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Broadening the conversation on water: UCD Earth Institute gets the ball rolling on Earth Day

Publication Date: 23 April, 2015

 

“There is no point arguing about paying for water or how it is supplied if there is not enough to go around in the first place,” says Prof Michael Bruen, UCD Earth Institute PI and Director of the UCD Dooge Nash Centre for Water Resources Research at the School of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. Speaking to RTE’s Mary Wilson on Drivetime on Earth Day 2015, 22nd April, Michael painted a stark picture of water rationing and interruptions to supply within the next 5-6 years unless we change our behavior. In Ireland, and particularly on the east coast, water supply and demand are very finely balanced, and any increase in demand will have swift consequences. In rural Ireland there are often issues with the quality of the supply. Each case needs to be addressed, but Michael cautions against Ireland taking too local or isolationist a view of the problem. “Water is a global issue” he says, “and it is impossible to talk about it without mentioning climate change…climate change is happening and this means there will more extremes in terms of droughts and in terms of floods and unfortunately it will be the poorer countries that will bear the brunt of it.”

This global perspective on water was very much to the fore in the award winning documentary Watermark which was screened by the UCD Earth Institute in conjunction with UCD Science Expression to mark Earth Day 2015. The film showed the stark contrasts between areas where water was abundant, either because of human intervention in the case of dams or agricultural irrigation, and those where water has dried up completely leaving previous fertile areas arid. Water is so essential for every aspect of life on earth and the elements of the water cycle are so interconnected that we can no longer ignore how activity in one part of the globe has a significant impact on another.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Science Spin’s editor Sean Duke. Michael Bruen also participated here, and was joined by Dr Eileen Culloty of DCU who is working on an EPA-funded project exploring how Climate Change is covered across various media platforms, and Vanessa Daws, a UCD Artist in Residence who enjoys a strong relationship with water, which emerges through her work. While it is sometimes tempting to believe the issue of water supply and sustainability is too large for any one person or country to address, an attitude Eileen sees as prevalent in society, Michael was quick to point out that everyone can make a difference. He notes that Ireland has had a long and distinguished history in contributing to both the technical aspects of water management through hydro-engineering, but also the policy dimension through our role as trusted international brokers and lobbyists: “We can become resilient to this,” he says, but it will require a willingness to look at the broader picture and not just what affects us as individuals. “Irish people have shown a definite willingness to change their behavior when we know there is an environmental benefit to be gained.”