water@leeds blog

An interdisciplinary approach to tackling major water issues


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‘Clean Water For All’ (CWFA) research initiative – Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan

As part of the ‘Clean Water For All’ (CWFA) research initiative, Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan  travelled to the U.S. on 3rd May for two weeks for co-location research work with U.S. academics at Portland State University (PSU) in Portland, Oregon. This post describes Sangaralingam Ahilan’s personal and research experiences of his first visit to Portland, Oregon.

Portland – The City of Roses

Portland – The City of Roses

Research Experiences

Portland is a Blue Green city in which people and nature can co-exist in the highly developed urban environment.  The city actively promotes storm water management through onsite infiltration and flow control measures to reduce storm water runoff into the street and sewer.  In most parts of Portland, separate storm sewer systems are being implemented to overcome the risk of Combined Sewer Overflows during prolonged rain storms.  This will help protect water courses from microbial pollution and greatly benefit human health, fish and wildlife habitat.

Lake

The UK team research work in Portland is mostly centred on the Johnson Creek (JC) which is one of the highly urbanised streams known for frequent flooding and does not meet water quality standards under the Federal Clean Water Act.  The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) carries out extensive restoration work along the JC reaches to return its floodplain to natural condition in order to provide more space for river flow and storage, which will enhance flood mitigation, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat.  Ahilan’s research is focused on the JC reach (East Lents) and JC sub watershed (Errol Heights).

Fish ladder in the Crystal spring

Fish ladder in the Crystal spring

The East Lents reach is one of the reconfigured banks of Johnson Creek and reconnects the reach to a restored floodplain on a 70-acre site with native forest.  The Errol Heights sub watershed is mostly with unimproved streets, this causes substantial erosion and sediment yield from the unimproved street network into the urban drainage, resulting in blockages.  The objective of this study is to integrate flood and sediment dynamics of these sites through detailed hydrodynamic and morphodynamic modelling.  Utilising these models allows researchers to understand the existing sediment dynamics and explore potential blue green interventions to minimise the sediment movement into the urban drainage system and into the river.

Ahilan with Zac Perry at Crystal Spring

Ahilan with Zac Perry at Crystal Spring

Summary

In summary Ahilan was really convinced by the progress of the City of Portland through ‘grey to green’ initiative over the last decade.  He strongly believes that this is the only way to cope with rapid urbanisation resulting from socio economic development and uncertain climate change in the developed and developing world during our lifetime and for future generations.

Let Knowledge Serve the City ……– Portland State University motto


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Summer studentship reveals potential for solar cooking

By John Marsham (water@leeds Research Fellow) and the research team

A recent studentship project used meteorological data to assess the potential for use of solar cookers in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst this research might not seem to have any water associations, it assesses direct sunlight which is affected by cloud cover. And clouds are water after all!

Using solar cookers in Chad. Photo: Derk Rijks

Using solar cookers in Chad. Photo: Derk Rijks

According to recent estimates, there are more than 140,000 users of solar cookers in the refugee camps of Chad and the low-cost, low-tech and easy to manufacture cookers have the potential to help many of the world’s poorest communities, but their successful operation is dependent on sufficient direct surface insolation. Although ground-based measurements of direct sunshine with a better than hourly time resolution do exist, the network over North and West Africa is very sparse. This project made use of multi-year satellite observations of airborne dust and cloud to derive a spatially complete climatology of conditions suitable for solar cooking in North and West Africa. This climatology will inform future distribution of the technology across the region. Results from the study will be appearing soon in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society .

The work was a Leeds Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS) project, led by researchers at the University of Leeds, working in collaboration with colleagues at Imperial College London and Agrometeorological Applications Associates/TchadSolaire (AAA/TS). This text has previously been published on the Africa College website.


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Obituary – Sani Haruna Abdullahi

By Barbara Evans, Miller Camargo-Valero, Andy Sleigh (School of Civil Engineering)

Sani Haruna Abdullahi, who has died, aged 52, will be remembered in this University and beyond as a student with boundless enthusiasm and a passion for solving the development challenges of his country, Nigeria.

