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Transdisciplinary approach to water-resources management project hailed

Date Released: Tue, 12 March 2013 08:41 +0200

The Rhodes University Institute of Water Research (IWR) achieved success in diagnosing and initiating effective engagement with water-security and water- quality concerns in the lower Sundays River Valley catchment area, in the Eastern Cape, by establishing relationships between the IWR, the local government, the community and business organisations around water-related problems.

IWR Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality (UCEWQ) director Professor Tally Palmer says a transdisciplinary approach was employed, incorporating the knowledge of diverse academics, including sociologists, anthropologists and water researchers, to fully encapsulate and delimit the issues pertaining to water security, treatment, quality and skills deficiencies in the area to achieve effective remediation. This trandsiciplinary approach includes local and management knowledge.

The management of water resources links the complexity of biophysical and ecological systems with the complexity of human social systems. An understanding of how management interventions may impact on the resource requires a transdisciplinary approach in order to holistically incorporate aspects traditionally considered by different disciplines, she explained.

Some of the issues pertaining to the decrease in environmental water quality have been attributed to the difficulties in meeting goals in water resource management through management practices and institutional and stakeholder cooperation and coordination.

“The lack of engagement by researchers with local communities and managers is a key reason why their academic proposals do not take hold and do not make a difference. Similarly, local government and industry organisations often cannot implement the proposals, owing to research proposals having a lack of relevance with regard to circumstances on the ground, as well as a lack of skills,” she said.

UCEWQ doctoral student and researcher Jai Clifford-Holmes notes that the transdisciplinary methodologies the research team used to approach the project, including anthropological, sociological, economic and applied mathematical methodologies, enabled it to identify the obstacles to water resource management for each of the parties who, in turn, learned about water resource management practices from the researchers.

“The different methodologies enabled us to identify the affected parties, including local government and community and industry organisations, and invite them to a single meeting with us. It was not easy and the meetings were often vociferous, but the holistic scope of the different disciplines enabled us to get all the parties to understand one another’s concerns, which enabled us to forge an effective management solution.

“The relationships established points of contact between people, which enabled the continuous exchange of information and, hence, effective implementation of management interventions,” he says.

These relationships enable the engineers and operators at the water and wastewater treatment plants, academics, business organisations and local government to interact directly with one another, bolstering the effectiveness of the water resource management strategies and practices.

“The direct relationships created between the broad scope of organisations and people were the key element in the success of the pilot project, and are a goal of this type of engaged research because such relationships increase the chance of technical expertise being used,” continued Palmer.

The lower Sundays River Valley study would be used to characterise and critique the methods and programmes put into place for the management of environmental water quality across the country, paralleled by a review of literature on environmental water quality on a national scale.

The results of the reviews will be used to inform more detailed case studies on management practices and their consequences for environmental water quality.

Future studies by the IWR will also include the Crocodile and Olifants rivers in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Mozambique

These relationships enable the engineers and operators at the water and wastewater treatment plants, academics, business organisations and local government to interact directly with one another, bolstering the effectiveness of the water resource management strategies and practices.

“The direct relationships created between the broad scope of organisations and people were the key element in the success of the pilot project, and are a goal of this type of engaged research because such relationships increase the chance of technical expertise being used,” continued Palmer.

The lower Sundays River Valley study would be used to characterise and critique the methods and programmes put into place for the management of environmental water quality across the country, paralleled by a review of literature on environmental water quality on a national scale.

The results of the reviews will be used to inform more detailed case studies on management practices and their consequences for environmental water quality.

Future studies by the IWR will also include the Crocodile and Olifants rivers in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Mozambique.

By: Schalk Burger

Source: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/

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