The WE-ACT General Assembly, held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan from April 23rd to 24th, 2024 focused on advancing water management in Central Asia through keynote speeches, collaborative sessions, and innovative demonstrations. Notable moments include the introduction of serious games for interactive learning and decision making, and a visit from BWO SyrDarya and SIC ICWC, emphasizing the importance of end-user engagement. Overall, the assembly exemplifies collective efforts towards sustainable water allocation in the region.

The WE-ACT General Assembly served as a medium for WE-ACT partners to share important project information. Organized by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), in collaboration with the WE-ACT Consortium Partners and regional as well as national partners, the assembly focused on addressing key challenges and fostering collaboration in the region.

The assembly commenced with a welcome address from the project coordinator and local organizer, emphasizing the importance of collective action in addressing water-related issues.

The first keynote speaker, Dr. Tobias Siegfried from HydroSolutions, delivered a speech on hydrological forecasts and integrated water resources management in Central Asia, providing insights into Data Sharing of Hydro-Climate Information in Central Asia, and the digital assistant for operational hydrology (iEasyHydro HF), SnowMapper Central Asia, and opportunities for forecast service improvements in the region.

The session was followed by sister project Transcend and Dr Dionisio Pérez from USAL, highlighting the interconnectedness of initiatives aimed at holistic water management.

Dr. Thomas Ammerl (BayFOR) shed light on European research and innovation funding in green topics, emphasizing the significance of international partnerships, and the opportunities within the EU funds.

The assembly facilitated engagement and collaboration through participatory activities, including discussions on end-user needs and the alignment of DSS (Decision Support System) scenarios with WE-ACT partner capabilities. Mock-ups of DSS software tools offered tangible insights into ongoing developments, while discussions on regional data and model platforms helped in future technology advancements.

A panel discussion led by BayFOR provided a platform for sharing experiences on project management and EU reporting, offering valuable insights for WE-ACT partners and the upcoming reporting period.

Among a series of collaborative sessions, the visit from BWO SyrDarya and SIC ICWC was a standout moment during the WE-ACT General Assembly. Representatives from these prominent organizations took advantage of the chance to clarify their stakeholder and end-user needs and ambitions, providing light on how our collective solutions could be tailored to fit their individual requirements. They provided significant insights on potential ways to incorporate Decision Support System (DSS) technologies into their operational frameworks by delving into the subtleties of water management within their various domains.

The highlight of the WE-ACT General Assembly was the initial testing of serious game. This provided partners with a unique opportunity to experience the role of decision-makers and navigate complex water management scenarios across various sectors. The serious game was designed with a specific goal in mind: to explore avenues for valuing water and fostering a deeper understanding of its intrinsic worth.

Interactive serious gaming at WE-ACT General Assembly

Participants engaged in interactive gameplay where they faced simulated challenges and dilemmas mirroring real-world scenarios. From allocating water resources among competing sectors to implementing conservation measures in the face of environmental pressures, the game was a dynamic approach for decision-making and strategic thinking.

In conclusion, the WE-ACT GA served as a forum for knowledge exchange, collaboration, and strategic planning to address water management challenges in Central Asia.

 

Discussions and presentations during the General Assembly for WE-ACT

Two weeks ago, Brecht D’Haeyer, a part-time PhD candidate at Utrecht University and full-time colleague at FutureWater, joined the annual EGU conference in Vienna, where he presented his PhD proposal to fellow researchers.

Brecht commenced his PhD journey in March 2024 as an external candidate at Utrecht University, under the guidance of FutureWater and Wageningen University & Research. His research focus revolves around quantifying the intricate feedback mechanisms between climate change and the Water-Energy-Food-Environment nexus in the transboundary Syr Darya Basin. The Syr Darya Basin, characterized by its dependence on snow and glacial meltwater, presents a compelling case study for understanding the complexities of water allocation, particularly in mountainous regions. Brecht’s work, situated within the WE-ACT project, funded by the European Commission, aims to shed light on these critical interdependencies.

At the EGU meeting, Brecht took the stage to present his PhD proposal in the session titled HS5.2.1: “Water resources policy and management- managing trade-offs at the nexus between water, food, energy and the environment.” His presentation provided a comprehensive overview of his research objectives and methodologies, inviting valuable insights and discussions from fellow scholars.

