On the 22nd of March, Scotland celebrated World Water Day 2021, as part of a global UN initiative to understand the value of water to us all. But define value – it’s very subjective. Water, though, is so fundamental to all our existence it inherently draws together many perspectives on value, and these evolve as we know more about our most precious of resources.
Making up 70% of our world, it’s what justifies us as the Blue Planet, spinning in space. Without it there would be no life. It is the lifeblood of industry: 90% of the global economy and 75% of jobs depend on water to some extent. But it is in crisis through our accelerating lifestyles and attendant demands on its use and overuse, and also because of climate change. Indeed, in many ways it is the messenger of climate change - ninety percent of all natural disasters are water related and these increasingly impact on more and more people across the globe. In short, it’s time to change our relationship with water.
In a water-rich country like Scotland we tend to take it for granted. Turn on the tap and it’s there, aim to go for a walk and bucket loads fall from the sky. It’s beloved of taxi drivers nationwide. But that’s not true across the globe. The arrival of rain is cherished and welcomed in some countries and in others the overuse of a once abundant resource is placing increasing constraints on livelihoods and the escape from poverty. The quantity of water has not changed, indeed that has not changed since dinosaurs roamed the world, but that water is finite and under threat. In many situations it is the quality of water and its distribution in time and space that are the problem: too much here; too little there. It’s not a level playing field, and demand for water keeps rising as society’s demands grow and cities develop.
And not all water is equal. We have blue water in our rivers and lakes, green water being drawn up to support plant and crop growth, grey, brown and black water in our waste-streams. We drink tap water, mineral water, sparking water, well-water, distilled water and product manufacturers probably aim to market even more subtle “types of water”. It can come from different sources: raw water from the hills, brackish water, groundwater, rainwater or wastewater. But basically, it is still just H2O.
So why is this important? Simply because we depend for our survival on these different types of water that we put to different uses and all of which have different values. But again; define value. To many it’s the simple pounds, shillings, and pence of the water market. What does it cost to make it fit to drink or use and what does it cost to clean it up afterwards? Water, though, has value that transcends money. It has spiritual or religious significance. It has value for mental wellbeing; the mindfulness of hearing the patter of water on a roof, trickling in a burn or waves lapping on a beach; the moods of rainfall, rainbows and cascades; the feel of it on our skin. What value do we place on those attributes, and how do we assess them against the hard economic costs? That’s the challenge.
Our waste streams, historically the polluter of many of our country’s beautiful rivers are now highly valued for their embedded nutrients, metals and energy, all of which can be recovered and reused. Scottish Water has a new, world-leading target of attaining net-zero by 2040. Our new approaches to protecting cities from floods based on wider ecologically-based measures provide value not only in their primary function, but also because they provide prized ‘blue-green’ recreational spaces, important corridors for wildlife and settings for desirable and usually expensive real estate.
Our relationship with water is changing and must continue to change. Truly valuing water means giving it appropriate recognition, promoting efficiency and balancing short-term need against longer-term sustainability. Thinking about our legacy to others.
Working in partnership with the Scottish water community, CREW has developed the WaterWall in Motion – a project that promises to be a fantastic video resource and competition to celebrate Scotland’s relationship with water, and its Hydro Nation ambition. The aim is to celebrate how Scotland is leading the way in water research, innovation, management, business, creativity, health, art and recreation.
The project is open to the public and any organisation, business or individual working to monitor, research, innovate, manage, regulate, conserve or simply enjoy and value Scotland’s water resources. The existing WaterWall, developed at the James Hutton Institute, has been enhanced to accommodate videos and the water community is invited to post links to 2-minute videos on one of eight themes
- Nature-based solutions
- Droughts and floods
- Water quality
- Living with climate change
- Freshwater restoration
- Innovation in the water sector
- Water and wellbeing
- Water inspired creativity
Prizes will be awarded across categories for innovation, creativity, originality; actions for achieving net zero carbon emissions and most impactful (evocative, celebratory or inspirational video).
This project aims to showcase and raise the profile of Scotland as the Hydro Nation at COP26 and satellite events, as well as to provide a point of reference for the water community to aid in the development of new networks and opportunities in the water sector. The WaterWall in Motion project was launched at World Water Day 2021 on the 22nd of March and the competition will run until the 13th August 2021.
For more information click here.
CREW funded project to test waste water for signs of Covid-19 to help pinpoint local spikes of the virus.
On request from Scottish Water, the Centre of Expertise for Water (CREW) funded a pilot project that aims to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA can be detected in municipal wastewater from Scottish communities and whether the detection of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in municipal wastewater has the potential to be used to track community infection. Dr Alex Corbishley led the research from the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute and CREW engaged the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to ensure that the methods developed could ultimately be adopted by SEPA as part of their national (Scottish) programme of surveillance and analysis. CREW invited experts such as Dr Michael Gormley (Heriot Watt University) to join the project Steering Group and informed the Scottish Government of key developments to ensure project outcomes are shared widely.