Sani Haruna Abdullahi

Sani Haruna Abdullahi

Sani arrived in Leeds in 2012 and it was immediately clear that he was an exceptional person.  His commitment to development was evident from the earliest stages of his career; as a twenty-year old he served with the National Youth Service Corps of Nigeria at a government technical secondary school and this was followed by stints in the Ministry of Education (1984-88), the Jigawa State Transport Authority (1991-95) and the Jigawa Alternative Energy Fund (2001-6 and 2009). In between he gained experience with the private sector and was a lecturer in the State Polytechnic.  He also served as Caretaker Chairman of Kasuare Loval Government from 2007-2008, a post which gave him immense responsibility for the development of a region with manifold challenges.

Sani showed a lifelong commitment to learning; studying for his BSc in Mechanical Engineering at Indiana State University and for his MEng degree, also in Mechanical Engineering, from Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.  It is testament to his continuing quest to learn and develop that he elected to come to Leeds to study for his PhD at the age of 49.

As a student Sani was an absolute pleasure to work with;  faced with new ideas and new challenges he always set off to find out more, to develop his thinking and to find new ways of solving problems.  From the first day, when it became evident that he had never had access to internet-based literature searching techniques, to the last, when he was still honing his field-research methods, he challenged himself to learn more, to do more and to complete more.  His PhD studies were inspired by the desire to find out why so many water supply systems in northern Nigeria fail.  Rapidly he came to see that this was more than a technical problem of pump design. He embarked on a process of examining what institutional and social factors can promote or hinder long-term success for rural water supply in remote African communities.  He studied hard and learned how to design and deliver mixed-method qualitative and quantitative research in the field, and he set out to forge relationships with government and external support agencies in Jigawa and Kano that would have enabled him to enhance our understanding of what really constitutes effective ’community-managed’ water supply.

Sani was killed in a road-traffic accident on his way home from carrying out fieldwork in one of his study communities.  He was nearing the end of his fieldwork period and it is certain that he already had a wealth of information and ideas ready to be shared.  What is also certain is that he was on his way home to his family; ever his focus.  He leaves behind his children, and his deceased brother’s children for whom he had taken on responsibility, and a family who will be forever bereft of their Husband, Father, Brother and Son.

Sani Haruna Abdullahi was an exceptional man and an excellent student.  In his honour we will continue to seek answers to his questions, and remember that he never stopped trying to solve his country’s problems.  He always addressed his emails to ‘My Dear Supervisors’ but in his memory we will dedicate our future work to ‘Our Dear Student’.


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Killer shrimps are out there – so watch out…

By Lucy Anderson (Faculty of Biological Sciences)

The critter in my hand certainly looks harmless enough. At a mere 2cm long, it’s incredible to think it has the potential to wipe out native fish and invertebrate populations thanks to its voracious appetite. But this isn’t any old shrimp. This is the killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) and over the past ten years it’s made its way from the Caspian Sea to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire as I’ve just explained to a BBC film crew.

Killer shrimp in the UK (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Killer shrimp in the UK (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Invasive alien species like the killer shrimp, American signal crayfish and zebra mussel pose a major threat to biodiversity across the globe. They can out-compete native species for food and habitat, introduce new diseases and damage infrastructure costing the UK alone £1.7 billion per year to manage. Seven out of ten of the Environment Agency’s “most wanted” invasive species are found in freshwater environments. That’s because rivers and lakes are exposed to a lot of pathways by which new invaders can be introduced. They can be transported in the ballast water of ships, be released from ponds or aquaria, or hitchhike on the equipment used by recreational water users, to name but a few.

Invasive species have been making the headlines in recent weeks because of a pioneering piece of legislation which has recently been approved by MEPs in Brussels. At the moment, the management of invasive species is rather disparate across Europe. It’s currently up to each EU member state to manage the invasive species within its boundaries, so all the work done in one country to prevent invaders could be undermined by a neighbouring country which does far less, or focuses its management on different species.

Invasive species hit the headlines (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Invasive species hit the headlines (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

The new legislation aims to change that. For the first time, member states will have to abide by a consistent set of laws to prevent and control invasive species. Preventing the introduction of invasive species in the first place is particularly important, because once these species arrive and establish, they’re almost impossible to eradicate. By improving surveillance at borders, transport and trade routes, the risk of invasive species accidentally entering EU countries can be reduced and the likelihood of detecting and managing new species before they have an opportunity to cause damage can be improved.

