Statement on water data coordination for water research
The hydrological sciences community is setting up a task team under the leadership of the Water Research Commission (WRC) to investigate and come up with recommendations regarding current challenges related to the collection of water data.
This is one of the main outcomes following a workshop, hosted by the South African National Committee of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (SANCIAHS) and the WRC in collaboration with the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), in Pretoria, to examine the current status of data collection and access in South Africa. Around 140 participants, including water researchers, practitioners, water resource managers and decision-makers participated in the workshop held on 1 October 2012. With presentations from main data collection agencies, namely DWA, the South African Weather Service (SAWS) and the Agricultural Research Commission (ARC), workshop participants evaluated the state of present observation networks, storage and access to data, as well as investment in data collection.
Despite the availability of modern, high-power hydrological models, spatially representative, long-term consistent records of rainfall and streamflow data remain essential for achieving a high level of understanding about water resources. Of great concern to the South African hydrological sciences community is that all data collection agencies are reporting a decline in their gauging networks as a result of budget cuts and staffing challenges. The fact that payment is now required to access some national data collection networks also affects hydrological science efforts.
Recent investigations revealed that the number of useful streamflow gauges in the country has decreased from a peak of 450 in the late 1980s to less than 350 in 2004. The number of weather stations has been reduced to around 1 800, with some water management areas now having less than half the number of stations open than was the case in 1920. Maintenance is reported as one of the main reasons for a declining in data networks, with the ARC, for example reporting an annual budget of only R1,4-million to operate and maintain its 600 weather stations.
Presentations from the data collection agencies confirmed that the perceived decline in data observation networks is real and that the situation is more critical than initially thought. This lack of investment in climate and water data collection is ironic in view of the country’s water scarcity and high rainfall variability that will possibly be worsened by climate change realities. Additionally, it will be practically impossible to manage the country’s water resources if there are no data collection efforts (of long-term, continuous datasets) to inform water resource management interventions.
For more information:
Prof Graham Jewitt (Professor of Hydrology, School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal)
Tel: (033) 260 5490
Mr Wandile Nomquphu (Research Manager: Water Research Commission)
Tel: (012) 330-0340