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Grant won to investigate the resilience of water infrastructures

A team of Oxford researchers have been awarded funding to study how resilient water infrastructures are to natural and man-made threats. The project is a collaboration with the University of Massachusetts and Sandia National Laboratory in the United States.

The Oxford team is led by Professor Jim Hall and includes the researchers Drs Dustin Garrick and Raghav Pant, and DPhil candidates Edoardo Borgomeo and Scott Thacker.

Together with engineers in the United States, the team will develop methodologies for assessing risks to water security and modelling the resilience of piped water networks at a national scale. This research will provide new knowledge to inform the planning and design of water supply systems. It help target measures to increase the resilience of water infrastructures.

The project has been awarded funding from ‘Clean Water for All’, a new trans-Atlantic collaboration which brings leading water engineers from the United States and the UK together to tackle problems of providing clean, sustainable water supplies. Five projects have been funded, with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA.

Read the EPSRC Press Release

Oxford University edits a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions A on Water Security, Risk and Society

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey, and Drs Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope, have organised and edited a landmark collection of papers, an outcome of the 2012 international conference Water Security, Risk and Society.

The papers demonstrate the growing scale of water security risks. For example, over 45% of the global population is projected to be exposed to water shortages for food production by 2050 (Falkenmark), and South American cities have experienced a doubling of risks associated with extreme rainfall from 1960-2000 (Vorosmarty). Modelling demonstrates that climate hazards are an impediment to economic growth (Brown).

The agenda-setting themed issue includes eight papers from Oxford University authors and engages multiple dimensions of water security, ranging from drinking water, food production and energy to climate risks, transboundary rivers and economic growth. Risk provides the basis for a unifying framework to bridge across multiple disciplines and science-policy divides.

Fifteen papers are organised in three sections to: frame the policy challenges and scientific responses to water security from a risk perspective; assess the evidence about the forces driving water insecurity; and examine responses to water insecurity at multiple scales.

Recognising the need for interdisciplinary science to respond to unprecedented water security challenges, the University of Oxford organised the international conference on Water Security, Risk and Society in April 2012. The conference convened 200 leading thinkers from science, policy and enterprise in 30 countries to take stock of the scientific evidence on water security risk and prioritise future interdisciplinary research.

Taken together, these papers provide strong justification and strategic priorities for policy-driven science in the lead up to new development goals in 2015 and beyond.

 

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

Theme Issue ‘Water security, risk and society’ compiled and edited by Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope

November 13, 2013; Vol. 371, No. 2002


Preface
Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson, and Rob Hope

Opinion piece: Water security in one blue planet: twenty-first century policy challenges for science
David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Don Blackmore, Jerson Kelman, Mike Muller, and Claudia Sadoff

Opinion piece: Catalysing sustainable water security: role of science, innovation and partnerships
John Beddington

Opinion piece: The role of technology in achieving water security
Ian Thompson

Research article: Risk-based principles for defining and managing water security (open access)
Jim Hall and Edoardo Borgomeo

Research article: Extreme rainfall, vulnerability and risk: a continental-scale assessment for South America
Charles J. Vörösmarty, Lelys Bravo de Guenni, Wilfred M. Wollheim, Brian Pellerin, David Bjerklie, Manoel Cardoso, Cassiano D’Almeida, Pamela Green, and Lilybeth Colon

Research article: Growing water scarcity in agriculture: future challenge to global water security
Malin Falkenmark

Review article: Water security, global change and land–atmosphere feedbacks
Simon Dadson, Michael Acreman, and Richard Harding

Research article: A cost-effectiveness analysis of water security and water quality: impacts of climate and land-use change on the River Thames system
Paul Whitehead, Jill Crossman, Bedru Balana, Martyn Futter, Sean Comber, Li Jin, Dimitris Skuras, Andrew Wade, Mike Bowes, and Daniel Read

Research article: Water security in the Canadian Prairies: science and management challenges
Howard Wheater and Patricia Gober

Review article: Domestic water and sanitation as water security: monitoring, concepts and strategy (open access)
David J. Bradley and Jamie K. Bartram

