VC’s Distinguished Community Engagement 2018 Award winner a true water hero

Professor Tally Palmer
Professor Tally Palmer

Professor Tally Palmer from the Institute for Water Research (IWR) has been announced as the recipient of the 2018 Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Community Engagement, for her ground-breaking work in ecological justice and water sustainability.

In November 2016, Prof Palmer was appointed as the Director of the IWR. Her aspiration as a leader within the IWR and Rhodes University has been to undertake, supervise and collaborate in research that is used effectively, and as rapidly as possible, to advance equity and sustainability in South Africa.

She is a pioneer of what has become known as engaged research: research that is practice-based, draws on knowledge across usual academic domains and from practitioners and communities, and is used to affect behavioural change towards achieving social and, for Prof Palmer, ecological justice.

Prof Palmer knows that it is increasingly necessary to embrace the need for a diverse set of skills and expertise to tackle the mounting challenges of sustainable management of South Africa’s water resources. By focusing on ensuring that water catchment research is used as directly as possibly to solve problems in water scarce regions, Prof Palmer’s research has taken her out of the laboratory and into communities.

Since 2013, Prof Palmer’s main engaged research activities have been undertaken in the area of Integrated Water Resource Management, where she has worked extensively in the Upper Kowie and Crocodile River catchments. Her work in the Upper Kowie catchment was engaged at the local government (Makana), sub-catchment scale, and has accelerated local water institutional development with the establishment of the first South African Water, Sanitation and Catchment Management Forum. To date more than 85 stakeholders, widely and deeply representative of local interests have actively participated in the Makana Water Forum.

Working in the Crocodile River Catchment, Prof Palmer addressed the Adaptive Integrated Water Resource Management challenge of building a co-operative integrated water quality monitoring process, to forge solutions to deteriorating water quality as a threat to water resource protection.

This ground-breaking work brought many large industries together (including sugar, pulp and paper, and mining industries), with local government, water service providers, water managers, and regulators.

Her ability to engage with ministers, directors general and ordinary citizens has enabled a connection to research on the ground as well as into government structures. Her far reaching contributions to the water sector saw her nominated for the SASAqS Gold medal award in 2016 by the late Professor Jay O’Keeffe, who wrote in his nomination: “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Tally has been the most effective and influential ‘game-changer’ of her generation of aquatic scientists. Respected and listened to by her peers, by water managers and by policy makers up to national ministerial level, Tally has been instrumental in main streaming environmental water science into practice in a number of areas.”

You can listen to Prof Palmer talk about her work here:

Prof Palmer’s VC’s Distinguished Community Engagement 2018 Award will be presented to her at Rhodes University’s 2019 graduation ceremonies, and her IWR team will be invited to give a public lecture on their collaborative outreach initiatives at the start of Community Engagement Week later in the year.

Congratulations to Professor Tally Palmer!