From the Centre to the Consortium: Capacity Development in Water Quality Monitoring and the WWQA

16 June 2023 (dfouser@ucc.ie)

From its beginnings in 2019, the World Water Quality Alliance has recognized the vital role that water quality monitoring plays in our collective endeavour to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems for both human and non-human benefit. It has also recognized that, despite the advances of scientific tools and techniques, there remains a critical gap in human capacity to monitor water quality. Enter the Capacity Development Consortium (CDCm), the WWQA’s workstream aimed precisely at this gap. It seeks to develop a platform by which those seeking knowledge and guidance in water quality monitoring can connect with those offering the same; this platform will facilitate the coordination of national water agencies and local water authorities, NGOs, aid agencies, water training institutes and researchers, and individuals themselves as we collectively seek to develop the empirical foundation in global water quality that is a necessary—but not sufficient—ingredient in improving water quality.

It is a daunting task, but not an unfamiliar one. The CDCm is headed by UNEP’s GEMS/Water Capacity Development Centre (CDC), which has blazed this trail since the organization of the Global Environmental Monitoring System in the 1970s. From its home at University College Cork in Ireland, the CDC has conducted a vast range of educational and training activities. On one end of the spectrum of materials offered by the CDC are the free-to-all, open-source short courses via UNEP’s eLearning platform; these cover core topics in freshwater quality monitoring programme design and quality assurance, monitoring of lakes, rivers and groundwater, and monitoring using freshwater biota and particulate matter. On the other end of the spectrum are the CDC’s most advanced programmes: a Postgraduate Diploma in Freshwater Quality Monitoring, and a Master of Science in the same, provided under the aegis of University College Cork’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. In between those two poles are in person workshops, summer schools, continuous professional development courses, and more. Most recently, the CDC has focused particularly on the problem area of data handling and management, conducting a scoping report to identify where precisely further training can improve how we use global monitoring data. New courses to address this are under development as you read this. Through its various programmes, the CDC has trained hundreds of students in nearly 120 countries around the world, and its alumni today hold key positions in the water sector in dozens of countries where they not only apply but propagate the expertise they have developed.

The CDC, then, provides a template for the WWQA’s CDCm. Think of the CDC as a proof-of-concept. Can the capacity to effectively monitor the world’s freshwater quality be expanded through training and education? Absolutely. Now, the key is to expand that model to incorporate a wider number of content contributors, and to thereby reach an even larger audience. This, fundamentally, is the aim of the Capacity Development Consortium, to open up the provision of educational and training material to the many allies working together in the WWQA. The potential here is vast: CDCm contributors can offer materials in many more languages, and they can produce content relevant to the specific needs of certain ecologies or waterbodies that face particular challenges due to their historical and/or social contexts. We can expect to see, via the CDCm, content useful at a wide variety of different scales, incorporating some of the newest methods of water quality monitoring while also shoring up our mastery of tried and true techniques.

But not only is the potential to develop capacity vast, it is also profoundly necessary. After all, as UNEP recognized in 1972 and the WWQA reaffirmed in 2019, knowing the quality of water, monitoring it and assessing it, is an essential component to improving it.

Written by David Fouser

Note: A version of this article appeared in the WWQA newsletter Yemaya in July, 2023, here.