Review article: Risks and responses to universal drinking water security
Robert Hope and Michael Rouse

Research article: The politics of African energy development: Ethiopia’s hydro-agricultural state-building strategy and clashing paradigms of water security
Harry Verhoeven

Research article: The governance dimensions of water security: a review
Karen Bakker and Cynthia Morinville

Research article: Managing hydroclimatic risks in federal rivers: a diagnostic assessment
Dustin Garrick, Lucia De Stefano, Fai Fung, Jamie Pittock, Edella Schlager, Mark New, and Daniel Connell

Research article: Is water security necessary? An empirical analysis of the effects of climate hazards on national-level economic growth
Casey Brown, Robyn Meeks, Yonas Ghile, and Kenneth Hunu

Oxford University co-chairs global Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey are co-chairs of the Expert Task Force of the Global Water Partnership and OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, launched at the World Water Week in Stockholm on 2 September 2013.

The Expert Task Force is made up of a multi-disciplinary team of leading economists, water managers and scientists who will provide new evidence on the linkages between economic growth and water security. The group is coordinated by Dr. Claudia Sadoff of the GWP Technical Committee, co-chaired by Professors Hall and Grey, and includes Drs Simon Dadson and Dustin Garrick.

The Task Force will  develop, model and economically assess a set of water security scenarios at the global and basin level, with the aim to illustrate and compare different strategies and pathways for achieving water security. This new knowledge will enable countries to better understand and manage water risks, and ensure that efforts to promote economic growth and development are not jeopardised by these risks.

At the official launch of the project at World Water Week, Dr. Claudia Sadoff explained that “the structure of the task force will be to work from risk based perspective: we will document economic costs and risks associated with water, and then we will look at trade-offs and benefits.”

The Global Dialogue project also includes a high-level panel co-chaired by Angel Gurría, Secretary General of OECD, and  Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, President of Liberia and UN Goodwill Ambassador for Water and Sanitation.

Another component of the project will be a country level consultation process led by GWP that will investigate country perceptions and priorities regarding water security.

The Global Dialogue will result in a milestone report on ‘Water Security and Economic Growth’ to be presented at the World Water Forum in South Korea in 2015. The project will draw attention to the importance of water within the post-2015 Development Framework and will provide input to the United Nation’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

Related links

The GWP-OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

The hidden resource: groundwater’s role in achieving water security

Groundwater is critical to global water security. This was the clear message Professor Richard Taylor delivered at a seminar in Oxford on 13 November.

Knowledge gaps in groundwater science

Water stored underground provides around 36% of the world’s domestic supplies, and 42% of all irrigation water. Use of groundwater could also prove a useful adaptation to climate variability and change, Taylor said.

Despite its strategic importance, our understanding of the magnitude of groundwater resources across the world is strikingly poor. A groundbreaking 2012 study by Taylor and colleagues showed that the volume of groundwater in Africa is 10-100 times greater than water found above the surface. Far greater investment in groundwater monitoring and science is needed, if this resource is to be harnessed to achieve water security.

Climate change impacts on groundwater recharge

While knowledge on the current state of groundwater is patchy, still less is known about how these resources will change into the future. It is unclear how the trend towards more frequent and heavy rainfall events expected as global temperature rises will impact groundwater recharge.

The 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report referred to just one study on the impact of climate change on groundwater, which projected a dramatic 70% reduction in groundwater recharge in some parts of Brazil and Africa. The model used assumed that more intensive rainfall would more often exceed the capacity for water to infiltrate soils.

However, Taylor provided stark evidence to the contrary, suggesting that more heavy rainfall events may in fact lead to greater groundwater recharge. This more optimistic outlook was based on a study of 55 years of observational data of rainfall and groundwater levels in semi-arid Tanzania.

The records from Tanzania show that recharge is closely associated with extreme seasonal rainfall, with only seven rainfall events during the 55 years accounting for 80% of the recharge. Increased use of groundwater could therefore prove a useful adaptation to climate variability and change, suggested Taylor.

