‘The joy of an in-person conference!’

The 1st Sociohydrology Conference, Delft, The Netherlands – September 2021

After more than a year and a half of online conferences, online workshops, webinars, Zoom, Teams, and myriad other virtual meeting programs, attending a conference actually in-person was a great pleasure. My nervousness about whether I could remember how to have a conversation with a human in real life thankfully didn’t last too long. The highlight of the conference for me, and the key difference from other broad ‘water’ conferences, was the interdisciplinary nature of the presentations and sessions; rather than the usual situation of many disciplines being represented but staying in their own ‘siloed’ sessions. The blend of natural and social sciences, hydrology and political ecology, governance and modelling, led to a very rewarding and inspiring three days. And Delft was very pretty!

Wageningen University’s Water Resources Management (WRM) research group were well-represented at the conference; meaning I met more colleagues in the few days in Delft than I had during the previous eight months since I started work in the WRM group. It was also very useful and inspiring to meet sociohydrology researchers from other institutions, such as the teams from VU Amsterdam and the Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS) at Uppsala University. The 3DDD project team was also well-represented, with presentations both in-person and online that are described later in this blog. 3DDD’s project leader Pieter van Oel was part of the conference organising committee and delivered Monday morning’s opening session to welcome us all and introduce the conference. Pieter also delivered one of the final Wednesday afternoon sessions discussing funding opportunities for sociohydrology research. In addition to the presentations described later, Sarra, David and Pieter also chaired various sessions involving, for example, serious games, novel sensor technologies, impacts of glacier loss, drought-to-flood events, and different actors’ perspectives on models.

<— Expertly put together in about an hour on the final afternoon of the event, here is the excellent video summarising the very successful 1st Sociohydrology Conference at Delft.

1st Sociohydrology Conference, Delft 2021

The conference was a hybrid format with around 60 in-person attendees and another 300 or so attending online. This presented some challenges as sessions involved a mix of presentations delivered in-person, presentations delivered live from online attendees, and other presentations that were pre-recorded to accommodate inconvenient time zones or weak internet connections. TU Delft, who hosted the conference, provided an able technical team who ensured that everything ran smoothly.

In the words of the organisers, the scientific agenda for the conference was: “Given the complexity of the challenges and the required ammunition for path breaking research, a wide spectrum of experts and practitioners from the hydrology, governance, sociology, behavioural sciences, water economics, water technology, engineering and sociohydrology (SH) communities, along with a cross-section of practicing water managers and stakeholders, will be invited to participate in the conference.

The conference will discuss and debate selected classes of questions, challenges and phenomena that participating community finds most urgent to unravel and understand in the face of the grand sustainability challenges. The conference will focus on understanding the dynamics underlying such phenomena through discussions of relevant real-world case studies from around the world, both current and historical. It will reveal how sociohydrology syncretizes with other disciplines and frameworks such as Socio-Ecological System frameworks. For example, the denial of anthropogenic causes of the worsening water crises in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence in its favour is one such global phenomenon that has yet to be studied in depth. Farmers around the world are growing high value crops in spite of the long-term risks involved (and biases and lock-ins that are hard to change), while irrigation efficiency in water scarce places is leading to dwindling ground water tables are other examples of well observed patterns that deserve our urgent attention.

The conference will be set around the water management and water governance puzzles, exploring them along three main pillars: theories and concepts (quantitative or qualitative), empirical studies including surveys and citizen science as methods for understanding feedbacks, and the validation of theories/concepts based on diverse case studies. Water (in)justice is one example of common concern to diverse disciplines that deals with uneven distribution of hydrological risk, uneven distribution of water contamination, differentiated access to water, and environmental justice.

3DDD presentations: Louise Cavalcante

Session: 13:30–15:00 Tuesday 7 September 2021 Theme 1: Innovating a New Knowledge Base for Water Justice Studies: Hydrosocial, Sociohydrology, and beyond – Water justice in social-environmental extremes

Presentation title: The reservoir effect in a semi-arid river basin: Jaguaribe River Basin, Ceará-Brazil

Authors: Louise Cavalcante, Pieter van Oel, Art Dewulf, Sarra Kchouk, Germano Ribeiro Neto, David W. Walker, Eduardo Martins

Abstract: Reservoirs are important to secure water supply and facilitate drought management, they can both potentially meet or reduce water deficits during the dry season and high demand season by releasing stored water in the wet season. The construction of reservoirs to improve water supply to alleviate the impacts of drought is central in many parts of the world. However, reservoirs can have unintended side effects, one of them is described as the reservoir effect. It is a phenomenon that happens when water availability in reservoirs is increased, thus increasing the dependence of communities on water infrastructure and their vulnerability in a period of hydrological drought. This effect can counteract the initial benefits of reservoirs of saving water for periods of water shortage. In Brazil, more specifically in northeast brazil, a semiarid region, the idea of ‘fight against drought’ was for a long time the dominant idea from policymakers when faced with the issue dealing with drought impacts. This idea prioritizes the construction of reservoirs and other hydraulic infrastructures to promote water basin transfers and channels to transfer the water from regions of greater availability to others of scarcity. Policy responses were also influenced by the hydraulic mission, an ideology nature domination, engaged in the pursuit of iconic and symbolic projects, such as damming of river systems, and the expansion of large‐scale public irrigation.

