Catchment Risk Assessments using Multi-Scale Data (CARISMA)

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


The CARISMA project (Catchment Risk Assessments using Multi-Scale Data) aims to address issues of data scarcity in catchment water balance assessments through integrating independent sources of information from community-led monitoring (hydrological 'citizen science') and recent developments in remote sensing. The project focusses on two study areas in sub-Saharan Africa, in Ethiopia and Tanzania, where such problems are particularly acute, but aims to develop a more generally applicable methodology.

Many catchments or river basins undergo water stress due to a combination of over-abstraction, changes in land-use, or climatic variability and changes. Water stresses may be felt as long-term trends over whole catchment areas, but more often are seen as episodic events such as seasonal or multi-annual drought, and may be spatially located in certain river tributaries or sub-catchments. It is then difficult to identify the underlying causes of water stress, and how particular groups of water users could contribute to potential solutions, if insufficient data are available in the right place and at the right time.

Our recent research has demonstrated the viability of community-led monitoring to provide credible key hydrological information to improve understanding of surface and groundwater resources, and that multi-level governance approaches are a feasible way of addressing water management policy. Our work has shown that data-sharing platforms (such as 'Environmental Virtual Observatories' or 'Decision Theatres') have potential to help integrate and present information is ways that support decision making at all levels, but their design needs to be user-driven to facilitate their adoption. These emerging paradigms open up new opportunities for better environmental management, but require participatory development of open and transparent systems for integration of multiple sources of information to provide successful outcomes.
This project aims to build on our previous research by co-developing with partners and stakeholders in two catchment in Ethiopia (Abay River Basin Authority) and Tanzania (Rufiji River Basin Authority) a prototype data integration and presentation platform that will quantify key hydrological indicators of catchment water balances at spatial scales appropriate to developing sustainable water management policies and practices in water-stressed catchments. Indicators relevant to stakeholder groups representing community, ecosystem, business, and governance interests will be identified using a participatory approach.

The proposed platform uses publicly available remote sensing data for spatial assessments of key hydrological components, particularly rainfall and evapotranspiration, and community-led low-cost monitoring of ground-based variables (including rainfall, river levels and flows, and groundwater levels) to complement available formal monitoring networks. Evaluation of how uncertainty in each component can contribute to overall understanding of water balances will be assessed using a standardised water accounting modelling framework. This can then support better quantification of contributors to catchment water scarcity, to inform multi-stakeholder decision making. Understanding of uncertainty reduction from the different data sources will provide the basis for guidance on appropriate design of monitoring networks, and evidence to support a risk-based approach to water management.

The project output of a prototype data platform will provide a key step towards our partner WWF-UK's strategy of working towards a generic capability for developing and sharing better hydrological data to underpin their global activities, particularly through their Water Stewardship Programme. Close involvement of WWF-Tanzania in this project will provide a tangible first step towards this goal.

Planned Impact

The outcome of CARISMA will be delivery of proof-of-concept of an operational approach to integrating local scale participatory monitoring with larger scale formal hydrological monitoring (including remote sensing) to provide immediate benefits of:
(a) better quantification of key water availability indicators relevant to water users and to environmental protection;
(b) better estimates of confidence levels in catchment water balances taking consideration of data uncertainties to support water allocation decisions and risk-based water management.

These innovations will enhance the capability of river basin authorities which are the institutions charged with delivering the IWRM-Water Governance agenda and will therefore enable them to deliver quality of life improvements resulting from better regulation of scarce water resources.

Legacy and long term sustainable impact are important considerations. In co-design of the project in collaboration with WWF both partners recognise that our ultimate vision of having an accessible data platform that any non-specialist stakeholder in any location can generate readily usable hydrological data cannot be achieved through this project alone. However, we view this work as a key first step and are committed to further develop this work beyond the life of this particular project.