Reflecting on the experience, Brecht expressed gratitude for the opportunity to engage with esteemed researchers in the field of Human-Water feedback systems. The exchange of ideas and perspectives, he noted, is paramount for refining assessment frameworks and advancing our understanding of complex environmental challenges.

 

Brecht D’Haeyer presents his PhD proposal at the EGU

 

 

 

Early in April, FutureWater participated in a pivotal workshop hosted by the prestigious Harvard Radcliffe Institute. The workshop convened experts to explore water productivity issues in Bangladesh, particularly focusing on the challenges faced by coastal regions grappling with water scarcity and salinity.

A key focus of discussion revolved around pioneering strategies aimed at bolstering resilience in irrigated agriculture, with an emphasis on harnessing the potential of satellite remote sensing technologies. Notably, FutureWater’s Irrigation Advisory Tool, SOSIA, garnered attention for its role in optimizing water utilization and enhancing crop yields amidst challenging environmental conditions. A tool which is currently further explored in the SOSIA+ project in Ghana and also applicable within the context of our MAGDA project.

However, amidst the promising technological advancements, the workshop underscored the critical importance of robust infrastructure and institutional capacity. Participants highlighted that while data-driven solutions offer immense potential, their efficacy hinges on foundational support provided by infrastructure development and governance mechanisms.

The collaborative nature of the workshop brought together a diverse array of participants, including representatives from NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the World Bank, and esteemed academic institutions such as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, FAO, Washington University in St. Louis, the Department of Agricultural Extension in Bangladesh and the University of Washington. Such interdisciplinary cooperation underscores the collective commitment to addressing complex environmental challenges.

Group picture

Nigeria as a country faces extensive Water Security Challenges (WSCs), from water availability and provisioning to water quality issues. These will become exacerbated by multiple future pressures, including huge increases in population and a changing climate. Oshun and Ogun catchments are located in the South West of Nigeria, in the same area as Lagos. These catchments face multiple challenges including unregulated groundwater extraction and poor sanitation infrastructure which compromise societal access to water.

NbS have the potential to contibute to addressing WSCs by increasing the overall resilience of the hydrological system, helping to increase infiltration to groundwater and buffer water quality issues. Alongside this, NbS can provide a wealth of co-benefits including carbon sequestration and increased biodiversity, complementing more traditional so-called ‘grey’ infrastructure such as pipelines and treatment plants.

Through extensive stakeholder consultation paired with GIS analysis and hydrological modelling, this project will help outline NbS which are best placed to address key WSCs, alongside identifying beneficiaries in the catchments of interest and existing parnerships in the catchment which are capable of delivering projects on-the-ground.

This work lays the foundations for the creation of so-called Watershed Investment Programmes (WIPs) in Osun and Ogun catchments, alongside the identification of further catchments in Nigeria which are disposed towards similar initiatives. WIPs aim to sustain and enhance the provisioning of key water-related ecosystem services by funding the conservation and restoration of lands that protect water quantity and quality. This is achieved through connecting downstream water users (e.g. water utilities, local governments, businesses, and the public) to upstream land managers (e.g. farmers and rural landowners). They unite these parties and others around the goal of enhancing water quality and quantity for societal benefits.

Stockholm World Water Week organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), witnessed active participation from various stakeholders last month. Among them, Brecht D’Haeyer, a dedicated volunteer and representative of FutureWater, contributed significantly to the event’s success.

Brecht played a crucial role in ensuring the smooth execution of the intensive week, which featured over 300 sessions. During his tenure as a volunteer assistant to SIWI, he had the opportunity to engage with a diverse audience, including former and current clients, consortium partners, and government institutes that have collaborated with FutureWater over the past two decades. These interactions provided a platform to discuss past project achievements and to explore promising avenues for research within the fields of hydrology and agricultural water management.

Several sessions during the event stood out for Brecht. The World Bank presented a session on the impact of the Ukraine invasion and the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam on irrigated agriculture in Kherson. Additionally, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) hosted a session on enhancing food security for small-scale producers through climate-smart water management. The talk show hosted by the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the UN Environment Programme focused on the restoration of lake ecosystems, highlighting their potential to deliver global-scale socio-economic benefits. Furthermore, sessions by FAO on the release and applications of WaPOR global and by the World Meteorological Organization on #HydroSOS showcased various models for visualizing and analyzing hydrological parameters on a global scale.

