Water is at the centre of every aspect of our lives

Scots research leads the way in managing this precious resource, says Bob Ferrier

Without water our planet would be nothing more than a dustless sphere floating in space. Picture: Getty

IN MAY next year, we will welcome a global community to Scotland at the International Water Resources Association Congress in Edinburgh.

The congress will bring together more than 1,000 delegates from industry, policy, research, agencies and non-governmental organisations, many from countries also represented at the Commonwealth Games. This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase Scotland’s academic and technical expertise, skills and knowledge, and highlight our collective capabilities in water management. Water is a global issue vital to us all, and increasingly we need to work together to meet the huge challenge of safeguarding this precious resource.

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It’s quite simple – no water means no life. Without water our planet would be nothing more than a dustless sphere floating in space. Water influences every aspect of our lives; from the health and wellbeing of our growing populations, through support of the world’s food, energy and industry production, to underpinning our natural environment and its biodiversity. But water can also cause much concern. Floods, droughts, waterborne disease, and conflicts over access, along with environmental degradation arising from water being scarce, over-exploited or too polluted mean that managing this vital resource requires an increasingly joined-up approach. In our complex modern world this is a global challenge and Scotland is already taking a leading role in working to become the first Hydro Nation.

A Hydro Nation manages its water environment to best advantage, using its knowledge and expertise at home and internationally. Promoting Scotland as a Hydro Nation supports the Scottish economy through good stewardship while developing the value of our water resources. Understanding and delivering the challenge at home generates international momentum and global recognition for Scotland’s innovative approach.

Scotland’s strength in water research is amazing; more than 200 academics are working on water-related issues across our universities and research institutes. Our collective academic expertise is most impressive, covering all aspects of water resource management, water law, energy and food, environmental protection, flood risk, water treatment, engineering and infrastructure – the list goes on and on. Along with world water industry leaders based in Scottish Water, our progressive Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and Marine Scotland Science, this shows that Scotland is a global powerhouse of knowledge, skills and business acumen around water, whose footprint extends to every corner of the globe.

The James Hutton Institute alone employs more than 30 water experts in Aberdeen and Dundee and manages Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters (Crew), involving all Scottish universities. Crew is a key pillar of the Hydro Nation strategy, and was established to better connect water research and policy communities. It delivers objective and robust research and professional opinion to support development and implementation of water policy in Scotland, and provides an international platform for access to expertise and knowledge.

Every drop of water is precious, and increasingly so. The demands of a growing global population and the need for more food and energy in the context of uncertainties surrounding climate change are impacting day by day in many communities. Empowering future generations with tools and skills to meet these demands sustainably is essential.

As part of this process, and building a lasting legacy from Scotland’s collective skills, Crew leads the Hydro Nation scholarship programme and its associated graduate school. Hydro Nation scholars play an important role through PhD studies that enhance our capacity in areas of existing research excellence and provide new insights in response to global challenges. Uniquely, the scholarship programme involves periods of placement at water institutions, such as Scottish Water, Scottish Government policy teams, Sepa and industry partners so their professional development is not focused on academic excellence alone. As well as home students this prestigious international postgraduate programme includes scholars from Europe, South America, New Zealand, China and Pakistan.

Through the scholarship programme we are nurturing a family of future water sector leaders, who will support management excellence across the globe and fly the flag as ambassadors for Scotland’s expertise.

• Professor Bob Ferrier is director of research impact at the James Hutton Institute (www.hutton.ac.uk) and director of the Centre of Expertise for Waters (Crew) www.crew.ac.uk

• Details of the forthcoming International Water Resources Association World Water Congress are available from worldwatercongress.com