In this research, we aim to describe the reservoir effect in the Jaguaribe region water basin in Ceará state, northeast Brazil using qualitative data gathered from online interviews conducted with water managers from the region. With this research, we aim to advance the study of unintended side effects of reservoirs using a semiarid water basin as a case study.

Overall, our results show that the Jaguaribe Basin socio-hydrological is a dynamic watershed impacted by the recent multi-year drought event (2012 – 2018). The over-reliance on water infrastructures caused a period of conflicts mainly between two water users: the irrigators and the metropolitan region of Fortaleza, a region of high water consumption with a population of 4.074.730 inhabitants. In this system, irrigation farmers are the most affected by the reservoir worsened by drought impacts, due to the prioritization of water allocation to the metropolitan region because of legislation that prioritizes domestic water use. In addition, rice cultivation is more dependent on reservoirs than other crops (e.g. banana and pineapple) because they use a form of planting that floods the planted area generating significant waste of water. Due to the drought and the high water requirements of these rice crops, in 2014, rice farmers were compensated by the government for not being able to plant on all available areas.

3DDD presentations: Sarra Kchouk

Session: 08:30–10:00 Tuesday 7 September 2021 Theme 2: Scale Issues in Human-Water Systems – Informing governance

Presentation title: Accounting for spatiotemporal complexities of drought in water accounting to inform integrated drought management

Authors: Sarra Kchouk, Germano Ribeiro Neto, Lieke Melsen, David W. Walker, Louise Cavalcante, Rubens Sonsol Gondim, Pieter van Oel

Abstract: The different existing frameworks of Water Accounting (WA) techniques have proven to be useful tools for managing water in situations of water scarcity. The indices derived from WA procedures typically focus at informing decisions related to two different targets. A first group focuses on estimating water availability in different parts of a river basin. A second group focuses on the effects of human activities (interventions) on the water balance. Both are precious tools for decision making when the water is even scarcer, like in drought situations. However, their frameworks remain limited for an application to drought and drought impacts as it eludes many specificities proper to droughts. The aim of our study is to explore how WA techniques and indices can thus be adapted for integrated drought management. We based our approach on the water-balance data from the Banabuiú River Basin located in the semi-arid and drought-prone Northeast of Brazil. This area is the place of varied agricultural activities, rainfed or irrigated from a dense network of reservoirs. Droughts, from flash droughts to sometimes pluriannual, can affect the water balance of those reservoirs and the basin, and pose a challenge to meet all the agricultural needs. We direct our results towards the investigation of spatiotemporal scale issues. Indeed, water balance assessments often do not consider spatial variations in a river basin area and only report average annual situations. However, the duration of droughts or their impacts can extend beyond this reference period until sometimes becoming persistent to the system. The same applies for spatial-scale issues. Actions and processes happening at different physical scales and levels, inside and outside the basin, can modify the water balance. By addressing these spatiotemporal complexities, we aim to develop indices that will account for the human activities and enable to better inform decisions for integrated drought management.

3DDD presentations: Germano Ribeiro Neto

Session: 10:30–12:00 Monday 6 September 2021 Theme 4: Innovative Sensing, Observing Measuring and Analysing Human-Water Data – Novel concepts and assessment frameworks

Presentation title: The influence of cascading reservoirs on drought evolution in a semiarid region

Authors: Germano Ribeiro Neto, Lieke Melsen, Eduardo Martins, Pieter van Oel

Abstract: The construction of reservoirs without adequate basin-level planning can cause a concentration of water in a certain part and scarcity somewhere else. This problem can be intensified when the reservoirs are distributed in successive order along the same river drainage area, creating a “cascade” of reservoirs. Thus, the operation of upstream reservoirs can influence downstream water availability. This can give rise to internal conflicts and social pressure to build more reservoirs, creating a vicious cycle. In this study, we evaluated the cascade effect of reservoirs on the propagation of drought events in the Banabuiu river catchment located in the semiarid region of northeast Brazil.

We use the novel Drought Cycle Analysis method (DCA) to assess how the cascade effect of reservoirs influences the propagation of drought events. This method combines the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) with the Volume Deficit information (VD, deviation of half of the total capacity of the monitored reservoirs). The VD is a relevant socio-hydrological variable since its variation depends not only on climatic conditions but also on human demands and volumes released by the upstream reservoirs. The DCA method considers that there are four possible drought stages related to the simultaneous occurrence of precipitation deficit and water storage deficit: wet period (SPI>0 and VD>0); meteorological drought (SPI<0 and VD>0); hydrological-meteorological drought (SPI<0 and VD<0) and hydrological drought (SPI>0 and VD<0).

