing to see where they went with their discussions around the key challenges in water. We look forward to continuing to work with our alumni to develop a stronger network for their career development and to support the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management as it enters its second decade.”

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A journey through the Ebro River Basin from the mountains to the tap

The Ebro Basin tour is the flagship fieldtrip of the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management and brings to life many of the issues studied on the course. From abandoned villages and contentious dams, to ecological crises and pollution disasters, the tour vividly illustrates the contested nature of water and the social, political and scientific debates surrounding its use and management.

Rafting on the Gallego river, a tributary of the Ebro

Rafting on the Gallego river, a tributary of the Ebro

On 16 March 2014, our students left the classrooms of Oxford University to embark upon a seven-day tour of the largest river basin in Spain. The journey took them from the Pyrenees to the Ebro Delta, meeting representatives from government, academia, civil society and business along the way.

The students visited the remains of Esco in the mountainous upper reaches of the basin – one of three villages that were abandoned in the 1950s when the Yesa Dam was built, flooding the surrounding farmland and destroying the local agriculture-based livelihoods.

At the heart of dam polemics is the nature of their benefits and costs, which are distributed unevenly across space and time. At the political level, the rational for the Yesa dam is compelling. The 1,500 people affected negatively pale in significance to the estimated 4-6 million people that benefit downstream and security of water supply for the city of Zaragoza. Discussions continue today as work to raise the dam wall sparks fresh debates.

A trip rafting in the village of Murillo de Gallego pointed to another dam controversy. The rafters spoke passionately against a proposed reservoir downstream that would mean the end of the rafting industry and main source of employment for the village.

Students visit the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro

Students visit the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro

In Zaragoza, students visited the first river basin organisation in the world, the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro (CHE), and the body responsible for managing the uneven and uncertain supply of water in the Ebro basin and balancing competing needs from agriculture, industry, municipalities and ecosystems.

Further downstream in the Los Monegros region, low value irrigated agriculture dominates the local economy but there are growing concerns about the environmental impacts of this sector. There is a clear perception among the irrigation communities in the region of a historic ‘right to water’ – a matter of livelihoods – despite economic and ecological arguments against the viability of farming in the area.

At the Ebro Delta, pink flamingos, rice fields, and wetland lagoons litter the scenic landscape which is an area international importance due to its abundant fauna and flora. The Environmental Technology and Research Institute (IRTA) highlighted some of the major environmental issues facing the area, including the lack of connectivity of the river due to the many dams, preventing vital sediments from reaching the shrinking delta.

The Llobregat desalination plant

The Llobregat desalination plant

The final stop of the tour was a visit to desalination plant located next to the mouth of the River Llobregat which supplies drinking water to over 4.5 million people in the Barcelona Metropolitan area. It is the largest desalination plant in Europe that supplies water for human consumption and provides a more politically palatable, if expensive, alternative to rationing scarce freshwater resources.

As the journey down the river basin unfolded and the number of stakeholders and perspectives grew, students gained an appreciation of the complexity of water management. Every stakeholder encountered along the way had a compelling case and a personal story, yet their needs and visions were often at odds.

Any major water management decision will produce winners and losers. The question then, is how to maximise benefits, meet the many and competing demands, navigate the tradeoffs, and stimulate economic growth while meeting environmental needs?

The role of scientists is to gather and communicate the best evidence available to enable policymakers and water managers to make well-informed decisions about the way scarce water resources are used. The MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management is equipping the next generation of water leaders with the knowledge and skills to evaluate and tackle the complex water challenges found in the Ebro and beyond.

Fully Baked! The completion of a successful Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship

Cliff Nyaga is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Company funded Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship, which sponsors his place on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, class of 2012/2013. He reflects on his year at Oxford and reports findings from his dissertation research on customer payment behaviours in urban African water utilities.

Finally my Masters at Oxford has come to an end. Looking back, it has been a speedy race against time and it is hard to believe it is over! Having gained access to a unique dataset of the Dar es Salaam city piped water utility in June this year, I immediately embarked on a three-month period of dissertation research.

While my intention was clear – to make strides towards the finishing line while fighting off tempting distractions from an approaching British summer – I lost this battle somewhere along the way. Barbeques, river swims, berry picking, garden parties and picnics somehow found their way into my diary. Striking a fair balance between thesis research and outdoor festivities was sometimes challenging. Nonetheless I got my head down and submitted my dissertation by the set deadline. Amidst the celebrations, the summer period is almost over which makes this the opportune time for me to pack and run back to Kenya before the cold autumn breeze sets in.