Sustainability of groundwater use

In Bangladesh, China and India, tapping into groundwater reserves for irrigation has enabled these countries to dramatically increase food production to meet the needs of their expanding populations.

However, groundwater is being used faster than it can be replenished in some parts of the world, warned Taylor, including north-west India, the California Central Valley, and the North China Plain. Indirect impacts on groundwater, for example due to irrigation demand, can outweigh any direct impacts of climate change on recharge rates. The sustainability of resources therefore remains a key concern.

Groundwater depletion is not always inevitable and in some cases, groundwater abstraction can actually lead to greater recharge. Taylor’s research shows that in parts of the Bengal Basin in Bangladesh, water pumped out of the ground is almost completely replenished by the yearly monsoon. The subsurface effectively acts as a storage reservoir, with pumping during the dry season making space for greater storage and recharge during rainy periods.

Whether abstraction leads to groundwater depletion or increased recharge depends on the geology and soils, with sandy soils being favourable to recharge in the Bangladesh case.

The inadequacy of global water scarcity metrics

Current metrics of freshwater availability are based solely on river flows. According to Taylor, these measures are fundamentally flawed as they ignore groundwater, and therefore warp perceptions of water security.

Water scarcity metrics are also unhelpful when it comes to planning for adaptation to climate change. Using water more efficiently, and increasing storage, can both help buffer increasing varibility in flows. “We need to think of storage more holistically”, said Taylor. This means considering not only constructed storage such as reservoirs, but also the water stored naturally beneath the Earth’s surface.

This blog is based on a talk given by Richard Taylor, Professor of Hydrogeology at University College London, as part of the Water Security, Growth and Development seminar series. Download the presentation slides

 

DFID’s challenges and opportunities for delivering water security in a post-MDG world

As the Millennium Development Goals come to a close in 2015, the international development community finds itself at a transition point. As they evaluate the progress made and redefine the targets ahead, decision-makers have the exciting and daunting task of shaping global policy for the coming generations.

This blog is based on Jean-Paul Penrose’s talk in Oxford on 30 October, part of the Water Security, Growth and Development seminar series. As the Senior Water Resources Adviser at DFID, he underscored the role the UK Government will play at this turning point. With an aid budget of £7.7 billion and £112 million bilateral water spending last year, DFID is a potent stakeholder in these discussions. As all eyes turn to the post-2015 framework, Penrose highlighted the challenges posed and opportunities available for delivering global water security.

Penrose emphasised the crucial need to build on the weaknesses of the MDGs to define the future of water resources management. For example, a greater focus on energy and transport could allow for the integration of these issues and emphasise water as a driver of growth and human development.

In particular, he pointed out the importance of the water security paradigm to frame water projects around poverty alleviation and sustainability, two agendas attractive to the international community. The challenge lies in ensuring that poverty goals resonate with developed countries, and sustainability remains a focus in developing nations.

From the perspective of DFID, the water security paradigm provides traction in negotiating support from government officials. Increasingly, this sort of political buy-in is essential to the implementation of large infrastructure projects. Such projects, said Penrose, need to account for the future of water resources and climate change. Though not many water supply and sanitation programmes have this dimension, DFID has prioritised both long-term maintenance and water resources sustainability.

However, Penrose pointed out that water resources management projects still lack clear evidence to lend them full credibility in the eye of the public. To justify investments and political support, we need to mobilise experts to generate metrics, unit costs, and results.

New stakeholders are playing an increasingly important role in this process: emerging powers diversify input, the private sector fuels investments, and foundations prepare rulebooks for new developments.

The key, according to Penrose, is to not let this uncertainty stifle the potential for progress. The public needs clear strong stories, and decision-makers need to take more identifiable risks. If the British government is to follow through on their declaration of water as a human right, popular paradigms like water security must be harnessed to implement change.

