Hydro Nation: annual report 2021

Records the development of Scotland's Hydro Nation policy agenda and reports on progress since the publication of the seventh annual report in 2020.

Knowledge sharing and capacity building activity

Covid-19: Surveillance, recovery and conflicting challenges

With the persistence of COVID-19 and the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 into 2021 following predictable wave patterns and attendant mutations of the virus, the need for observatory data and surveillance continues. While recovery from the pandemic still includes a lot of individual testing, a need for community level prevalence data is now essential as we move into the endemic phase. While office buildings are empty, or partially empty, the full impact of continuing measures have not fully been felt yet and there is a danger that this may impact on the drive to net zero in the coming years. Engineers and policy decision makers will need to skilfully navigate the combined challenges of, for example, the need to increase ventilation in buildings whilst reducing energy usage in buildings.

At Heriot-Watt University, work led by Professor Michael Gormley has continued to work extensively in measuring virus prevalence in the community. In a piece of research sponsored by the Scottish Government Hydro Nation and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and managed by CREW, the team set out to establish a methodology for very near source monitoring of the extent of infection in people in specific buildings through the novel approach of capturing aerosols and droplets in naturally occurring airstreams found in sanitary plumbing systems inside buildings. The results of the covid-19 surveillance work, now published by CREW, established the protocols for detecting viral RNA in aerosols and droplets and suggested the optimal location for detection equipment.

The hypothesis is that when a toilet (which contains faeces, urine, or vomit of a person infected with SARS-CoV-2) is flushed, the virus will be present in aerosols generated within the system and so, will then be carried in the system airstreams. Sampling the airstreams will capture the aerosols, which can be tested for the presence of viral RNA. The work established that detection of viral RNA from sanitary plumbing systems is possible and could form part of the on-going surveillance efforts for SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, particularly where source questions arise, for example in care homes, prisons and university halls of residence. This information can then be used as part of the suite of surveillance tools used to inform public health policy. The next phase of this work – piloting in real buildings – will commence soon.

Scottish Industry Directory

During the year Scottish Enterprise commissioned Optimat to create a publicly available supply chain directory for the water sector in Scotland. The database is searchable by company name, technology area or by geography. Over 500 companies are already listed making this a valuable tool to help project developers and procurement managers to source Scottish based companies for construction or to access materials, equipment or new technology.

Hydro Nation Scholars

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme supports PhD student research on cutting-edge water challenges and aims to develop the water leaders of the future. These studies help to create new expertise within Scotland and build its international profile and global alumni. Hydro Nation Scholars Programme PhD projects are highly relevant to the objective of the Hydro Nation policy agenda - to develop the economic, environmental, and social value of Scotland's water resources. The PhD projects span industrial application, socio-economics and value, governance, climate change, resilience, rural economies and environmental, physical, ecological and hydrological mechanisms and impacts and innovation across the water sector (see Annex C).

In the reporting year 2020-2021, 20 Hydro Nation scholarships were in progress at eleven Scottish Universities by scholars of thirteen different nationalities, of which four scholars successfully completed and joined the growing Hydro Nation alumni (14 in total). The most recent alumni include; Dr Nandan Mukherjee "Integrated River Basin Management Framework Under the Lens of Loss and Damage" (University of Dundee), Dr Valerio Cappadona "Can Wastewater Treatment Plants Cope with Future Nanoparticle Loading Scenarios" (University of Strathclyde), Dr Bhawana Gupta "Tackling the Challenge of the Water Food Energy Nexus in India and Scotland" (University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute), and Dr Lydia Niemi "Pharmaceutical Occurrence, Distribution and Degradation in Rural Wastewaters and Surface Waters in Scotland" (University of Highlands and Islands).

There continues to be a close ongoing relationship between the Hydro Nation Scholars (and their academic supervisors) and external communities, including the wider water industry in Scotland and the key governmental institutions who have responsibility for aspects of water policy, regulation and governance. The Covid-19 pandemic has been highly disruptive to the work of the scholars, especially those with projects involving international work. As such the programme has been working with the scholars individually to support them throughout this challenging time.

The One Health Breakthrough Partnership

Developed in 2017, the One Health Breakthrough Partnership (OHBP) brings together key regional and national stakeholders across the water, environment, and healthcare sectors who are committed to addressing the issue of pharmaceutical pollution in the environment. Four agencies make-up the steering group; Scottish Water, SEPA, NHS Highland and University of the Highlands & Islands Environmental Research Institute, with associate members including Scottish Higher Education Institutes, businesses, and social enterprises.