One of the key takeaways from the conference was the shared recognition of the challenges faced by the water sector, encompassing hydrology, water resources engineering, climate change, and water governance. The importance of open-source data, innovation, and the integration of the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus emerged as critical elements to address these challenges. Notably, these are all topics closely aligned with the curriculum and mission of FutureWater.

From June 19 – 30, FutureWater visited the IWMI Regional Representative Office for Central Asia in Tashkent as part of the Water Allocation Modelling within the WEACT project. The objective of this research visit was to gain insights into the water-related challenges under climate change and identify potential approaches to address these issues as well as understand national and regional data platforms relevant within the scope of the WE-ACT project.

During this visit, FutureWater engaged with team members from IWMI Central Asia. Together, they shared insights and exchanged ideas on how they can work together to achieve the goals of the WE-ACT project. In addition to collaborating, FutureWater and IWMI gathered with key stakeholders and institutes to improve their understanding on the region, to detail the user-mapping, and to discuss the water allocation knowledge gaps within the Syr Darya basin.

We were kindly hosted by the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia (ICWC), Basin Water Organization Syr Darya and their provincial branch office in Andijan, Uzbekistan Hydromet, and we had the pleasure of establishing a great working relationship with the Basin Irrigation System Authority for Andijan Region (BISA) who are responsible for water allocation within Fergana Valley, the main aquicultural region in the study area of WE-ACT. The stakeholders consulted during the research visits were incredibly engaged, ambitious, and ready to provide feedback during the discussions on water allocation challenges. We can’t wait to see the impact of our collaboration and the benefits it will bring to the region.

Big thank you to the staff of the IWMI Regional Office for Central Asia, specifically Oyture Anarbekov, Zafar Gafurov, and Sherzod Zaitov, for hosting us in their Tashkent. Together, we fostered our understanding of the region in terms of water allocation and identified main research opportunities for the Decision Support System.

FutureWater and IWMI staff

The development of the WEAP model for the Thika Chania catchment has come to a stage that it is sufficiently mature for being used over the next year to assess different management scenarios for the Water Allocation Plan. These management options can now be evaluated considering climate change impacts on water resources for different horizons, namely 2030 and 2050.

With this updated model, and the provided trainings, the Water Resources Authority of Kenya is now able to extract Climate Change data for different regions, set-up different WEAP models for different basins, and interpret the results for different time horizons.

The WE-ACT project, backed by the European Commission, is on a mission to revolutionize the allocation of water resources across borders by using digitalization tools for inclusive, forward-looking and climate risk-informed water allocation planning and management processes.   

In January, FutureWater joined the kick-off of the Horizon Europe funded WE-ACT (Water Efficient Allocation in a Central Asian Transboundary River Basin) project at the Technical University of Munich. During the kick-off, representatives from all the consortium partners were present. The WE-ACT project will change the game in transboundary water allocation and management by introducing a revolutionary Decision Support System (DSS) that optimizes shared benefits and enhances resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate. With a €5.2 million budget co-funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme, the project prompts a paradigm shift towards climate-sensitive water allocation systems and financing mechanisms. WE-ACT aims to establish a new standard for sustainable water allocation, particularly in a transboundary context where competition for shared resources is increasing, by showcasing its innovative one-stop shop Decision Support System (DSS). The project started on 1 January 2023 and over the coming four years, FutureWater will contribute to the determination of water allocation for the current and future climate by combining modelling work on water availability and water demand in the region as part of work package two which is led by University of Twente, the Netherlands.

Climate-sensitive water management is fundamental for sustainable development 

Water scarcity is on the rise, leading to major challenges in allocating water for various uses, quality, quantity, and time. In transboundary basins, where multiple countries and users have conflicting interests, the challenge is even greater. However, sustainable water allocation across borders is crucial, as 60% of global freshwater resources flow across national borders. 

The overarching goal of the WE-ACT project is to assist decision-makers in transboundary rivers in achieving equitable allocation of transboundary water among various sectors and users. This will be accomplished through the use of inclusive, forward-looking, and climate risk-aware water allocation planning and management processes. The project aims to enhance water policies, assign proper value to water, and involve stakeholders to ultimately reap the benefits of effective water allocation strategies. 