We’ve been investigating one such pathway for the spread of invasive species here at the University of Leeds. A survey we conducted with 1500 anglers and canoeists across the UK revealed that around 50% of respondents did not clean their kit before moving to a new catchment. The results (described in this paper) are rather alarming because invasive species like the killer shrimp can survive for up to a fortnight in the damp fold of a wader or crevice of a boat so they could potentially survive in the journey from one site to another.

Thankfully, biosecurity actions are improving among these groups. A lot of environmental NGOs are backing the Check Clean Dry campaign which aims to raise awareness of invasive species and improve biosecurity among water sports enthusiasts.

So next time you take a trip down to the river, remember to check, clean and dry your boots and any equipment that you use in the water. That wriggling shrimp on your welly might look harmless enough but – as we’ve learned from the killer shrimp — looks can be deceiving.

Check, clean and dry your boots and equipment (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Check, clean and dry your boots and equipment (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)


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Opportunities in water – here at Leeds

water@leeds currently has two opportunities advertised – both with closing dates next week – which would allow successful candidates to come and work with us. They are very different posts but also very exciting, so read on if you’re interested in water research….

The Cheney Fellowships (http://tinyurl.com/nezazpg) will allow successful candidates to come to water@leeds and work with our large and diverse team on any area of water research that interests them. They are open to academics and non-academics alike and are best viewed as a sabbatical – a time to step away from the day job and become immersed in research for up to 12 months. The timings of the sabbatical and duration are very flexible so can be built around current employment commitments. And once the sabbatical is over and the Fellows have returned to their day job, the aim is to keep collaborating and developing research.

Let your ideas fly...

Let your ideas fly…

The research topics for the Cheney Fellowships are also very flexible. Fellowships are offered in three broad areas – food and medical technologies as well as water – but are not restricted by discipline (at least for water!) provided there is at least one University of Leeds academic who could collaborate with a successful candidate. Please visit the website for more information but please note that the closing date for applications is 30th April 2014.

The second opportunity we’re advertising is a more traditional academic post – Lecturer / Associate Professor in Environmental / Ecological Economics (http://tinyurl.com/nx7znwl).  We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated environmental economist with a focus on water-related research to develop and enhance links across water@leeds and to key stakeholders. Expertise in ecosystem service valuation, cost-benefit analysis and quantitative methods are particularly welcome. The closing date is 1st May 2014.

How can we better value water?

How can we better value water?

A third opportunity will be announced shortly – so please watch this space. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Cheney Fellowships or the water@leeds Lectureship in Environmental or Ecological Economics, please contact water@leeds (water@leeds.ac.uk). We’d also like to hear from you if you have research ideas, funded or not, relevant to water!


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The Environment Agency / CIWEM University Challenge on Flash Flooding

By Louise Walker (water@leeds Innovation Manager)

The University of Leeds was privileged to be selected as the venue for the final of the Environment Agency and CIWEM’s Flash Flooding Challenge on Wednesday 19th March. The eighteen finalists, made up of undergraduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral researchers gave very professional presentations outlining their ideas, further details of which could be seen in the colourful array of posters displayed in University House.

I would like to congratulate in particular Joe Croisdale, from our School of Geography, who claimed second prize in the undergraduate category for his Flash Flood Incentive Scheme. Joe gave a well-received presentation of his proposal to provide grants to reduce surface water runoff in areas at high risk of flash flooding, a means of calculating eligibility and local, community-led flash flood networking.

Joe Croisdale receiving his award from David Wilkes

Joe Croisdale receiving his award from David Wilkes

The Challenge focused on the development of innovative solutions aimed at helping communities at risk of flash flooding, and was open to students and researchers from universities across the north of England.

The day was organised by Sam Billington from the EA and Emma Hick of Royal Haskoning and CIWEM. The chair for the event was David Wilkes (emeritus president of CIWEM).

Keynote addresses by Bill Donovan (Flood and Coastal Risk Management Senior Advisor, Environment Agency) and Steven McKeown (Managing Director, Whiteside Construction) set the scene for both the problem of flash flooding and the importance of innovation, particularly in the area of property level protection.

