To meet the grand challenge of water use and management requires an integrated, multi-disciplinary research response that can be translated into real workable solutions.
It is clear that this challenge cannot be solved by biologists, engineers or social scientists working in isolation. Our Research Institute will harness existing research excellence from across the University to address these complex water issues in a truly interdisciplinary manner.
This will allow us to develop much needed solutions through a holistic, new approach that views water supply, demand, quantity, quality, economy, ecology, engineering, hazard, equity, justice and sustainability as an integrated whole. The uniqueness of our venture lies in this integrated framework that puts an ecosystem perspective at the centre of the food-water-energy-global change nexus.
Acknowledging that the complexities of the water challenge cannot be met solely by field specific approaches, our framework is a systems approach - where interactions are modelled as stocks and flows of energy, people and resources.
It will also allow us to address key pressing research questions, including how can we:
- manage catchments to support people and ecosystems?
- adapt water systems to global change risks?
- use and re-use water more wisely?
Our research can be broadly characterised by three research themes.
Catchment management for people and ecosystems
So we can better understand the methods used to inform and reach decisions about human needs, uses and values of water and to contain them within safe environmental limits, we will adopt the nested structure of river catchments as a naturally integrative spatial context.
Through our research, we will enhance capability to quantify the links between catchment management and consequences for the ecosystems, ecological processes and ecosystem services that underpin human life support. This will enable us to deliver tools and evidence to support the governance and management of whole catchments, from source to sea, to sustain multiple uses and services.
In response to the problems of global change, our research will deliver integrated water solutions to changing demands for food, energy and biodiversity.
It will allow us to assess and model current and future pressures on water in the natural and built environment, and use multidisciplinary approaches to investigate how these multi-faceted pressures interact.
By creating long-term solutions to emerging vulnerabilities and risks, such as floods, droughts, extreme events, erosion, water pollution costs and ecosystem degradation, it enables us to consider all aspects of water system dynamics. This covers a range of areas, from mechanistic understandings of water flows to understanding public perceptions of risk, change and innovation.
Efficiency and governance in the human water cycle
Since a greener water economy is key to enhancing competitiveness in the water sector, we will contribute novel concepts and tools to the quest for smart, safe and sustainable interaction between people and all phases of the water cycle.
We will develop concepts for smarter water use and sustainable treatment: technologies and innovative methodologies for water management, distribution and treatment appropriate for all economic and environmental circumstances.
We will also be able to provide evidence to underpin the balance between regulatory, voluntary and innovative market mechanisms in all aspects of water governance and management.