UpStream: Using Participatory approaches to instigate improvements in water quality

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering

Abstract

The UpStream project aims to improve water quality in the UK and Taiwan by working with citizens to gather data, share knowledge and experiences, and develop new technologies. Motivated by environmental issues already identified by the public, this participatory project will increase connectivity and action across a range of organisations and community groups.

Both the UK and Taiwan have problems with pollution of rivers. Across Europe, laws state that river water quality should not be impacted by human activity, but latest assessments suggest that just 38% of waters meet this standard. In Taiwan, rapid industrialisation and economic growth have had an impact on water pollution. In 2016, 65% of Taiwanese rivers were classed as moderately polluted. As economic growth stabilises and society evolves, attention is shifting to water quality issues; tighter water quality standards have been set and are incorporated into the government's Forward-looking Infrastructure plan.

In both the UK and Taiwan citizens feel strongly about water quality, and have founded local community action groups to instigate improvements. The UpStream project aims to improve water quality in the UK and Taiwan by creating an innovative partnership between these community groups and a range of academic and non-academic organisations to gather data, share knowledge and experiences, and develop new technologies.

The project partners from Taiwan (Academia Sinica, NTU and Location Aware Sensing System (LASS)) are experts in creating innovative technology with citizens that leads to real environmental improvements. They have developed low-cost air quality sensors that are now installed in 4,000 locations across Taiwan, and that feed into apps to help citizens avoid air pollution. Our UK partners at Newcastle University, Rain++ and RPS are experts in mobilising citizen science to address water problems. They have worked with the public on water issues in the UK and internationally for over 15 years. Our new and unique partnership will combine Taiwanese expertise in co-creating technology with citizens with UK expertise in water to empower citizens in both countries to improve water quality. Lack of water quality data to identify sources of pollution is a common problem in both countries, and our project aims to fix that.

Benefits and direct outputs of the activities planned through the project will include:

-Community groups will benefit from technical advice and a new, international support network.
-A natural legacy for citizen-led environmental management through the involvement of students and community groups.
-The involvement of tech start-ups that can provide insights into water quality, through their inclusion in the project team (LASS, Rain++, FondUS).
-Any data or tools created through the project will follow open data protocols, making them accessible to local communities, interested researchers and businesses. The co-production of data (evidence) and tools will empower community groups to manage their local environment alongside relevant organisations after the project has ended.
-Policy makers and regulators will have access to the open data collected through our project and will participate in talks through the project, helping to initiate change.
-A prototype data visualisation and analysis tool, to aid understanding of water quality issues.
-A scope for follow-on work, to continue the work of our unique partnership.

Whilst the legislative and societal contexts differ, Taiwan and the UK (and beyond) share common challenges with river pollution. Both have citizens that want to get involved and see change. The UpStream project aims to help by bringing together citizens with academic and industry partners for knowledge-exchange and long-term support.

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