Improving Water Indian Context

Monday 1 July 2013

An interview with Dr Robert Carr, Deputy Chief Executive, eWater, published in EverythingAboutWater | July 2013 issue

Dr. Carr leads eWater’s Science and Engineering, Commercial Products and Training areas. He is also the Modelling Team Leader and Senior Trainer. He is an experienced hydrologist and hydraulics expert with 30 years of expert review, project, software development and management experience. Dr. Carr is a researcher, trainer and practitioner in the water science-to-technology field, particularly in the field of simulation tools for integrated water management for Australia and internationally. He has undertaken water management projects including real-time warning, planning and operational models for river, water supply and wastewater systems. He has managed projects involving data collection, hydraulic and hydrological analysis in IWRM, flood management, groundwater/surface water interaction and wet weather wastewater analysis. He has delivered more than 100 training courses and seminars in modelling for water resources and urban water management. He has lived and worked in several countries.

Q. Please tell us about your background, and your experience in the water sector.

Dr. Carr: My father is a also water engineer, and I grew up in irrigation areas in western Victoria, a state of Australia with hot, dry summers and wet cool winters. We then moved to Brisbane which is a sub-tropical climate. I was always interested in water and did undergraduate and graduate degrees eventually specializing in Water Resources computer modelling as this was the vogue in the 1980’s when the first PC’s came out. But rather than a career in academics I was always interested in solving problems so went into a blended R&D/Solutions career with firstly Australian and then international organizations. It’s a bit of an odd space where it is very much computer programs but very specifically in the water management and analysis areas so there is a lot of human behavior and rules embedded which are just as important as the underlying science. I lived and worked in North America and Asia for some years getting experience in water management issues from floods to droughts and different climates before settling back into Australia’s eWater where it is a very interesting crossroads of water policy implementation, software and the competing demands for scarce water under Australia’s variable conditions. The really interesting thing is that because the problem is so complex and variable (as climate changes from year to year) then the computer models become the point of truth in the process, nobody can truly understand all the trade-offs in the natural system completely so there is a great reliance on these tools being the only way to really analyze the fundamental processes and how things interact with each other. So it is very dynamic and challenging space to bring these complicated programs to solving real world problems.

Q. ‘Water Reforms’, ‘Water Resource Management’, and ‘Hydrological Modelling’ are some interesting buzzwords. Please explain them for our readers.

Dr. Carr: ‘Hydrological modelling’ is a about understanding the ‘water cycle’ - from when a raindrop falls on the land surface, to understanding how much soaks into the ground to replenish groundwater, and how much runs across the land to end up in a river, a reservoir or to flow to the sea. We also look at the effects of human activity on these relationships and how it affects water movement. With hydrological models, we can predict how much water is in a river, aquifer or water supply system, and as long as there is a good data set we can make predictions about how that might change over time. Hydrological models are software tools built on a set of mathematical relationships that describe the physical properties of rivers and groundwater. They usually include data about things such as rainfall, land use and hydraulic structures (e.g. bridges, dams, irrigation systems etc). If needed, information about salt, pollutants and sediments can be included to also make predictions about water quality.  Hydrological models typically also include management rules about, for example, crop water requirements and who in a water supply system is supposed to get water and at what time. Over many decades, engineers and scientists have developed these relationships in all kind of climates around the world and although the parameters might be a bit different in different areas, the basic relationships have stood the test of time and as long as there is a good set of measurements to ‘calibrate’ the model, the results can be quite accurate.  Water resources management is ultimately about choices. When there is an abundance of water in the rivers and reservoirs in a wet rainy season, then there isn’t much debate (although flood prediction and  management can be a big issue). But, when the low rainfall seasons occur, or during droughts or otherwise when there just isn’t enough water to meet all the human and environmental needs, this is when the choices have to be made.  Unfortunately we haven’t found a way to produce rain when we want it, so policies based on good knowledge is vital so that everyone can understand.  Water reform is about moving from where things are at the moment - usually because there is a greater demand for water than is available - to a resilient set of policies about the sustainable and equitable allocation and use of water. The path of water reform will be different for each country. Australia has chosen one type of approach but there are others.

Q. Recently, Australia and India have signed an agreement to share the former’s national hydrological modelling platform. What synergies both the countries have and what you hope to accomplish by the move?

Dr. Carr: Both our countries share a highly variable climate and scarce water resources. We also come from a similar basis of common law as it applies to water management, and our political governance systems are also similar (a federation with water rights held by the states rather than central government). So, there are a lot of potential synergies. We have adopted our hydrological models as the basis for decision-making which allowed us to agree on the scientific aspects which lead to better water management policies. We hope that India can also use these modelling technologies to help with water management. 

Q. Please tell us about Australia’s ‘National Hydrological Platform’. How and why it was developed? What are the results?

Dr. Carr: eWater Source is Australia’s first national river basin scale water modelling system, it represents a substantial step forward in managing water resources. The Source modelling platform allows users to build on, rather than replace existing models. It has been developed to take a holistic approach to water management including human and ecological impacts. This includes integrating policy, addressing water savings and sharing for a whole river and connected groundwater systems including cities, agricultural and environmental demands. As such it will boost the capability of managers all around the world to use robust and defensible science to give advice to policy and decision makers. In essence, Source captures the learnings from Australia’s 30 year experience in water reform and water management.

Q. How exactly this technology transfer from Australia can help India manage its water resources better? Who in the country can benefit from them?

Dr. Carr: With support from the Australian Government, we are undertaking a series of seminars and workshops with the Ministry of Water Resources, Central Water Commission and various state agencies, Civil Society and other stakeholders. Ultimately better water management will improve livelihoods as secure water supplies are very important to growth and prosperity for urban areas, industry and irrigation as well as the environment.

Q. Will Australia’s hydrological modelling platform work in unique local Indian conditions which can sometimes be different?

Dr. Carr: Source is quite generic in the formulas and equations it uses, these are used throughout the world and provided there are good local data sets then there are no real issues in applying it to Indian conditions. As already mentioned, aspects of our climate, geography and political systems have similarities. There may be some interesting research opportunities for adaptation of some aspects to tropical arid hydrology as is found in the northern parts of India which would be a great opportunity for others to benefit from Indian research.

Q. Are you considering on collaborating with the Indian water industry for research and development?

Dr. Carr: Yes, eWater signed an agreement with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi with a plan for IIT Delhi to become a Centre of Excellence for Source, to assist Indian central and state governments develop river basin plans to improve water management. Professor A.K. Gosain of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi who will head the centre said “We see a great opportunity to apply Source to the Indian context and to work with government authorities and independent organizations across the country to improve the management of our increasingly scarce and valuable water resources.”

Source: Published in EverythingAboutWater | JULY 2013 issue

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