Posts

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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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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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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.

 

Ebro River’s Lessons for WSPM students

By Lucy Chen, WSPM ’18-’19

How can we equitably and efficiently manage and allocate scarce water resources in a river basin with high hydrological variability and competing demands among a multitude of stakeholders? On Sunday March 10, this was the question that MSc students from the Water Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) programme kept in the back of their minds as they embarked on a sun-drenched, week-long field trip across Spain’s Ebro River basin.

At 910 km, the Ebro is the longest river in Spain and its basin covers 17% of the country’s territory, spanning nine of its seventeen autonomous regions. Since the early 20th century, Spain’s national government under Franco funded ambitious dam projects to smooth out the steep hydrograph that brought unpredictable floods and droughts, promoting economic development and fostering nationalism. Today, vast stretches of vineyards, as well as almond and olive plantations in Ebro’s semi-arid central valley testify to this legacy while tensions between domestic and industrial supply, power generation, agriculture, recreation and conservation form an ongoing challenge for the Ebro Basin Water Authority, the Confederación Hydrograficá del Ebre (CHE).

The WSPM students took a plunge into the Ebro’s hydrological past to understand its future. They travelled to the once vibrant village of Ruesta, which was displaced by the construction of the Yesa dam in the 1950s; to the infamous Flix reservoir, which is still wrangling with more than half a century of mismanagement of industrial waste; to the Ebro Delta wetlands, where rice agriculture, tourism and conservation collectively face the threat of rising sea levels; and finally to the Llobregat desalination plant—a 235m € solution to Catalonia’s water scarcity problem that currently only operates at 10% of its full capacity—raising questions about the true cost of resilience. The field trip ended with an expert panel discussion on water management trade-offs with Michael Hanemann, David Grey, Dustin Garrick and Lucia de Stefano. The students came away with the important insight that trade-offs are ultimately an issue of balancing between objectives, the choice of which entails deep philosophical reflections about rights and entitlements. Although finding the suitable objectives can be achieved at a community level by inviting citizens to reflect upon their common future, balancing benefits and costs between the local and national levels will remain a perpetual challenge.