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On UN World Water Day 2024 our special guest blog comes from Scotland Hydro Nation Chair, Professor Andrew Tyler. Professor Tyler argues for a wider understanding of our collective responsibilities in sustainable water management and explains the disruptive nature of his role.

Prof Andrew Tyler with multi-sensor equipment

Photo: Jeff Holmes (University of Stirling)

Scotland’s identity is epitomised by plentiful water supporting wild, lush and productive lochs and glens.

Behind this identity, collectively we manage water and wastewater across one third of the UK’s land mass characterised by some of the most diverse natural and economic landscapes, from remote island communities to our industrial heartlands. Yet, the accelerating pace of climate change, which we experience through the increasing frequency of floods separated by ever more intense periods of drought, is impacting the equity of water supply and effective wastewater management.

This threatens the resilience of businesses and communities, drives biodiversity declines, carbon losses and impacts our food security. However, water is central to the Green Recovery, driving opportunities for energy and resource recovery, and the circular economy. Despite this, water often receives only tacit recognition in policy and planning, and there is little awareness in society of their role in the future of sustainable water management.

Delivering and going beyond net zero is therefore a moral imperative. The solutions for net zero must go hand-in-hand with climate adaptation and innovation that addresses the ambition of a just transition that delivers wider prosperity and supports a flourishing Scotland.

Meeting these challenges requires disruption of the status-quo of water management. Disruption includes the need to tackle the complex interaction of climate and land use changes through natural systems for water and wastewater management at the catchment scale, and not always focussing on the end of the pipeline. We can only achieve this by breaking down siloes, aligning the complex jurisdiction of water management, and bringing the research and innovation (R&I) community together to accelerate interdisciplinary delivery of solutions. This summarises the key role of the Hydro Nation Chair (HNC) programme, funded by Scottish Water through the Scottish Funding Council.

As Scotland Hydro Nation Chair, I am charged with bringing thought leadership, novel opportunities and an accelerated pipeline of solutions to Scottish Water, supporting their ambitions to achieve and go beyond Net Zero by 2040. The programme was awarded to the University of Stirling in December 2021, with myself, Prof Andrew Tyler, appointed as the Scotland Hydro Nation Chair in June 2022.

I am supported by a Programme Management team; Two Innovation fellows, leading on Place and Technology innovations, business development manager (ETP) and three Research Leader Fellows, from across Scottish HEIs. Together we lead the charge to support the realisation of Scottish Water’s Net Zero ambitions.

Through its Crucibles, Catalyst Fund, strong network of national and international collaborations and the leverage of external funds, the HNC Programme is building an agile R&I community responsive to the needs of Scottish Water. While hosted by the University of Stirling, the HNC is committed to being institutionally agnostic and prides itself in the breadth of community it has harnessed across Scotland and beyond. The programme is facilitating new capability deployed at scale, through next generation digital water observatory (Forth-ERA), hydro social observatory (LPIP) and other technologies deployed in SW’s assets.

These initiatives are delivering new opportunities for change and clean growth. Since launching the programme at World Water Day in 2022, the HNC programme has brought in state-of-the-art technologies to establish the carbon emission baseline and supported 25 early R & I projects that deliver next-generation solutions, including the development of bio-electrical filtration technology, resource recovery and circular economy technologies, and water efficiency solutions. In driving transformational change, the programme has leveraged over 3 times the initial £3.5 million investment.

The Hydro Nation Chair R&I Programme, is the first of its kind, and continues to evolve and flex to the needs of Scottish Water and the wider water sector. Following the first two years of operation, the HNC programme has realigned its priority themes. We continue to invite collaborations and approaches of solutions and ideas that support this delivery. If you have an idea that you wish to discuss, please reach out via hydronation@stir.ac.uk and the programme management team will be in touch.

Today, we are excited to join colleagues and peers from across the water industry to celebrate World Water Day, at Scotland’s celebrations, which is proudly hosted by our partner Hydro Nation International Centre, and supported by the Scottish Government. An annual occurrence, initiated by the United Nations in 1993, World Water Day provides an opportunity to highlight water; to celebrate it and the developments within the industry; and to connect with colleagues from across the water spectrum from which conversations can lead to viable solutions, improvements and benefits that provide solutions beyond net zero.

We wish everyone marking World Water Day, a constructive and collaborative experience that sheds light on the world’s most precious resource, water.

Professor Andrew Tyler, Scotland Hydro Nation Chair, 22 March 2024