“When wells run dry” Prof. Richard Taylor writes in Nature

“A global analysis reveals growing societal dependence on the use of non-renewable freshwater resources that depletes groundwater reserves and undermines human resilience to water scarcity in a warming world”

Full article available for Nature subscribers (paywall): Nature, 516, 179–180, (11 December 2014) doi:10.1038/516179a

In the short article, Prof. Taylor raises concern about groundwater depletion, as well as declining lake and river levels in many areas of the world, and that raises not only important scientific questions about how and why, but also a crucial problem for society.

Looking at recently published research he notes that there is increasing evidence of non-renewable freshwater use – basically more freshwater is being used and then either lost to evaporation or rendered useless by pollution and increased salt levels.

The finger of blame is pointed firmly at irrigation, but the demand for food will only rise in the coming years and decades. Groundwater, particularly in Africa, has great potential but its use is hampered by poor data and unreliable models and the joker card of climate change.

‘We need to better understand available groundwater storage and recharge responses
to the intensification of rainfall, which is expected to be especially strong in the tropics. Indeed, it is here where increases in freshwater use are projected to be most intense. We also need to reduce human dependence on nonrenewable fresh water through more efficient water use, particularly in irrigation, and by trading in ‘virtual water’, which reduces local freshwater use through the import of food and other products. If we continue along our present trajectory, “when the well runs dry we (shall) know the worth of water”

The Grofutures Catalyst project, which has been green-lighted to become a Consortium project for the next 4-5 years, will tackle some of these issues in detail. More on this project will follow next year.


A tale of two cities: How can we provide safe water for poor people living in African cities?

Dan Lapworth, Jim Wright and Steve Pedley are working to find out.

Reproduced from Planet Earth Winter 2014, p 22-23

Across much of Africa, cities are growing quickly. Current projections estimate that by 2050, 60 per cent of the population will be living in urban areas – half of them in slums. Many of these people have little access to services such as clean water and sanitation, and the UN has identified fixing this as a major priority.

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UPGro Consortium Projects Announced

The next phase of UPGro research has been set in motion with the announcement of which research teams and projects will be funded over the next five years.  The competition was fierce and many fantastic ideas didn’t make it – but we sincerely hope that other research funders will take note and provide support.

Five projects will be funded, four of which have evolved from Catalyst Projects, plus a new entrant – a team led by UNESCO-IHE.

Here is the list, in order of alphabetical surname of the Principal Investigator (PI). More details will appear here on the UPGro website soon:

  • Building understanding of climate variability into planning of groundwater supplies from low storage aquifers in Africa – Second Phase (BRAVE2)
    PI: Dr Rosalind Cornforth, University of Reading
  • Experimenting with practical transition groundwater management strategies for the urban poor in Sub Saharan Africa
    PI: Dr Jan Willem Foppen, UNESCO IHE Institute for Water Education
  • Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development,
    PI: Dr Rob Hope, University of Oxford
  • A hidden crisis: unravelling current failures for future success in rural groundwater supply,
    PI: Professor Alan MacDonald, British Geological Survey
  • Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa,
    PI: Professor Richard Taylor, University College London

As the Knowledge Broker team, we are excited to be working with these projects over the coming years.

Not the end of the road for the Catalyst Projects

The 14 Catalyst Projects completed so far have produced valuable results and insights and we will continue to share what emerges from all of them. Furthermore, one of the projects “IN-GROUND: Inexpensive monitoring of Groundwater pollution in Urban African Districts” has only just started so there is a lot of exciting groundwater science to come from the Catalysts.

Thank you!

A huge thank you to all the researchers and partners involved in UPGro so far. If you visit the “Publications & Papers” page you will see that it is gradually filling up as new material comes out. Researchers have also been presenting their findings in a series of UPGro-RWSN webinars and you can watch the recordings and download the presentation files on the “Webinars and Films” page.

Please check back regularly to see what is new, or subscribe to the RWSN newsletter, which as a special UPGro new section.


Do you trust your gut instinct?

This blog post, for the ARIGA Catalyst Project, was originally published as part of the ‘Talking Science’ and Water, Land and Ecosystems Blog . 

Making better development decisions with decision analysis tools

Making decisions is difficult. Most of us spend a lot of time procrastinating about decisions in our everyday lives, struggling to weigh pros and cons and thinking through ‘what-if’ scenarios. For big decisions, like buying a car, we may do a bit of research; but most of the time, we simply follow our gut feeling as a guide. This is okay, as long as we’re right most of the time, and the potential harm from taking a bad decision is limited.

Focus group discussions in Madogashe, Kenya, where stakeholders are engaged in sharing their opinion regarding the pipeline project. Photo: Sarah Ogalleh/CETRAD
Focus group discussions in Madogashe, Kenya, where stakeholders are engaged in sharing their opinion regarding the pipeline project.
Photo: Sarah Ogalleh/CETRAD

Big development decisions

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Farmers diverting water from a culvert into a percolation pond for supplementary irrigation and groundwater recharge in Tigray, Ethiopia

How to… design roads for water harvesting and groundwater recharge

Road construction affects the hydrology of an area; causes erosion, flooding, water logging (photo: Meta Meta Research)

Road construction affects the hydrology of an area; causes erosion, flooding, water logging (photo: Meta Meta Research)

Roads can devastate a landscape – scarring it, creating barriers for wildlife and accelerating stormwater so that valuable farmland, habitats and homes get washed away or polluted. What if didn’t have to be that way? What if roads would work with the grain of nature rather than against it?

One of the UPGro teams, lead by Frank van Steenbergen, at Meta Meta Research, has being doing just that. Over the last year, their UPGro Catalyst project has been researching how roads can be used for rainwater harvesting on a landscape scale to recharge aquifers and ponds for later use in the dry seasons.

Working closely with the Mekelle University and the Government of Ethiopia, Frank and his team (including the Institute for Development Studies) has not only been testing the theory but they have been putting into practice. In the region of Tigray, the methods of road design have captured imaginations as well as water and now the government is keen to roll these ideas out further around the country.

The Catalyst project is now complete and a number of resources are now available online:

The principles have also been explained in a recent RWSN-UPGro webinar on groundwater recharge