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World Water Congress: Dr. Neil Coles Looks Forward to Scotland

WASHINGTON, DC, United States

The XVth World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 25-29, 2015.OOSKAnews caught up this week with Dr. Neil Coles, Winthrop Research Professor at the University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture, to discuss his participation in the Congress.

OOSKAnews: Please tell us a little about yourself, and your role and place in the world water family.


Coles: I have always been interested in water.  Growing up in a coastal area that abuts one of the driest regions on the upper Eyre Peninsula in South Australia gives you an appreciation of the value, quality and scarcity of water -- most of which you either captured from the roof (in a raintank), or had piped in over a significant distance (about 360 kilometers) from the Murray River. The water quality often varied, depending on the levels and flows in the river and the time of year.

I have since travelled to Queensland and Western Australia to work in the mining and agricultural industries, assessing the potential to capture and harvest water either from rainfall or from indirect sources (i.e. groundwater, mining operations or desalination). 

More recently I have discussed water issues with colleagues in other countries (e.g. UK, Korea, China, US, Europe) and the shifts being experienced through climate change and the impact on both agricultural production and urban environments either through increased drought, increased rainfall or variation in rainfall delivery either seasonally or inter-annually.  In these discussions, there has been a focus on reliability of supply, adequacy of design and the maintenance and monitoring of water quality. In the last decade there has also been more emphasis on good governance, stakeholder involvement, cultural significance and cumulative impacts of human activities on ecosystems from the abstraction and reallocation of water resources. 

In many cases this may seem to be as simple as defining "Who owns the rain?" … [which] automatically invokes issues around equity, ownership, trans-boundary limitations, cumulative impacts and establishing value, either as a monetized commodity, [or in terms of] cultural or societal relevance, productivity enhancement or as an essential component of the ecosystem and the ecoservices it provides.  In these issues, we have the basis for next conversation about the role of governments and corporate social responsibilities, both locally and globally. If a simple natural phenomenon such as rainfall evokes intense discussions, then other issues such as river flows, dams’ storage, and groundwater depletion  … are equally difficult to resolve, particularly when there are multiple stakeholders, interests and claims on the resource.

OOSKAnews: You are slated to present at the XVth World Water Congress of the IWRA. Can you tell us what your presentation will be about?

Coles: In the paper to be presented at the  Congress, my colleagues and I look to examine the potential for understanding the value proposition surrounding water -- its allocation, management, access and quality -- and who may be responsible in the short, medium and longer term.  The issue of cumulative impacts on ecosystem and the longer term societal benefits are increasingly being questioned, relative to who the beneficiaries may be, how we monitor the resource and to whom and in what condition we bequeath those resources for future use or benefit.  This includes both the global community at large and the ecosystems from which those resources are taken.   While we only provide a snapshot, we hope to generate further discussion among those attending the Congress.

OOSKAnews: What are your hopes and aspirations for the Congress?

Coles:  I would like to think that the Congress will provide the opportunity for a lively exchange of ideas and concepts, offer the potential for discussion and the raising of new and alternative perspectives, and perhaps deliver outcomes that may provide for future generations.  This may be through the increased knowledge presented, collaboration between colleagues and like-minded individuals and institutions, or through the nature of serendipity, in that two people or a group can generate a new idea and way forward by simply having the opportunity to be in the same room at events such as this, which would otherwise not have occurred.