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Interview to Guadalupe Bru (IGME)

Today we meet Guadalupe Bru, a researcher at IGME (Geological and Mining Institute of Spain). Guadalupe also participates in the RESERVOIR project that seeks to develop a sustainable groundwater management model. We talked to her about the importance of sustainable management of water resources, especially groundwater, to make this “invisible” resource visible.

1. World Sanitation Day was celebrated on November 19 and valued 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 challenges in these matters today?

I believe that the biggest challenge is not to compromise the reserves, as well as the quality in the medium and long term, of this fundamental resource for life. We must work so that universal access to water arrives as soon as possible and, at the same time, guarantee the protection of aquifers, rivers, lagoons, wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems.

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

Globally, the priority is that all people have access to safe water. In Spain we are facing the challenge of reducing resources, which is why we should establish greater control in the extraction of groundwater. It is necessary to estimate the water reserves and calculate the impact of its extraction. All external actions on a natural system, such as aquifers, will have repercussions and may also trigger effects on other ecosystems. For this reason, it is essential to study the functioning of these systems and how they are related to the rest, as well as to guarantee their protection and conservation.I believe that, as a society, we must change the paradigm, evaluate our true needs and adapt in a really efficient way to the natural environment. We must protect finite resources and stop seeing our environment as a mere source of goods for our consumption.

3. Among the multiple areas of research, aquifers and groundwater in Spanish territory are studied at the IGME. What projects are being carried out in these areas?

There are several research groups within the IGME Department of Water and Global Change that are currently carrying out various projects. Among them, to mention “REACT (Research Group on water resources and related ecosystems in the framework of climate and world change)”, “HYDRO-Lab (Responding to the challenges of Water and Global Warming: Environmental Hydrogeology and Research Group of Global Change)” and “GIHAGS (Research Group on Applied Hydrogeology and Shallow Geothermal Energy)”.

There are also other groups, such as “Mineral and Thermal Waters” and “Earth Observation, Geological Risks and Climate Change (OBTIER)”. The latter is the one I am currently working on.

At OBTIER we work on groundwater within the framework of the challenges of climate change and where we are also currently developing the RESERVOIR project.

To cite some of the international scale projects at IGME, RESOURCE aims to demonstrate the potential of harmonizing information on groundwater resources in karstic aquifers in Europe, as well as generating a pan-European scale map.

Another very interesting project is NBS4WATER, which presents nature-based solutions for the resilient management of the hydrological cycle in mountain areas, and which studies the traditional water management systems of the Sierra Nevada. Multiple studies are also carried out on the operation of the hydrological systems of the Iberian Peninsula, climate change scenarios and the creation of methodologies and operational tools for water control.

4. The European Union has several funding programs for innovation and research, PRIMA, where the RESERVOIR project is framed, in which IGME participates directly. How is progress being made in achieving a more sustainable management and exploitation of the water cycle thanks to these financing programmes?

In the specific case of the RESEVOIR project, the objective is to generate groundwater deformation and flow models that help improve the management and exploitation of aquifers. Numerical models give us very valuable information, such as the capacity of the aquifer to store water, in which areas the extractions have a greater effect, or if the ground is compacting.In addition, they allow us to make future predictions against different scenarios. These models are complex and we need quality and representative input data (such as the number of wells, extraction volumes and piezometric level measurements) to be able to calibrate them, in such a way that they perform simulations as close to reality. The models give us quantitative information about the impacts of the extractions, the associated risks and the state of the aquifers. All this knowledge and information will be transferred to the groundwater management agencies so that, based on this, they can take the measures they deem most appropriate.

To guarantee that the transfer of the project results is adequate, the first thing that was done was to identify the needs and requirements of all interested parties (irrigation and livestock communities, management bodies, supply companies…).

In addition to flow models, we are integrating ground subsidence measurements into models that simulate aquifer deformation. The measurements have been obtained through techniques that use SAR-type satellite images. We want to identify the areas in which subsidence is taking place (something that does not happen in all overexploited aquifers); and how it evolves over time. The combination of flow models and deformation models in coupled models can reveal very relevant information, such as the loss of water storage capacity in compacted aquifers.

5. In the current climate emergency context, 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 IGME?

The role of science is to continue advancing knowledge about complex natural systems, the interactions between them and the degree of impact of human actions. It has the responsibility of transferring all this knowledge to the Administrations, which are in charge of decision-making and who face the challenge of having specialized technicians to ensure the effectiveness of this transfer.

If we want a committed society, it is necessary to educate, from an early age, in science and in the importance of conserving, respecting and adapting to the natural environment. All this requires political and social involvement and, of course, financing.

6. IGME, as an organization dedicated to the investigation of Spanish geology, has important research work and the generation of knowledge of great value for the scientific community and for society. How is the transfer of knowledge to the different actors carried out? And, once the knowledge is transferred, how does it transcend to projects that seek to offer solutions to these problems?

Most of the data generated by the IGME (such as geological cartography, databases or inventories) are open for consultation and download from the institution’s website.

I believe that the free and open data policy is essential for collaboration and the advancement of knowledge. In addition, the IGME receives queries from the Administrations; and maintains agreements and collaboration projects with other public Institutions and companies. Perhaps the most common example of the importance of the products generated by the IGME is the geological and risk cartography, consulted in the geological-geotechnical studies of all civil works projects. Another more concrete example of transfer regarding water management would be the hydrogeological advice from the IGME to the Hydrographic Confederations, Provincial Councils and the General Directorate of Water itself (DGA).