At the heart of the project is a digital decision-support system (DSS) that will provide water resources managers with a reliable and intuitive tool to understand, manage, and communicate management options. The DSS will be backed by a robust hydro-meteorological monitoring network and data supply chain that captures a thorough understanding of climate change on flow-regimes, water availability, demand, footprint, and allocation in a glacier-fed river basin in Central Asia, the Naryn and Kara Darya catchments, which span Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. 

The DSS and data supply chain will be aligned with an understanding of the water policies, financing instruments, incentives, and stakeholder priorities in the face of growing pressure from climate change, rising demand, and increasing economic dependency on water, particularly in the energy (hydropower) and agriculture (water-intensive crops) sectors, which puts additional strain on water availability for the environment. 

From information to impact: engaging stakeholders with competing priorities for climate-smart water allocation 

WE-ACT is leading the way towards equitable and sustainable water allocation through its innovative collaborative design of the DSS. The approach starts with a shared vision planning process, paired with thorough stakeholder analysis for optimal transparency and efficiency. Together with national and local decision-makers in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the project is evaluating existing cross-border policies and agreements, and developing flexible, integrated solutions for benefit-sharing in a changing water environment. The project is also shaking up conventional financing mechanisms, by examining pricing strategies, economic approaches, and the value of water for various groups and industries. The approach prioritizes social and environmental factors, considering the costs and benefits of key water services in a cross-border context. 

Dr. Jingshui Huang, researcher at the Chair of Hydrology and River Basin Management, Technical University of Munich (TUM) and WE-ACT Project Coordinator, commented: “In light of the looming climate crisis, we recognize the pressing need for innovative, flexible solutions to future-proof water allocation and management. We are focused on knowledge-based approach for managing water resources in transboundary glacier- and snow-fed river basins in Central Asia, where competition between hydropower and irrigation demands is intense. Our mission is to deliver a climate-sensitive decision support system, equipped with forward-looking, climate risk-informed tools that facilitate inclusive and efficient water allocation planning and management processes.”  

Coordinated by Technical University of Munich, the WE-ACT project brings together industry, policy, government, research, academic, technical and scientific leaders from Europe and Central Asia to collaborate towards the next generation of climate-sensitive water resource allocation planning and management. 

More information about the project can be found here.

Visit weact-project.eu  

Kickoff meeting

 

“How long do you irrigate per day?” we asked Madame Christine, a small-holder farmer with an eye for business. “Well, I used to irrigate for up to three hours every day, but not anymore. I can now double my fields under cultivation and sell more crops while using the same amount of water!” 

We received this reaction during our field trials in Zambia for our newly developed Satellite Open-Source Irrigation Advisory (SOSIA) tool. This tool was developed within the two-stage call for innovations based on open-source geodata launched by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO), which aimed at positively impacting food security and sustainable land and water management in Africa. In response to this challenge, FutureWater and Holland Greentech developed the SOSIA tool to help small and medium farmers make informed decisions about their irrigation practices. Because – while irrigation is a crucial aspect of agriculture, over-irrigation can lead to significant environmental problems, and it reduces profits for farmers. Using less water can lead the farmer to spend less time irrigating, having a lower electricity/fuel and water bill, improving the water productivity of crops and contributing to a sustainable environment.  

What is the SOSIA tool?  

SOSIA is a state-of-the-art, open source, satellite-based tool that provides both historical and near real-time information on irrigation water requirements for smallholder farmers, calculated based on open-source geodata and specific additional farmer and crop information. The tool was developed to overcome the often-limited ground data availability for calculating crop water requirements. The only data farmers can rely on are traditional weather stations, often far away from their fields. With the SOSIA tool, the farmer receives information based on open geodata for their location, by converting the spatial data into Virtual Weather Stations (VWS)!  

Seasonal and hindcasted irrigation information

The SOSIA tool provides a farmer with irrigation advice, expressed in minutes of irrigation duration, throughout the crop season. Before the farmer plants the crop, an extension officer of Holland Greentech uses the SOSIA tool to provide the farmer with their tailor-made seasonal crop schedule, which is an overview of expected irrigation minutes for the rest of the season, calculated based on the average evapotranspiration of WaPOR of the 10 years.

