PATHWAYS and evolution of pollutants: Interactions between physical controlling effects, microbial community composition and pollutant biodegradation

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


PATHWAYS brings together a multidisciplinary team crossing technology, systems thinking and society to aid the understanding of water quality. The project undertakes fundamental research, through to end-user delivery. We will develop new insights, approaches and technologies that support the needs of end-users to provide protection for communities and ecosystems using co-designed and appropriately applied technologies. We will do this, by developing improved, validated decision support tools to address the requirements for the protection and enhancement of natural water quality. This will inform end-user decisions made by environmental regulators and policymakers, engineering consultants and water utilities.

The proposed study will employ a range of novel fundamental research approaches, including laboratory and field tracer studies, data interpretation and simulations, to ascertain the pathways and evolution of pollutants within a range of flow domains. In order to do so, the programme will investigate water quality characteristics paying special attention to the relationship between a number of critical parameters including physical, chemical and biological variables. The characteristics of the microbial communities in river water and sediments (microbial diversity) and their pollutant-degrading potential will be assessed and how they are affected by physical and chemical controls such as: boundary (biofilm and permeability), shape (cross-section and planform), and nutrients (reactive nitrogen and phosphorous) in four flow domains: rivers, lakes and wetlands and near-shore in the Ulhas River / Thame Creek Catchment (Mumbai Metropolitan Region, India). This will elucidate how direct discharge and diffuse scenarios affect interactions between physical controlling effects, microbial community composition and pollutant biodegradation rates.

Our approach is unique in that the design and implementation of the technology is informed through understanding of local community, where an appropriate solution or systems structure is not presumed. The accessibility of robust low-powered sensors, communication technologies is providing great opportunities for locally orientated data collection focussed on community concerns. Using a citizen science approach, these advances can be used to develop efficient, user-friendly water monitoring strategies and systems based on innovative technologies, providing authorities, communities and other end-users real-time data.

Planned Impact

This proposed study is in line with the draft Indian National Water Framework Bill, 2016 is essential to improve fundamental understanding of pathways and evolution of pollutants. Key beneficiaries will be consultant engineers, managers, local authorities and government agencies responsible for water quality, but most importantly the 2 million citizens in Thame City. The recent public statement from the United Nations: Sustainable Development Goals of universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 and improved water quality through reducing pollution and restoring water-related ecosystems by 2030, have been made. This emphasises the need to improve understanding of the sources, transport, transformation, interaction and fate of pollutants and highlights the need for this study. We regard not only the dissemination of results in leading academic journals and international conferences, but also engagement of stakeholders essential to the success of the project.

The PI recently organised a British / Council Newton fund Impact Workshop on "Disaster Management & Emergency Response to Flooding" (DMERF), 7th-13th August 2016 Almaty, Kazakhstan. We propose a similar type workshop to be held in India. A 5-day international workshop will be organised at IITB in month 30 of the project to bring scientists from the project, and Policy Makers together, to discuss the relevance and findings of our project. We will focus particularly on the implications of our findings for the pathways and evolution of pollution. We will also engage with communities outside the core proposed study area and stimulate knowledge exchange, for example engaging with modellers such as the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator from the Met Office and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Bending), flood modeller (CH2M - Pearson) and Mike 3 WQ (DHI - Pearson). We will test the success of the workshops by seeking feedback from attendees on their structure, content and usefulness. Additionally, we aim to publish at least one article in the popular media aimed at this group e.g. Air, Water and Environment International or Planet Earth. This will focus on the pathways and evolution of pollution, the aims of our project, and our preliminary findings.

A fundamental objective in PATHWAYS is public engagement. A challenge for all governance models is the public trust in solutions. By using our in country partners Thane Municipal Corporation, we are building on an existing trusted pathway to the community, and the 'pull' from them to help them tackle India's water quality issues. Working at the community level, social media and web-tools are a very effective communication mechanism that has rapid and deep outreach. As we have done in recent projects, we will use press releases and a specific project website/twitter feed to share our outcomes with the public nationwide. At our recent Kazakhstan workshop, we used Twitter messages using the #KazFloodResponse, which reached an audience of over 60,000 people around the world in only 5 days. We will liaise with communications departments at Warwick and in India to ensure that their expertise is used to prepare press releases to achieve effective local and national dissemination and impact.