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Claudia Meisina, Researcher from Università di Pavia

Interview to Claudia Meisina (Università di Pavia)

There is a need to raise awareness of the need to take action to address the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: sanitation and water for all by 2030.

This 2022 has highlighted the importance of “Making Groundwater Visible” in the effects of the sanitation crisis since an inadequate system can lead to the spread of wastewater into rivers, lakes and soils, thus contaminating groundwater resources.

Today we talk to Claudia Meisina, from the Università di Pavia, about sustainable water management and its importance.

1. This year’s World Sanitation Day highlighted the importance of access to water sanitation, a human right recognized by the United Nations along with the right of access to water. What do you think are the main current challenges in these areas?

The main challenges are related to climate change: on the one hand, the increased demand for water due to low rainfall can cause a scarcity of water sources. On the other hand, heavy rainfall and flooding can damage water resources and sanitation facilities, carry runoff and waste into rivers and lakes, and contaminate the water supply.

Another challenge we are facing today is related to the lack of relevant information (e.g. groundwater levels, aquifer storage, recharge and pumping rates) that represents a critical drawback for an integrated and optimized management of water resources. This kind of knowledge is fundamental to in-depth understanding of the current status of the aquifer systems, in order to be able to identify the impacts of climate change on water availability, and set up adaptation and mitigation measures coping with future potential threats.

I would also like to point out the fact that water knowledge and research are often non-standardized, since water management involves different bodies at local, regional, and national levels.In this sense, close collaboration between the scientific community and the water managers is also another important challenge, because it enables the direct transfer of knowledge gained from research to the management practice.

2. What do you think should be the priorities in terms of water cycle management?

The compound challenges now faced by water planners require a new generation of more efficient aquifer management plans that address the broad impacts of global changes including natural and anthropogenic pressures on aquifer storage, groundwater-dependent ecosystems, and aquifer system dynamics (i.e. land subsidence, uplift and seasonal variations).

3. What projects are being carried out in these areas at the University of Pavia?

University of Pavia has several projects in these areas and is contributing to the promotion of sustainable development principles and awareness about environmental protection problems.

UNIPV coordinates the RESERVOIR project (sustainable groundwater RESources managEment by integrating eaRth observation deriVed monitoring and flOw modeling Results) that will provide new products and services for a fruitful and sustainable management of groundwater using Earth Observation technology. Four water-stressed Mediterranean areas (Coastal aquifer of Comacchio in Italy, Alto Guadalentin Basin in Spain, Gediz River Basin in Turkey and Azraq Basin in Jordan) have been selected as pilot areas. In these sites, agriculture is traditionally the most important economic activity, but it is being progressively replaced by urban and touristic activities, which also have a significant impact on groundwater resources.

UNIPV also coordinates the Project “CE4WE – Circular economy for Water and Energy” (Energy supply and water resources management in Circular Economy perspective) aims at maximizing the use of waste from the production of water to obtain energy. The project is funded by Lombardy Region “Research and Innovation Hub”. UNIPV collaborates in the LIFE DRIVE project “Drought Resilience Improvement in Vineyard Ecosystems’ ‘, that plans to address how to tackle the issue of concurrent meteorological drought and water scarcity, finding solutions for improved vineyard ecosystems resilience. This, to maintain competitiveness while lowering vineyard water footprint and making additional water supply unnecessary.

4. The European Union has several funding programs for innovation and research, PRIMA, which includes the RESERVOIR project. How is progress being made towards more sustainable management and exploitation of the water cycle thanks to these funding programs?

These programs enable a better interaction between the scientific world and the water manager.

New modeling routines for determining the basic components of the water cycle, including economic, social and technical aspects (e.g. groundwater accumulation and storage) are produced. The modeling approach will constitute a real supporting tool for the local and national water management bodies.

5. How is the University working to address groundwater-related challenges? Apart from the RESERVOIR project, which project or projects would you highlight?

University involves education and allows the increase of the awareness about sustainable development and environmental protection in the field of water resources management. The involvement of students in these activities helps to develop professional knowledge and skills. Therefore, University has a key role in promoting the importance and value of water resources through different levels of education, from elementary school to higher education and,also, to the wider public.

University also involves research activity and is working on new innovative methodologies for supporting the policy makers decisions.

I think that all the PRIMA projects involving water management would be good examples to be highlighted.

6. RESERVOIR has a multidisciplinary approach, based on the integration of remote data with numerical geomechanical and groundwater flow models. In this sense, how does innovation facilitate the integration of technologies in other sectors and what is the main benefit of doing so?

Gathering data from groundwater resources plays a relevant role in effective groundwater management and in the development of groundwater policies and laws. This should be a priority in water-stressed areas particularly. Earth Observation technology, produced and used in the RESERVOIR project, can help fill this gap by assessing and monitoring various environmental features associated with subsurface water resources at adequate temporal and spatial scales, with low-cost and non-invasive approaches.

Within the framework of the RESERVOIR project, the overall objective is to address the issues raised by the stakeholders through the implementation of effective strategies and including their perspectives in future activities. For example, in the RESERVOIR pilot sites, the stakeholder knowledge about the use of numerical models for groundwater management is restricted to application for long-term planning and water budget. RESERVOIR will help to develop groundwater flow models, formulating appropriate management scenarios by considering the transient state of the aquifer to support decision-making on groundwater exploitation.

7. In the current context of climate emergency, what role should the different social actors, administrations, etc. adopt to jointly advance the climate agenda? What needs and/or opportunities do you detect from the University?

University has the opportunity to inspire cooperation, technology development, and encourage new and innovative ways of thinking. University contributes to the EU strategy by improving the scientific knowledge transfer from water research studies to the managers of the water resources. Nevertheless, there is the need to improve the interaction between the scientific community and the water managers. In this sense, more work has to be done in order to develop working groups involving the different actors of the water cycle.