CREW funding and coordination allowed for a rapid response to the research need to develop an assay to help tracking SARS-CoV-2 via municipal wastewater. The CREW project team used this opportunity to develop networks (and funding proposals) within the UK and internationally to work collaboratively towards finding a solution to this complex issue.
Dr Alexander Corbishley of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said:
“Detecting viral genetic material in waste water is relatively easy, however the challenge is measuring how much genetic material is present accurately and relating that to disease levels in the community. The support from CREW has allowed us to use our expertise in disease monitoring to inform SEPA and Scottish Water’s efforts to develop a Scottish wastewater monitoring programme”.
See BBC Scotland coverage here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-53109139
The latest UK climate projections show a trend towards drier and warmer summers, with the west of Scotland set to become wetter and the east drier, plus more frequent instances of heavy rainfall. New research by the James Hutton Institute shows that these changing weather patterns are likely to make private water supplies across Scotland more vulnerable to droughts, a major issue considering that private supplies provide drinking water to 4% of Scotland’s population, and to many more through businesses and tourist facilities.
Summer 2018 was unusually dry and warm and many private water supplies ran dry leaving people needing assistance from their local authority. Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) responded on behalf of the Scottish Government by commissioning a report into how climate change is likely to impact the resilience of private water supplies in the future, focusing on water scarcity. If, as projected, drier and warmer summers are more frequent, private water supplies will be increasingly vulnerable to water shortages. North East Scotland is forecast to experience the largest increase in water shortages, and it is also where there is the highest density of private water supplies.
The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for project topics and then for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish universities and research institutes.
The 2021 call for project proposals, based on advertised topics, is now open!
The topic themes for the 2021 call are:
- Water smart cities
- Integrated land and water management
- Digital water
- Water and the circular economy
- Wildcard – interdisciplinary innovation.
Please see full details and project proposal application form here.
Professor Bob Ferrier, Director of Scotland's Hydro Nation International Centre at the James Hutton Institute, has appeared in OOSKAnews' latest aquaNOW Audience to discuss how HNIC is aiming to bring together a critical mass of the Scottish water research community to focus on developing talent, promoting innovation, supporting expertise and maximising outcomes that can be applied in any global context.
In conversation with David Duncan, publisher of OOSKAnews, Professor Ferrier describes the rationale of the Scottish Government's Hydro Nation Programme; the work of the globally-renowned Hutton scientists and HNIC.
Scotland's Hydro Nation vision builds on the recognition that water is of central importance to the economy of Scotland, both as a sector in its own right and as a critical resource in Scotland’s manufacturing, agriculture, food and drink, tourism and energy sectors. The aim of the Hydro Nation initiative is to maximize the value of these resources in every sense, whether that be the contribution they make to the economy, or in how the quality of the country’s water environment contributes to citizens’ overall wellbeing and sense of national identity. This approach to water and climate change is understood to be unique to Scotland.
aquaNOW Audiences are interactive panel discussions, produced by OOSKAnews, engaging international water experts and Scottish expertise in global water-related challenges and solutions, filmed before a live audience and streamed online to a global viewership.
On Wed 27 May at 2PM UK time OOSKAnews will host a special live-streamed “aquaNOW Audience”, with the theme "Water and Resilient Cities". AquaNOW Audiences are interactive panel discussions engaging international water experts and Scottish expertise in global water-related challenges and solutions.
The link will become live on the front page of OOSKAnews at 1.45pm UK time. Video footage of the live event will subsequently be uploaded for viewing after the live broadcast, for those who can't tune in on the day.
Speaker and panelist details can be found here.
On World Water Day (22nd March 2019), the Hydro Nation International Centre and Centre of Expertise for Water (CREW) hosted a conference on "Resilience to Drought and Low Flow Conditions in Scotland", an event supported by the Scottish Government. Scientists, engineers, planners and managers shared their observations, experiences, research outcomes, and innovative ideas on building resilience and adapting to low flows and drought conditions from a Scottish perspective. The Short and Full reports from this event can be found here.
CREW-funded flood management and mitigate research by the James Hutton Institute was featured recently in The Guardian. Dr Marc Stutter’s contributions to the ‘long-read’ pieces dealt with the benefits of Natural Flood Management techniques and compared the modest cost of such measures with the level of investment needed to create hard-engineered defences.
In an earlier contribution, Dr Stutter contributed insight into changes that might be required in the face of increasingly extreme weather events.
Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) published a significant report in February on the significant long-term impact of flooding. Dr Mags Currie, from the James Hutton Institute co-led the work with Dr Lorna Philip from the University of Aberdeen and it was featured in The Guardian. The study demonstrates, for the first time, that more than three years on, that people were still trying to establish a 'new normal' and how certain groups remained especially vulnerable.