Figure 1. Graphical User Interface of the SOSIA tool, hosted on the Google Earth Engine platform.

As climate is changing, the average of the last 10 years does not always give an accurate depiction of what is happening in the field. Therefore, the SOSIA tool calculates the irrigation requirements for the last week based on open source geodata. The irrigation engineer uses this functionality on a weekly basis to make use of the actual climate data and informs the farmer only if additional irrigation is required, compared to the seasonal reference schedule.

Testing the SOSIA tool with farmers

To test the tool in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa, trials were set out in both Zambia and Rwanda with farmers from the Holland Greentech client base. The farmers were quite positive about the observed impact of using the tool. Many were surprised that the advice indicated less irrigation time than they were used to. While following the advice, the farmers also kept records of the realized number of minutes of irrigation, estimation of soil moisture and signs of drought stress. No farmer recorded any drought stress on the crops. The observations of the farmers showed that the crop performance of the SOSIA irrigated trial was visually the same as fields irrigated under their normal irrigation regime (Figure 3). The farmers were enthusiastic about this water saving, mainly because of the related decrease in electricity / fuel costs. For most of the farmers involved in the field trials, SOSIA reduced irrigation water requirements while optimizing yield.

Back to Madame Christine: she indicated that she usually irrigates her lettuce fields 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at the end of the afternoon. She was surprised that the SOSIA advise only advised her to irrigate in the range of 50-57 minutes daily. When applying the advice, she did not notice any drought stress in her lettuce crop, and the harvest was visually the same for both the demo and control field.

Figure 2. Conducting an interview with farmers in Zambia.

Benefits for extension advisors

Extension officers are the primary intended users of the SOSIA tool on a daily basis. During the piloting phase, the extension officers from Holland Greentech received the tool with great enthusiasm. They praised the user-friendliness, quality and spatial detail of the information, and efficiency compared to traditional methods to provide advisory services.

Conclusion

In conclusion, SOSIA is a valuable tool for anyone involved in irrigation management for small and medium farmers, particularly in an African context. By providing near real-time information on irrigation water requirements, it helps farmers to irrigate more efficiently and thus to realize a more sustainable use of water resources. By leveraging the power of open source geodata, costs are kept relatively low while access to a wealth of localized information is achieved. Initial results from the Zambia and Rwanda trials indicate that application of the SOSIA tool saves farmers water, electricity/fuel, time and improves the water productivity and, potentially, income!

Figure 3. Difference between the SOSIA Demo and Control plot at Sunripe Farm, Rwanda (08/11/2023).

 

Over the last decades, efficient water resources management has been an important element of EU’s water policies, a topic that is addressed with renewed attention in the revised 2021 EU Adaptation Strategy, which lists the need for a knowledge-based approach towards water-saving technologies and instruments such as efficient water resources allocation. The IPCC special report on oceans and the cryosphere in a changing climate (2019) highlights the combination of water governance and climate risks as potential reasons for tension over scarce water resources within and across borders, notably competing demands between hydropower and irrigation, in transboundary glacier- and snow-fed river basins in Central Asia.

WE-ACT’s innovative approach consists of two complementary innovation actions: the first is the development of a data chain for a reliable water information system, which in turn enables the second, namely design and roll-out of a decision support system for water allocation. The data chain for the reliable water information system consists of real-time in-situ hydrometeorological and glaciological monitoring technology, modelling of the water system (including water supply and demand modelling and water footprint assessments) and glacier mass balance, data warehouse technology and machine learning. The roll-out of the DSS for climate-risk informed water allocation consists of stakeholder and institutional analyses, water valuation methods, the setup of the water information system to allow for a user-friendly interface, development of water allocation use cases, and feedback on water use through national policy dialogues.

The work of FutureWater within the WE-ACT study will focus on estimating the water demand and water footprints of the different users and activities within the Syr Darya river basin. Therefore, the effects of water allocation on water footprints, unmet water demand and environmental flow violations will be evaluated using a set of hydrological models such as SPHY and Water Allocation models (WEAP). This will be done for both the status quo and future scenarios.

For more information you can visit the WE-ACT project website.