The ideas presented covered a wide and diverse range portfolio of topic areas:

  • Improved flood resilience and response through a social media-enabled web application – Luke Smith & Gareth Owen
  • The use of modern technology in reducing the risks of flash flooding – Charlotte Fryer & Sophie Emms
  • Living with flooding: turning flood amelioration schemes into multi-use landscapes – Ruth Dunn & Alex Reilly
  • Beaver reintroduction in upper river catchments to reduce flash flooding – Jonas Fox
  • Using flood maps annotated with evacuation routes and assembly points to reduce flash-flood impacts on community: a case study in Durham – Shirley Koo
  • Bridging the gap between communities and flash flooding: a multi-pronged approach – Rebecca Smith, Aaron Neill & Victoria Smith
  • Flood mitigation using Waste Treatment Residual (WTR) as a soil amendment to increase the flood holding capacity of soils – Heather Kerr
  • Super absorbent polymer flood trenches – Joanna Anderson
  • The modular raised road – Deborah Whittle
  • Redesigning street tree planting technique to reduce the surface runoff in our cities – Mohammad Asrafur Rahman
  • Flood  control, energy generation, domestic water supply and energy storage  using  pumped  storage – Vinod Rajan
  • An engineering concept to control and manipulate water flow to reduce flooding risk – Malachy Doyle
  • FLASH GAME – Donatella Cillo
  • Our tap – William Bennett
  • Flash flood incentive scheme, app and network – Joe Croisdale
  • A small intervention with a big impact: the community toolbox – Peter Metcalfe
  • Increasing public awareness of the dangers of flash flooding and challenges involved – John Donaghy
  • Community flood support and preparation volunteer programme -Diana Baker

The Question and Answer session conducted while the judges chose the winners was entertaining and enlightening. Phil Younge, Jonathan Moxon and Andy Moores of the EA and Paul Codding of the National Flood Forum formed the ‘Question Time’ inspired panel. They were asked to give opinions on topical issues such as dredging, the role of water and sewerage companies and how to increase personal responsibility for managing flood impact, as well as what inspired them in their professions. The main message was a plea for joined-up thinking and a whole catchment approach to flood risk management.

The Environment Agency will now look at supporting the winning ideas, all of which were highly innovative and many of which can – and should – be taken forward as research projects or implemented as pilot schemes. So watch this space!


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Making a splash in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector

By Barbara Evans (School of Civil Engineering)

This week I’ve been at the WASH2014 conference in Brisbane Australia (www.watercentre.org/events/wash2014/about-wash2014 ).  The conference brought together 340 delegates from 38 countries to reflect on how practitioners might work towards achieving a vision of global access to WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).  The conference was the brainchild of the Australian WASH Reference Group, is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and is delivered by the International Water Centre in Brisbane (http://www.watercentre.org/ ).  Having been part of the organising committee for the past 18 months and as facilitator of the conference process I’ve been able to see at first hand what an amazing group of people the Reference Group pulls together and how much they have learned and grown over the past seven years.

Sanjay Wijesekara, Chief of WASH UNICEF, speaks at the WASH 2014 conference

Sanjay Wijesekara, Chief of WASH UNICEF, speaks at the WASH 2014 conference

What struck me most about this conference was that it was a true sharing experience – the process included a two day conference and three days of practical training workshops, and the delegates were a blend of academics, government officials, NGO staff and fieldworkers. Many of the delegates have commented on the generosity and spirit of collaboration that characterises this group of Australian professionals and their colleagues from around the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.   Despite the light-hearted atmosphere and high levels of energy, the conference dealt with serious issues; new evidence was presented on the relationship between open defecation and stunting, there were new data on equity and access to services from the Joint Monitoring Program of the United Nations, and a number of important break-through ideas relating to fecal sludge management, menstrual-hygiene management and inclusive designs for WASH programming.

Delegates on Day 1 of the conference

Delegates on Day 1 of the conference

Within the emerging post-2015 global agenda, the critical dialogue that begins at the conference – and continues around the world through networks and connections made between conference attendees – can help achieve successes that improve life and health for generations to come.

Podcasts of all the conference sessions, and copies of the all the conference and training presentations along with video of all the plenaries will be available shortly from the website (www.watercentre.org/events/wash2014/about-wash2014).