IWA Specialist Group on Hydroinformatics deals with application of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to water resources, hydraulics or hydrology. However, it is not just a simple application of ICT to water related problems. The best analogy with which to explain the relationship between ICT and Hydroinformatics is probably the relationship between telecommunication networks (which can be, and on the trivial level most often are, applied to telephone conversations) and added value networks, such as those providing access to WWW servers. The former are only a low cost material support to the latter. Hydroinformatics provides a symbiosis, and even a synergy, between ICT and water science and technologies with the objective of satisfying social requirements.
The “social requirements” are real: the more that society becomes aware that it depends upon water, the more it understands that water is central to sustained development at the level of a country and even a subcontinent. These problems go beyond hydraulics and hydrology. While until recent decades, hydraulics and hydrology were determining these questions; now these problems largely transcend the sphere of influence of hydraulic and hydrology. On the one hand, the concept of “stewardship” exercised by humanity (that is, its responsibility for the conservation or sustainable management of natural resources) has shifted the decision-making power from hydro engineers to politicians, ecologists, NGOs, the public in general, and the media. On the other hand, the technical ways in which investment decisions are transformed into projects and the everyday technical management of water systems are more and more determined by corporations such as water companies, by basin authorities, etc.
Classical hydro engineering (hydraulics, hydrology and related research), seen from a corporate or political point of view, together with meteorology and water quality, deals with “just” one aspect of the total problem. As a consequence, the results of hydraulic research, as well as core modelling software, are ever more rapidly “encapsulated” and in such encapsulated forms integrated in larger systems or “added value networks”. They have to be seen in the context of a more comprehensive exchange of information concerning the real world water-based assets and the interests and intentions of their various stakeholders.
The rationale and purpose of hydroinformatics is to develop a new relationship between the stakeholders and the users and suppliers of the systems: to offer the basis (systems) which supply useable results, the validity of which cannot be put in reasonable doubt by any of the stakeholders involved. We are only in the initial stages of this process. Hydroinformatics changes the way in which hydraulics, hydrology and water resources studies generally are applied in society. In order to achieve this, hydroinformatics places itself deliberately on the market for products and services in this area. Water is a commodity of high market value. So are information and the means to manage information. There are already specific means for the “ICT merchandising of goods” and these are currently oriented towards the management of water and connected resources in a project involving several major European hydraulics institutes. Hydroinformatics deals with these specific goods, this market and, increasingly, this specific way of marketing.
Hydroinformatics is a technology built around developments and applications of systems which are, for their users, objective systems. A tool is objective if the users are involved in its definition, if they can easily understand the results and use them, if they have the possibility to input their own hypotheses into the system and see the consequences – as well as to show these to other stakeholders. Thus, for example, a hydroinformatics system of managing agricultural pollution in a catchment basin demonstrates the consequences of different cultural practices. If the tool is objective, the stakeholders might criticise a hypothesis of cultural practice (hence policies) leading to undesirable results, but not the tool. Thus the tool creates a possibility of negotiation and trade-offs based on merit and not on irrational sentiments.
The systems with which we are concerned include not only physical, chemical and biological processes, but also social, including cultural, economic, political, sociological, legal and other such aspects. The hydroinformation correspondingly always works in a team, and may indeed create the sociotechnical means through which the team functions. A hydroinformatics system has to liaise with all these factors through the inclusion of its users. The users become part of the system.
Hydroinformatics is limited to aquatic environments, to water and all with which water interacts. It is a technology, not a science, and we know that technologies often change more rapidly than sciences. Meanwhile it gives to hydraulics and hydrology a chance of synergism with ICT and thus avoids the situation of being simple suppliers of solutions or modelling software to be encapsulated. Socially, such “simple” encapsulations might be disastrous to professionals and institutions in this field because, on the one hand, would not guarantee the scientific quality of the encapsulated material and, on the other hand, it may lead to the death of hydraulic and hydrological research, i.e. to ending all progress in our field. The social roles of hydroinformatics within IWA might thus be expressed as those of “proper encapsulation” and “creating a synergy between ICT and hydraulics and hydrology”.
In 2016 and onwards, our group will continue to contribute to and organize major international conferences and workshops on hydroinformatics around the world, will produce publications to achieve wide dissemination of shared experiences and new knowledge, and will aim to offer solutions, best practices, and roadmaps to hydroinformatics challenges faced in different parts of the world. Our flagship Hydroinformatics Conference (HIC2016) will be held in Incheon, South Korea, 21-26 August 2016 (www.hic2016.org). We also support our Journal of Hydroinformatics (http://www.iwaponline.com/jh/default.htm) and contribute to the discussion of the Hydroinformatics Community on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/grp/home?gid=3772188).