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New CRP: Isotope Techniques for the Evaluation of Water Sources for Domestic Water Supply in Urban Areas (F33024)


São Paulo, the biggest city in the western and southern hemisphere, is an example of megacities facing water scarcity around the world. (Photo: https://goo.gl/n83e4v )

Following up from an IAEA Technical Meeting in 2017, a new coordinated research project (CRP) is being launched in the field of water resources assessment. The project—planned to last four years (2018-2021)—seeks to improve methods of assessing and managing water resources used for domestic water supply for cities.

Development of large urban centres (especially megacities) is causing major health and water security problems around the world. Examples include intensive pumping and economic costs, overexploitation of local sources, water quality deterioration (wastewater from domestic and industrial uses, leakages, etc.), and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions resulting in water and vector borne diseases. These impacts have heavily disturbed the local water cycle (water balance, interactions, water quality), and new approaches are required on a local, regional, and global scale to address these issues and to sustainably exploit groundwater as a key resource in drought conditions.

Understanding the vulnerability of freshwater sources to pollution is crucial for water managers to improve water security. In this context, environmental isotopes have become a well-established and reliable tool in many fields of hydrology, as isotopes can provide important information to water managers for assessing sources and interactions between water bodies. However, these particular strengths of isotope techniques are nowadays not yet fully exploited for assessing the urban water cycle, and there is still a strong development potential in this field of application.

The provision of water for domestic supply in urban areas is indeed complex and usually involves many sources (i.e. groundwater, surface water, and in some cases seawater. Against this background, this project aims to assess the usefulness of environmental isotopes to better investigate the sources, pathways, and interactions of water bodies within the urban environment, and to evaluate how this information can be used for securing an adequate supply of good quality water for the urban population. Specific questions we are aiming to address are comprising (but are not limited to):

  • Can the different components of the urban water cycle be characterised from their different isotopic signatures?
  • How can such unique isotopic signatures best be used to better define sources, pathways, and interactions of water bodies in the urban environments?
  • Can pollution problems caused by point or non-point sources in urban areas more readily be identified using a multi-stable isotope approach in combiniation with conventional hydrochemical data?

Beyond the immediate scope of coordinated research, the case studies to be conducted as part of this CRP will provide a unique platform for expanding the use of isotopic techniques to TC projects that are assessing water sources for domestic supply in urban areas.

CRP Overall Objective:

This CRP aims to develop, test, and integrate new capabilities and methodologies in Member States so they can better assess, map, and manage water resources that are used for domestic water supply in urban environments.

Specific Research Objectives:

  • Improve the assessment of freshwater resources for domestic supply using environmental isotopes for evaluating and mapping sources, pathways and interactions of water bodies in urban environments.
  • Develop and improve capabilities in the understanding and interpretation of environmental isotopes to predict the availability and quality of freshwater resources for domestic supply.
  • Develop best-practice guidelines on integrating environmental isotopes to assist water managers in the planning, designing and management of freshwater resources for domestic supply in urban environments.

How to join the CRP?

Please submit your Proposal for Research Contract or Agreement by 31 March 2018 directly to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the form templates on the CRA web site (preferably via email).


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