Water has always been important. The perception of its importance is closely linked to episodes of too much, too little, or the wrong quality. Climate change, urban growth, and agricultural intensification are just three examples of pressures that are contributing to an unprecedented global awareness of the importance of water.
On my way home from the AWRA conference in Orlando I sat next to a fellow on his way home from the IAAPA Expo (International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions), which had taken place at the Orange County Conference Centre the same week. Even though he slept for most of the 7 hours we sat next to each other, I did learn a thing or two while he was awake. There were 35,000 people at the amusement park convention and the expo was so large that the distance to walk around all of the vendor booths was 9 miles! It is hard for me to grasp the scale and the meaning of this. There were, perhaps, 500 water professionals who could afford the time and money to come to the AWRA, a significant turnout for water professionals in North America.
The Riverflow 2016 conference had a full session on recent research in image-based measurements and video analysis. It is exciting to watch innovation in process as these researchers learn to exploit the capabilities of emerging consumer technologies. Never mind that the primary use of these technologies is so that people can instantly share their sense of place in the ‘real world’ within the virtual world where they really spend their lives. Without the billions of people motivated to lay claim to their physical existence with photos and videos, the technology for water monitoring using digital imaging would neither be accessible nor affordable.
Almost everything we know about our global freshwater resources is due to the humble stage-discharge rating curve. The vast majority of all flow data ever produced is the derived result of a transform from a variable that is easy to monitor continuously (stage) to a variable that is impossible to directly measure continuously (discharge). This means we are dependent on rating curves for advancements in hydrological science; for flood forecasting; for drought management; for engineering designs that provide us with physical safety, transportation, water supply and waste disposal; for water management policies and decisions that ensure energy and food security.
By 2050, a world population of 9 billion will require 60% more food. The security of our global food supply is highly reliant on adequate water supply. According to the United Nations, “agriculture is the biggest water user, with irrigation accounting for 70% of global water withdrawals.” While the global population is growing, water supply is not. So to meet 2050 food demands, it’s important we learn to better utilize limited water resources for optimal agricultural production. Today’s irrigation districts are being smarter about water use!
Water monitoring is a place-based activity. The work is wherever the water is, which is all over the planet. A stream hydrographer can cover a very large geographic area so regional offices typically only concentrate a small number of hydrographers at any one location and there are many locations. Water monitoring agencies have limited resources available to develop specialized training material or to send hydrographers on specialized courses so the most prevalent mode of career development is on-the-job training.
Last month was a busy one for water news. The biggest story of the month has to be that 2015 was the hottest on record. This is true globally with the WMO reporting that 2015 broke all previous records by a strikingly wide margin at 0.76° C above the 1961-1990 average. This marks the first time that global temperatures have been 1° C above the pre-industrial era.
Incremental change is an insidious thing. Like a frog in a pot of water on the stove it can be difficult to know what is going on when your attention is moment-to-moment. It could be that from day-to-day there is no noticeable change but year-to-year there is major change and decade-to-decade there is transformative change. The business of water monitoring is vastly different than when I was in the field.