Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hydrogeology & Development Conference 2011

Last week I attended a conference on hydrogeology and development, jointly convened by the Hydrogeological Group of the Geological Society of London and the International Association of Hydrogeologists. It was an excellent opportunity to listen to those working in the hydrogeology sector, and think about the role of the hydrogeologist in global development.

The afternoon began with a presentation by Helen Bonsor, from the BGS, who discussed the BGS's work in developing quantitative maps of groundwater for Africa. This work involved collating existing information, and generating quantitative estimates of key aquifer parameters in order to produce continent-scale hydrogeological maps. This work was crucial for understanding how climate change will affect African groundwater. You can read about their work on the BGS website and see some of the maps resulting from their work.

The second presentation by Dr Mark Cuthbert, of the University of Birmingham, looked at recharge estimation in NE Uganda. An impressive data set looking at groundwater levels was used to determine the amount of recharge in the region (i.e. how much water will be added to the groundwater due to rain, losing streams etc). Understanding recharge is crucial for knowing how to manage water in a sustainable manner - making sure less water is being removed each year than is being added each year). 

The third session was a discussion about the role of the hydrogeologist in aid and development. Thoughts from this session will be documented in a separate and later blog.

The fourth session was presented by Prof. Stephen Silliman, from the University of Notre Dame, who presented this year's Darcy Lecture on the 'development of reliable hydrologic data sets in difficult environments' using case studies from Benin in West Africa. This was an outstanding lecture in which Prof. Silliman argued strongly that reliable and scientifically defensible data-sets can be generated in rural, developing locations where access and finances are limited. Through close collaboration with in-country universities, government agencies, NGOs and local communities, Prof. Silliman was able to monitor the water quality over several years, gathering high-quality and reliable data.

The final session was by Prof. Richard Carter, Head of Technical Support at WaterAid. Prof Carter outlined the importance of systematic supervision when undertaking borehole projects, from ensuring good siting choices to supervising the drilling process itself. His presentation concluded that supervision should include being "systematic about observations, measurements and record keeping - generating important information for decision making, assuring construction quality and cost effectiveness, and monitoring the health and safety of all stakeholders." Currently a common strategy amongst many clients is to ignore good supervision, and to load the risk and responsibility onto the contractor - getting them to choose the sites and only paying them for successful wells. This strategy drives up the prices of boreholes. 

It was very interesting to hear this talk (and many other comments), in light of the work we have been doing on the 'Basics to Groundwater' technical paper. This paper aims to build technical capacity within clients that have no scientific background - introducing them to many key principles within geology and hydrogeology. Hopefully this can be used as a tool to increase the quality and ability of clients to supervise the drilling of boreholes, and other technologies. It was also excellent to hear some very strong success stories, and positive news relating to geologists working closely with other development professionals to contribute to reducing poverty and improving lives.