By Clémentine Stip, MSc Water Science, Policy and Management

Un Photo by Martine Perret

Dr Harry Verhoeven finalist of the Global Water Forum’s Emerging Scholars Award

Dr Harry Verhoeven was selected as one of ten finalists in the Global Water Forum’s Emerging Scholars Award, judged from around 800 entries on the themes of ‘water security’, ‘water economics’, and ‘transboundary water governance’.  The Award called for early-career scholars and practitioners working in water-related fields to publish an article that presents their research, project, or opinion to a global audience. The articles were judged by water researchers from the Australian National University.

Harry’s article ‘Big is beautiful: Megadams, African water security, and China’s role in the new global political economy’ looks at the role of dams in development and energy production at a global scale. It argues that the increasing reliance on megadams to fuel development and secure energy, led by China, fails to take into account their ecological impacts. He concludes that while large dams may be alluring to Chinese investors and African regimes, “their long-term contribution to water security in the climate change era remains deeply questionable”.

You can read Harry’s article, as well as the other finalists’ entries on the Global Water Forum’s website.

Harry Verhoeven is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics and International Relations, teaches African Politics, and is the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network.

 

Water Security Network mentioned in Science journal as example of long-term initiative for joining interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners

In a recent article in Science’s Policy Forum, Karen Bakker, Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia, reflects on the significant challenges and opportunities for water security research.

Bakker warns that the current disconnect between academic research on water security and the needs of policy-makers and practitioners is impeding progress on addressing the global water crisis.

Oxford’s Water Security Network is highlighted as a prime example of the types of long-term initiatives which are needed to bring together interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, to complement the typical project-based funding.

Another challenge relates to the differences in scale that different disciplinary approaches take to water research. For example, hydrologists have their vision fixed on the river basin, while the interest of political scientists lies with the nation state. Bakker lends support to the use of a risk-based framework, as developed at Oxford’s Water Security, Risk and Society conference in April this year. “Risk analysis frameworks are promising … because they can incorporate multiple, nested spatial and temporal scales”, she points out. Furthermore, the common language of risk may prove useful for bridging disciplinary divides in water security research and analysing the complex trade-offs between multiple and competing objectives.

 

Global leaders discuss food, water and energy scarcities at Re|Source2012

Tamara Etmannski, University of Oxford

The Oxford Water Security Network had a strong presence at the highly acclaimed Re|Source2012 conference which was held at Oxford University on 13-14 July 2012. Oxford’s Professors Jim Hall and Professor David Grey were amongst the impressive list of speakers, which included influential thinkers such as Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough, Lord Patten of Barnes, and Amartya Sen. The vision for Re|Source2012 was to bring together global business, finance, political and academic leaders to discuss the interdependencies of food, water and energy, resource scarcity, and investment opportunities. The event provided the platform to rethink, reform, and renew ideas about managing resources.

‘A Thirst for Growth’ panel, moderated by Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum. Photo: John Cairns

The immediate need for water-related innovations became a common theme throughout the two days of discussion. Prof Hall drew attention to a predicted 90% increase in water demand by 2050 and in low latitudes, a 10-30% decrease in water availability. The Chairman of the Board of Nestlé S.A., Peter Brabeck-Letmathe warned that the future of all economic growth will depend on water. The Minster for Environment and Water Resources of Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan highlighted three factors that have been critical to success in Singapore: long-term plans that extend beyond the electoral cycle, technology breakthroughs such as reverse osmosis, and pricing to send a signal that water is a scarce and precious resource. Glen Daigger of CH2M HILL said that solutions will need to be tailored to the local context and hydrology, selecting from a toolkit of approaches which increasingly includes efficiency, water recycling and reuse, and rainwater capture.

Oxford University Professors David Grey and Jim Hall. Photo: John Cairns

Two water exhibits gave examples of the innovative research being undertaken by Oxford University. Patrick Thomson had a real-size ‘Smart Hand-pump’ for rural water supply set-up to demonstrate how it will automatically send a text message to district and national water managers when there is a mechanical problem or failure with the pump. This will ensure immediate action by local partners, creating a reliable system of information communication and repair accountability. Simon Dadson presented a global hydrology simulation model using geospatial visualisation, highlighting the sophisticated modelling tools being advanced to help understand and inform tradeoffs in water resources and environmental management.