The two study sites in Ethiopia and Tanzania are seen as priority river basins where IWRM concepts are being applied in developing capabilities for effective water governance. Existing in-country collaboration between the respective Basin Authorities (Rufiji, Abay) with WWF (Tanzania) and IWMI (Ethiopia) has allowed for effective communication in co-design of CARISMA and will support further development in these locations beyond the life of this project. Furthermore because each Basin Authority is strongly linked with a parent ministry - the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Tanzania and the Ministry of Water Irrigation and Energy in Ethiopia - there are clear pathways for CARISMA findings to be disseminated as methodological templates of best practice for participatory resource management. Beyond Ethiopia and Tanzania, we will actively work to promote uptake of CARISMA outputs through with continental -- African Network of Basin Organizations ( -- and global -- the Global Water Partnership ( - resource management knowledge hubs.
Rural people in study sites will benefit from improved understanding of the water resources which underpin their agriculture-based livelihoods. This will empower them to collectively manage the shared water resource at the community level and to understand trade-offs between competing demands on scarce water resources from upstream and downstream users (including environmental flow requirements). In the long term this will be the most important outcome of CARISMA, because hydrological contexts (basins) in which stakeholders presently have the least quantitative tools with which to manage their water resources are also likely to be those which suffer the most from extreme fluctuations in water availability.

Previous and on-going work by Newcastle, Imperial and IWMI has delivered impact through shared learning at community level at pilot study sites. The opportunity now exists to deliver wider impact by (i) demonstrating the reliability and value of data derived through citizen science in this context, (ii) demonstrating the replicability of the results and ease of transferability of the methodology, and (iii) collaborating with river basin organisations in embedding this knowledge within IWRM practice.

CARISMA will be a valuable addition to the limited documented experience of citizen science as an adjunct to participatory resource management initiatives in less-developed countries. It will legitimise citizen science as an integral component of IWRM and embed the practice within the partner river basin organisations.
Description Approaches to Citizen Science involvement in hydrological monitoring investigated and developed
Combined use of data from monitoring and satellite based remote sensing for catchment water balances investigated
Prototype interactive web system developed to provide access to catchment data and monitoring tools
Technical guidance developed for use by local organisations in monitoring catchments
Exploitation Route The outcomes have provided a central part of a £20M funded GCRF project on Water Security and Sustainable Development, led by Newcastle University
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

Description Informing land use management for Government-based national projects in Ethiopia
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description GCRF Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub---------
Amount £17,762,850 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S008179/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 05/2024
Title Carisma Water Management Toolkit prototype website and hydrological model 
Description A prototype software integration platform / water management toolkit to allow multiple stakeholders within a river catchment to visualise and interpret hydrological information from community-led monitoring, remote sensing, and modelling outputs. (please contact to get the website password) 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact This prototype web product is one of the foundations supporting development of a data integration platform in the £20M GCRF Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub (ESRC ES/S008179/1), with implementations in Columbia, Ethiopia, India and Malaysia. The hydrological modelling tool is also undergoing further testing and use in Ethiopian catchments by MSc students co-supervised by International Water Management Institute (IWMI). 
Description Abay Basin Authority, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Workshop meetings with staff from Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity. Outcomes included project co-design, implementation of field programmes, forward planning for long-term impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Citizen Science workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Series of regional workshop events, PI as initiator/main organisor: "From Catchment to Coasts: a north-east networking event on public engagement with environmental research". Attendees included regulators, Rivers Trusts (3rd sector organisations), who were closely interested and engaged, and have subsequently become directly involved in research-related activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Ethiopia workshop, April 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 27 people attended a workshop, to co-design the project activities, aiming to ensure that outcomes are relevant and likely to be taken up by policy-makers and practioners in Ethiopia and the wider region
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description International Association of Hydrogeologists Annual Symposium 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote presentation and paper, Parkin, G. 2018, "The Citizen Hydroscientist - Benefits and Challenges for Hydrogeology", International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) Irish annual conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Tanzania Carisma inception workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Approx 25 people attended a workshop, to co-design the project activities, aiming to ensure that outcomes are relevant and likely to be taken up by policy-makers and practioners in Tanzania and the wider region
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017