The magazine Água e Meio Ambiente Subterrâneo published an interview of two pages with IGRAC Director Neno Kukurić. This bimonthly magazine is an initiative of the Brazilian Groundwater Association, Associação Brasileira de Águas Subterrâneas (ABAS).
The 41st edition of the magazine has been distributed during the XVIII Brazilian Groundwater Congress that was recently held in Belo Horizonte. In total, 5000 printed copies of the magazine were distributed throughout Brazil to consultants, regulators, universities and members of the Brazilian Groundwater Association.
An electronic version of the magazine is available online, click here for the PDF-file on the ABAS website. Since the interview on the ABAS website is in Portuguese, an English translation is given below.
"Taking care of groundwater all over the world"
What is IGRAC?
IGRAC, the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre facilitates and promotes international sharing of information and knowledge required for sustainable development, management, and governance of groundwater resources worldwide. IGRAC is the UNESCO Global Groundwater Centre, working under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization and cooperating closely with the International Association of Hydrogeologists. IGRAC is financially supported by the Government of the Netherlands and is located in Delft, the Netherlands.
IGRAC was founded in 2003 in order to improve our knowledge on global state of groundwater resources. Since a groundwater assessment requires data and information, IGRAC's main task has been on data and information sharing and processing. This has led to the development of a Global Groundwater Information System (GGIS), an interactive, web-based portal to groundwater-related information and knowledge. The system also encompasses the Global Groundwater Monitoring Network (GGMN) dedicated to collection, processing and understanding of groundwater monitoring data.
Can groundwater professionals working in Brazil get involved?
Some Brazilian groundwater professionals are already involved in IGRAC's activities. Thanks to this cooperation there is a link between GGMN with the Brazilian groundwater monitoring network RIMAS, operated and maintained by CPRM. By sharing groundwater data internationally, Brazil is setting an example in Latin America.
Another main activity where Brazilian colleagues are involved and can become involved is the assessment of transboundary aquifers. IGRAC is particularly keen to improve knowledge on internationally shared aquifers; political, institutional, socio-economic, cultural and other differences among countries make the assessment and management of internationally shared aquifers very challenging. Guarani, one of the largest aquifers in the world, is shared by Brazil and its neighbours. Some substantial steps towards common assessment and management of Guarani have been made in last couple of years. This experience is potentially very useful for international groundwater community, to be replicated in other parts of the world.
What is the importance of monitoring groundwater resources? Is the cost justified?
Groundwater is in most parts of the world an extremely important natural resource, more important than most of us realise. About 50% of the world's population is drinking groundwater every day, from major cities to rural villages. Groundwater also supports agriculture by providing large quantities of irrigation water, especially in zones with rather dry climate where crop production without irrigation is not possible. Moreover, groundwater plays a key role in keeping ecosystems sustainable and sometimes as well in maintaining a suitable environment for human settlement. In conclusion, groundwater is of paramount importance for meeting our primary needs.
And because it has such impact to our daily life, it's crucial to monitor both quantity and quality of groundwater. Groundwater related problems such as pollution or scarcity are difficult to control and often even irreversible. Therefore, it is important to anticipate and recognise these problems in due time and to implement appropriate measures to control or mitigate them without delay.
Groundwater monitoring is often considered expensive, including the capital cost (of network installation), sampling costs (for instrumentation, personnel and logistics) and analytical costs (for laboratory, data processing and storage). Moreover, the return on initial investment is not likely to be evident immediately. Yet, in the longer run, this return can be substantial where monitoring represents an integral part of a management process and avoids loss of valuable groundwater sources, the introduction of costly treatment or the need for expensive aquifer remediation. Awareness of these factors increases when a cost-benefit analysis is included in the design phase of groundwater monitoring programmes.
To ensure that groundwater monitoring is cost effective, it should be driven by a clear objective, the density and frequency of observations being optimised and data collected systematically stored and processed.
What are the main challenges to properly monitor groundwater resources? What can be done to deal with these challenges?
Globally, there is still a lack of available groundwater information and a unwillingness to share groundwater data, which hampers assessment and informed water management internationally. Just like many groundwater professionals, we strongly believe that sharing knowledge and experience on groundwater matters on a world-wide scale is an effective strategy to identify and promote optimal approaches to the assessment, development and management of groundwater resources. Global water networks and related information systems could increase international data availability and harmonisation of national water policies.
Another challenge is a lack of well-trained groundwater professionals on the ground. Even if policies are in place and the needed information systems are available, a development often stagnates because on a local level there is still a lack of the knowledge and skills needed to deal with groundwater monitoring and assessment.
What do you expect to be the major changes in how groundwater is monitored in the future? Do you see any promising technique or trend that could change the way we deal with groundwater resources?
The fast development in information technology offers possibilities to improve data collection, increase data reliability and simplify remote data sharing and analysis. The use of remote monitoring technology, such as data loggers and telemetry, reduces the need for multiple visits to sites and enables more frequent and customised monitoring for specific events. The remote sensing (satellite) data provide complementary information of groundwater storage changes over large regions. Nevertheless, new technologies provide only a part of an enabling environment: we need increased international cooperation to make an optimal use of technologies, collected data and our knowledge.
Do you have any suggestions or career advice to young groundwater professionals?
Working on global groundwater problems needs hydrogeologists with a strong technical background. However, groundwater management involves both technical and non-technical aspects. Bridging the gap between science and management (or rather governance) is a key to improve overall management of groundwater resources.