‘Smart Handpump’ measures the amount of water extracted and sends a text message when there is a failure

Some major themes emerged throughout the conference. On the value and management of natural resources, there was clear emphasis on the need for long-term agendas and multi-stakeholder partnerships. MP David Miliband responded to the question of whether action should be led by business or government, by stating that the answer is clearly both. He stressed that strong government leadership, business innovation and mass mobilisation are key. Dr James Bradfeld-Moody, co-author of ‘The Sixth Wave’, suggested real innovation as the selling of access not ownership, using and investing in waste, and the convergence of the digital world with the natural world.

The private sector voiced how integrated reporting is the way forward, how sustainability in business is an investment and touched upon other important topics like ethical business, fairness and dignity. Representatives from both BP and Puma spoke of the need for corporate and governmental transparency, especially in the area of subsidies. Delegates converged on agreement that the future is already here, and action on all these fronts is required immediately.

President Bill Clinton inspired delegates with a vision for the future in his closing keynote speech. He clearly stated that the sustainability model in business is good economics. To tackle climate change, he said we should “pick the low-hanging fruit”; first by improving global efficiency, and then pursuing solar power as an alternative energy source. He emphasised that creative networks of cooperation should be the way forward in tackling all the issues discussed during Re|Source2012, and said that one day we will all realise that common good is more important than private gain.

All talks and discussions from Re|Source2012 are available to view online.

Tamara Etmannski is a Doctoral Student in Sustainable Water Engineering at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford.

 

 

Professor David Grey appointed member of World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water Security

Professor David Grey has been appointed as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water Security.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils are intellectual networks which convene leading thinkers from business, government, academia and civil society to address key global issues. The 80 Councils capture knowledge on critical issues and help integrate it into global decision-making.

The Global Agenda Council on Water Security provides a multidisciplinary, multistakeholder platform for discussing, highlighting and taking collective action on shared water challenges. It recognises the need for a fundamental rethink in the way water is managed, focusing simultaneously on supply, investment, allocation, regulation and conservation. Members apply interdisciplinary and long-term thinking to identify breakthrough ideas and set the direction for global, regional and industry agendas.

With over 30 years experience working at the interface of water resources science, policy and implementation, David Grey is well placed to provide insights on new pathways to advance global water security issues. He is Visiting Professor of Water Policy at the School of Geography and the Environment. Visit David Grey’s personal webpage.

 

Highlights from Water Security and Federal Rivers workshop

Federalism has increasing international significance for water security. A global workshop gathered 35 delegates from 12 countries to exchange lessons learned from water reforms to manage water-related risks and conflicts in federal rivers.

Highlights included the development of a common research framework and set of case studies anchored in the insights about river basin management and federalism from public policy, economics, history and complexity science.

A keynote presentation by Dr Jerry Delli Priscoli of the US Army Corps of Engineers chronicled the history and models of river basin management in the US – the world’s oldest federation – to demonstrate the elusive quest for integrated strategies and the significant potential for solutions matched to local and regional circumstances.

Case studies across the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia highlighted the extent and diversity of federal rivers facing common challenges in different contexts, identifying alternative pathways to share risks and manage conflicts.

The workshop culminated with a preliminary synthesis and comparative reflections by George Anderson, President Emeritus of the Forum of Federations, who noted the need to learn from both success and failure: “while some federations have succeeded in putting in place river basins authorities and achieving integrated management, the story more generally is one of failure.” He observed that states often address water conflicts until they become salient enough to trigger federal intervention.

The initial workshop outcomes include a briefing paper and an edited book volume released in 2013 based on chapters presented during the workshop. A global hub on federal rivers will be established at the Global Water Forum in summer 2012 to provide a platform for long range collaboration and comparative research.

Australian National University sponsored the workshop with support from the Forum of Federations. The workshop was organised by Dr Dustin Garrick (Oxford), Drs Daniel Connell and Jamie Pittock (Australian National University) and George Anderson (President Emeritus, Forum of Federations).