The Water Centre research project was launched in the middle of last year under the leadership of the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute. What can be expected from this project and what are the ambitions of the project? – An interview with Mr. Tomáš Urban, director of the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute
The Water Centre has started its activities and the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute is the leading organization, the so-called main beneficiary with the greatest responsibility. What are the goals with which the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute enters the project?
The Water Centre, together with other researchers in the programme of the Ministry of the Environment entitled “Environment for Life”, allows us to start a truly comprehensive approach to the solving of significant problems of water management and public needs related to water. The aim of the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute is to connect stakeholder organizations and experts within the centre, use their knowledge and skills and in the long term find answers to questions concerning the water needs of the population, services, agriculture, industry and, of course, nature. Current effects of climate change, manifested in our country with several years of drought, are being emphasized. It is clear that partial solutions need to be combined into one functional unit. The Water Centre can be the basis of such a competence centre.
What is your perception of the composition of the Water Centre? After all, it is somewhat diverse. Research institutes, universities, other institutions.
It is this diversity that makes it possible to gain a different perspective and innovative approach. The past dry years have shown us that existing practices and work styles which have been sufficient for years may no longer work and a different approach is needed to confirm or suggest a new path. The multidisciplinarity of the Centre and the interweaving of many disciplines is an opportunity that can bring a synergistic effect, which can create more than just the simple sum of the work of its members. The idea of the Environment for Life programme, of which the Water Centre is a part, is based on a multidisciplinary approach to environmental solutions. And because water is needed in some form in all areas of the environment, our Institute has been involved in virtually all parts of the programme. And vice versa, our Institute has the ambition to reach out to other organizations through the Water Centre.
Which part of the Centre's activities do you consider to be central or most important?
As I have already mentioned, we would like to address all aspects of where our society and the environment need water but we need to start somewhere. Six years of drought gave us a fairly clear indication of where to focus our efforts and last year, which was very wet, did not change that direction. So it is necessary to address the drought. However, last year reminded us that we must not forget the opposite extremes, where, on the contrary, there is a lot of water. We cannot retain water effectively and we still have little groundwater. We need to protect aquatic and other animals and strengthen biodiversity. We are the roof of Europe, all our watercourses start in our country, and yet we have problems with water quality. Therefore, it is difficult to choose the central activity.
The Environment for Life programme of the Ministry of the Environment identified key areas on which the Centre should focus in the first years of its activities but it is designed to lay the foundations for such a centre that could in the future manage complex projects solving problems that will be considered important.
Do you also expect international cooperation of the Centre?
That is a commonplace for the current style of scientific work. Without foreign contacts, it is not possible to reach and further develop the European level of inputs into scientific activity. Unfortunately, the current epidemiological situation, the cancellation of conferences, workshops, and restrictions on movement between states create obstacles for us. However, we are building the centre with a long-term perspective, so we firmly believe that we will be able to actively connect with foreign entities and together with them work on topics related to water crossing our borders.
Will the Centre also be an opportunity for young researchers?
One of the goals of the Centre is to involve young scientists and, through universities, also students interested in starting a scientific career and dealing with attractive topics related to drought, the relationship between water and society, or water and nature. The work has a long-term focus and young researchers are not dependent on obtaining their own grants, which is difficult for them at the beginning of their careers. For example, they can also get acquainted with project management and gain experience that can be used for their further development. However, the Water Centre does not and will not have its own legal personality, so potential applicants would be employed directly by our research institute or our partners. But this allows them to work on other interesting projects or build their scientific careers in a direction that does not favour only water.
How do you envisage the continuation of the Centre?
I perceive the Water Centre as the basis of a knowledge hub or even a competence centre for water management in the Czech Republic with an overlap to Europe, a place where experts will have the opportunity to meet and find partners, a place that does not aim to "know everything" but can prepare solutions to complex problems that await us in the future in water management on the basis of good cooperation with other leading workplaces.