My dissertation research investigated the predictors of customer payment behaviours in piped water utilities in urban Africa. This is an important area of study because the sustainability of piped water services depends upon how well utilities can recover costs through revenue collection from water users.

It is perhaps surprising that factors that determine payment behaviours in piped African utilities are largely misunderstood and so often are assumed. Most utilities lack information on their service such as customers’ demographics, preferences and perceptions of service quality which in turn leads to poor policy decisions and poor implementation. However, understanding and promoting water stewardship in Africa fundamentally depends on access to good data to evaluate what works, why and for whom. Major investments without this data may have no lasting impact.

The Dar es Salaam water utility dataset used in my analysis suggests that it is possible to obtain fairly low-cost evidence to inform policy and investment decisions in African utilities. Ultimately, investing in good information could lead to improved piped water access for the unserved urban poor and water insecure consumers.

Reflecting on the last year, my time in Oxford can be summed up in one word – awesome! Each day has brought a new learning experience and for this I am greatly indebted to The Coca-Cola Company Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship. Indeed, this Scholarship has facilitated my transformation from the water novice I was a year ago to the expert I am today.

The Masters course in Water Science, Policy and Management has empowered me with knowledge and skills to engage with the water access challenges facing Africa head on. Furthermore, I have made resourceful professional and social networks while in Oxford comprising of lead organisations, researchers and students working in the water profession all over the world. This will be a great asset as I start my career and will help me achieve my goal of improving water access in Africa.

This is the third and final post in a three-part blog series. Read Cliff’s first and second blogs.

A Kenyan glass half full

Cliff Nyaga is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Company funded Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship, which sponsors his place on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, class of 2012/2013. He reports on his second term studying at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment.

Despite having now settled into the academic rhythm of Oxford University life I am still struggling to understand when (and if!) the English winter will end. Since the new year, classes have come thick and fast in the second teaching term.

Hilary term started with an assignment due on the first day and immediately after, a class to attend. Soon thereafter heavy loads of work began flooding in day after day and the library became my new best friend. As the term got busier, I was left with little time to explore the rest of England.

A highlight of the term was meeting my Coca-Cola Company sponsor and discussing my experiences and the numerous initiatives the company is involved with in Africa to improve water access – what a great connection to my area of study!

A scheduled study trip to the Ebro River Basin in Spain at the end of term to learn about water management in the basin provided a stimulating environment to understand how the science, policy and management issues we have been studying on the course play out in a real and complex context.

The Ebro basin trip started on a rather medieval note high up in the Pyrenees mountains, where we stayed in dormitory accommodation built several hundred years ago! The rich Spanish history in Murillo marked a perfect start to our trip.
As we drove down the basin, different dynamics of the basin’s challenges emerged. Most interesting were the competing positions taken by upstream, middle and downstream water users. Today, understanding the Ebro River from the source to the mouth has changed my perspective on management of water resources.

The weather got progressively warmer as we drove towards the Mediterranean coast, and in Barcelona I wore just a T-shirt for the first time since arriving in Europe. Unexpectedly so many other firsts also came my way: my first sip of desalinated water, Spanish beer and my first Spanish dish – paella – which was something to really look forward to after a rather mobile day!

Arriving back in Oxford for spring break just before start of the Trinity term, there was tension in the air from the moment we landed; perhaps a reminder of what lay ahead – revising for examinations. My Spanish memories were immediately engulfed in a deep study period, and time passed so quickly as I approached the exam days in mid-May. This was probably my toughest and most stressful period in Oxford.

The examinations were an experience in themselves: the University dress code required me to wear academic dress – the Sub-fusc – when sitting for all the papers! It was an exciting moment that made me feel honoured to be part of the old Oxford tradition. Within one week the exams were over and a much needed break set in.

Post-exams, I am more relaxed and focused on an exciting dissertation topic for the next three months. My research aims to understand predictors of payment for water services in urban Kenya and Tanzania. This will help identify key factors to enable urban water utilities to improve revenue collection and therefore lead to more sustainable and inclusive piped water services.

Thanks to the Oxford mobile/water for development team, I now have access to multi-country data sets which will provide an empirical basis for objective analysis. I look forward to disseminating my research findings sometime in September and hope they will influence policy decisions in the region for a more sustainable water supply sector in the future.

This is the second in a three-part blog series. Read Cliff’s first and final blogs.