The Scottish Government Water Industry Division provided funding to the OHBP in 2020-21 for a dedicated co-ordinator to drive forward the work of the Partnership. This has enabled a number of achievements including:

  • Improving the visibility and 'brand' of the OHBP through establishment of a website, logo and promotional and communication materials.
  • Prioritising and enacting recommendations from the CREW Phase I baseline study of pharmaceuticals in the water environment, and contributing to the Phase II study with SEPA to develop an interactive data visualisation tool by winter 2021;
  • Developing and delivering the OHBP innovation seminar "One Health, Water, and Pharmaceutical Pollution in Scotland". This included creation of high-quality online course materials, as part of the international Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) One Health network online course and conference;
  • Publishing the Caithness General Hospital pilot study conducted in Wick, Highlands as a case study with the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), and as a case study with Healthcare Without Harm;
  • External recognition through winning a VIBES 2020 Scottish Environment Business award, and being selected a finalist in the "Making a Difference" category of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021;
  • Engaging with the private sector through regular Project Oversight Group (POG) meetings with members of the water, environment, healthcare, and prescribing branches of the Scottish Government to discuss the need for a Pharmaceuticals in the Environment (PiE) policy statement and programme.

The Hydro Nation Virtual Water Pavilion: COP26

The Hydro Nation Virtual Pavilion provided an online go-to portal for water-related COP26 news and events, as well as an online showcase of the Hydro Nation and Net Zero journeys. It ran alongside the main COP26 conference from 1st-12th November 2021.

The Virtual Pavilion was created to target a broad audience - both international and domestic, experts and the general public – with the aim of capturing the global audience seeking to know more of Scotland's expertise and delivery and to identify waters-related events during the conference. The Hydro Nation Virtual Water Pavilion had a dedicated website with a number of accompanying three-dimensional virtual tours, each focused on a theme related to the Hydro Nation strategy, as well as collated information on all waters-related activities planned throughout COP26.

World Water Day – 22 March 2021

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was agreed that an in-person event would be inappropriate. The James Hutton Institute instead provided a virtual world water day event space so that stakeholders could discuss the important theme of "Using water wisely". The website provides showcases of relevant themes such as innovation and blue-green infrastructure.

Centre of Expertise for Waters

The Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW), supported by the Scottish Government and delivery partners, seeks to inform and steer water policy by delivering objective and robust research, and expert opinion. The Centre has contributed to the development of a range of Scottish/UK/EU policies and implementation strategies, and continues to serve Scotland's legislative Hydro Nation agenda.

Delivering research to address policy needs

In particular, CREW has delivered outputs supporting policy including:

  • National surveillance programme for Covid-19 RNA in wastewater. Bringing together scientists and collaborators to understand the presence and infectivity of COVID-19 in wastewater as part of the Tracking SARS-CoV-2 via Municipal Wastewater project.
  • Feeding into the development of Sector Plans to support the delivery of SEPA's regulatory strategy – One Planet Prosperity. In particular, the Sector Plans for 'Water supply and wastewater', 'Finfish Aquaculture', and 'Crop Production'.
  • Evidence from a range of CREW projects was instrumental in Scotland's response to the consultation process for the third six-yearly River Basin Management Plan under the (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD; 2000/60/EC, OJEC, 2000). Plans for implementation of the RBMP will be guided by the timely delivery of the report - Lags in water quality response to diffuse pollution control measures: a review.
  • Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 was laid before the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Ministers under Section 52 of the Flood Risk Management Scotland Act (2009) in January 2021, citing research from Dynamic Coasts, Impacts of Flooding in North East Scotland, Quantifying Rates of Urban Creep in Scotland.
  • Dynamic Coast (Phase 2) continues to support the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and multiple strands within the Climate Change Adaptation Plan (SCCAP1 & 2), Terrestrial Planning Policies (NPF3 & 4) and Marine Planning Policies (National and Regional Marine Plans). Important evidence from Dynamic Coast was presented for public sector duties under the Flood Risks Management Act (via SEPA and local authorities) and supported Scottish Government's Marine Licensing Team, in their licensing for harbour dredging. Furthermore, the project (Phase 1 & 2) contributed to a portfolio of evidence that led to a £12 million boost for coastal change adaptation that was announced in the Programme for Government (September 2020). Outputs from Dynamic Coast (DC) 2 will be used to prioritise actions on the ground during its implementation 2022-23.
  • CREW engaged in several consultations including: UK Water Innovation Strategy that sets out a vision for transformational change across the water sector (in anticipation of the recently initiated Ofwat innovation fund).

Given the challenges of a rapidly changing world, CREW has broadened its delivery to address the cross-cutting needs of stakeholders. This includes the impacts and mitigation of climate change, land use and increased urbanisation, how to promote the circular economy, resource efficiency, post-COVID/green recovery, the move to net zero, and a just transition for communities.



Back to top