We were able to track the delay in the recovery of the stored volume in the downstream reservoirs due to the cascade distribution effect of the reservoirs. This delay causes an artificial persistence of hydrological drought in these reservoirs, even when precipitation levels return to normality. We termed this a reservoir cascade drought effect and concluded, for the Banabuiu watershed, the upstream reservoirs can prolong the drought impacts downstream of this region for more than six months. This study demonstrates the dynamics between downstream and upstream reservoirs, often built in response to drought. This phenomenon is highly relevant to improve water management in a drought-prone region highly dependent on surface water storage, like the Brazilian semiarid region.

3DDD presentations: Pieter van Oel

Session: 11:00–13:00 Tuesday 7 September 2021 Theme 5: Solutions to Water Crises (Related to Actual Interventions) – Perceptions, choices and practices in water systems and scenarios

Presentation title: Diagnosing drought for treatment and prevention: using medical-science concepts for integrated drought management

Authors: David W. Walker, Sarra Kchouk, Germano Ribeiro Neto, Louise Cavalcante, Eduardo Martins, Rubens Gondim, Francisco Assis Souza Filho, Lieke Melsen, Art Dewulf, Pieter van Oel

Abstract: Drought management is currently informed by a variety of approaches and tools, mostly responding to the drought crisis when it happens. To contribute to a more effective and comprehensive practice in integrated drought management we introduce a conceptual drought diagnosis framework inspired by diagnostic concepts from the field of medicine comprising five basic steps: 1. Initial diagnostic assessment – history, physical exam, evaluation of symptoms; 2. Diagnostic testing; 3. Consultation; 4. Communication of the diagnosis; and 5.Treatment and prognosis. To illustrate the need for the proposed approach four well-documented and recently drought-affected cases-study regions were selected: The city of Cape Town (South Africa), the state of California (USA), the Northeast region of Brazil, and the Horn of Africa (covering parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia). Contrasting elements for these cases include geographic extent and political boundaries, climatic factors, socio-economic characteristics, the relevance of different water resources (e.g. rainfall, aquifers, surface water, virtual water), and the vulnerability of the people living in these areas. For all four cases we used sociohydrological and hydrosocial perspectives to identify practices and policies and reflected on them in terms of drought diagnosis and misdiagnosis and/or incomplete diagnosis that have aggravated socio-economic drought impacts. Analysis of these four recent drought-crisis situations confirmed the anticipated need for a comprehensive, contextualized and collaborative approach to drought diagnosis. An example of an observation relevant to all cases studied is the preference for augmenting water supply, rather than promoting resilience and reducing vulnerability. The four selected case studies are certainly not unique and studying additional drought-affected areas would likely further support the current practice of drought misdiagnosis that has led to un- (or only partially-) successful treatment and prevention of drought. Overall our assessment revealed that using concepts from medical science can be helpful towards comprehensively diagnosing droughts for a variety of contexts. Identifying misdiagnosis and assessing the effectiveness of proposed interventions (treatment, prognosis) could help drought managers to become more proactive and help drought-affected regions to become more drought-prepared in future.

3DDD presentations: David W. Walker

Session: 10:30–12:00 Monday 6 September 2021 Theme 4: Novel concepts and assessment frameworks – Innovative Sensing, Observing Measuring and Analysing Human-Water Data

Presentation title: Citizen science in the water sciences: benefits and negative impacts for participants

Authors: David W. Walker, Magdalena Smigaj, Masakazu Tani, Narayan Gyawali, Prem Sagar Chapagain, Jeffrey C. Davids, Alisha Ghimire, Makhan Maharjan, Binod Prasad Parajuli, Rajaram Prajapati, Santosh Regmi, Rakesh Kumar Shah, Puja Shakya, Surabhi Upadhyay

Abstract: Citizen science is proliferating in the water sciences with increasing public involvement in monitoring water resources, climate variables, water quality, and in mapping and modelling exercises. In addition to the well-reported scientific benefits of such projects, in particular solving data scarcity issues, it is common to extol the benefits for participants, e.g. learning, increased social capital and empowerment. I will present findings from field investigations of citizen science water projects in Nepal and from an extensive literature review of citizen science applications in the water sciences concerning personal benefits and motivations, wider community benefits, and negative impacts of involvement.

Potential benefits of participation were often stated by project organisers without explanation or investigation. Studies that investigated whether or not participants and communities actually benefitted from involvement, or experienced negative impacts, were uncommon, especially in the Global South. While many and varied positive impacts on individuals and communities were observed, assuming certain benefits will be experienced can be fallacious as in some cases the intended benefits were either not achieved or in fact participation had negative impacts. Our research in Nepal, however, identified positive legacies of former citizen science projects that were unknown to the original project organisers.  We encourage further assessment of citizen scientist experiences, particularly in the Global South, to enable benefits for both citizens and professionals to be maximised.

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