Formal and Informal Short Courses
The first Short Course on the Fundamentals of Groundwater Resources was conducted in April 2013 over a 4-day period at Khon Kaen University (KKU) and was attended by 29 team members and invitees from within Laos and Australia, as well as a number of trainers (KKU-GWRC, 2013a). As the first substantial course of its kind to be carried out specifically for Lao attendees, it sought to instill the participants with the basic principles of groundwater science and management. Formal lectures were combined with practical demonstrations of well drilling and testing and visits to the groundwater technical service centre of KKU to gain exposure to a range of field equipment. Practical problems in Laos were discussed with the experienced trainers from KKU-GWRC and IWMI, and teams and plans prepared for future activities in Laos.
Results from the feedback questionnaire showed that more than 89% of the participants found the format and content of the Short Course useful but more than 80% of the participants needed more time to expand their knowledge on groundwater development and management. More practical exercises and field work were requested in future Short Courses.
The second Short Course on Groundwater Modeling and Application was carried out in November 2013 over a 5-day period at Khon Kaen University (KKU-GWRC, 2013b). Being a specialist course building on the first course, only 9 attendees were specifically selected from the 5 national partner institutions: NREI (3), NUOL-FWR (3), DWR (1), DOI (1), NUOL-FES (1). The main objectives of the Short Course were to introduce the participants to the theory behind groundwater modeling using MODFLOW Flex; to provide several examples of hands-on-exercises with developing Visual MODFLOW models; and to introduce groundwater management by numerical modeling techniques with case studies. The main achievement was the passing on of basic knowledge on groundwater modeling and application to the participants as well as encouragement to proceed further on this topic. A compilation of technical materials such as lecture notes and essential articles were provided to all participants.
In the months following the groundwater modeling short course, attendees were given the opportunity to present their ideas to the trainers on how to apply the new knowledge in the research project and their work more generally. However, when no individual or partner institute self-initiated or requested support to carry out a modeling study of this kind, it became clear that the short course was no ‘game changer’. As intense and as well received as the course was, it was clear that any one-off effort was inadequate to build capability to a sufficient level. This was a valuable lesson learnt by the trainers. Plans to conduct a third major course on advanced groundwater management were cancelled, and instead, priority and effort given to developing a local community of practice in the field of groundwater modeling.
Between September 2014 and early 2016, six follow-up trainings/workshops with the modeling group have been held (in Vientiane, Nong Khai and Khon Kaen). The main aim of these trainings is to support and encourage national researchers who are working on groundwater issues, whether at a basic or more advanced levels.
For example, since the first follow-up trainings began, NREI has led the development of a conceptual groundwater model for the Vientiane Plain. The MODFLOW model represents the best available understanding of the aquifer characteristics, boundary conditions and groundwater utilization, providing a good foundation for addressing future management issues. However, NREI has yet to reach the stage of conducting modeling independently, and would still require some level of external support.
KKU-GWRC (2013a) Short Course on Hydrogeology I: Fundamental of Groundwater Resources. Proceedings of the First Short Course held at Groundwater Research Center, Faculty of Technology, Khon Kaen University, Thailand, 22-25 April, 2013, 219p (summary report also available).
KKU-GWRC (2013b) Short Course on Hydrogeology II: Groundwater Modeling and Application. Proceedings of the Second Short Course held at Groundwater Research Center, Faculty of Technology, Khon Kaen University, Thailand, 4-8 November, 2013, Volume 1 – Lecture Notes; Volume 2 – Laboratory Exercises).
Pre-Project Training in Australia
During the formulation stage of this project, IWMI was successful in raising funds from the Crawford Foundation (Australia) to send 3 Lao nationals from the partner organizations to Adelaide, Australia from 19-28 March 2012 to attend the Australian Groundwater School organized by the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) for discussions with academics at the major Adelaide universities. The participants from NREI, NUOL-FES and NUOL-FWR gained technical knowledge of groundwater which can be widely applied in the future to development challenges in Laos. With increases in groundwater use expected, proper and sustainable ground water use and management should be planned and implemented. Concept notes were prepared in advance by the participants and were discussed with potential research supervisors with the expectation that this would lead to more detailed proposals being developed linked to funding. The knowledge gained during the training was expected to directly contribute to work undertaken during this project and to the implementation of the National Integrated Water Resources Management Support Program (NIRWMSP). The training provided a useful initiative in terms of capacity building and future cooperation between the public sectors in Laos with the ground water-related institutions in Australia. Two project team members are undertaking or soon due to start PhD studies at NCGRT universities.
Two project team members (from IWMI and NUOL-FWR) attended a regional training in late 2013 organized by IRD (L’Institut de recherche pour le développement) at the Houay Pano watershed in Luang Prabang province, to gain experience on water flow, particularly on stream discharge measurement, estimation of soil moisture and bulk density, estimation of soil infiltration and permeability, and groundwater and stream water interaction, using simple and more advanced methods.
A one day study tour and training was led by IWMI and organized with the Natural Resources and Environment Institute (NREI) on 2 November 2015 as the final component of a two week National Groundwater Training Program organized for the National Integrated Water Resources Management Support Program (NIRWMSP). In total, 45 people from various faculties/departments from NUOL and numerous government departments participated in the tour/training in the Nam Panai watershed in Vientiane Province. The participants had exposure to the hydrogeological conditions in the area; drilling and testing tube wells for irrigation; monitoring of aquifer properties, groundwater levels and water quality; exposure to a community managed tube well irrigation pilot and privately managed dug well irrigation for cash cropping; household level groundwater use assessments; and community management of groundwater. Verbal feedback from the attendees was positive in helping to better understand practical aspects in contrast to just the theoretical learning within the classroom. It was intended as an experience that may inspire government officers and students to pursue a career in the groundwater sector.
Trainings have been provided by IWMI staff to government officers from the Dept. of Water Resources, NREI and NUOL to monitor various environmental variables that are being used in their daily work. Undergraduate students from NUOL have been provided on-the-job-training by IWMI on soil and water quality testing. An IWMI agronomist who joined the project in February 2015 has been based at the Faculty of Water Resources of NUOL (formerly WRED) for 40% of his time, working closely with lecturers and students to help build-up their research capacity.
A study tour of Sumsung district, Khon Kaen province was included in the program of the first Short Course in April 2013. All course members and trainers were in attendance. The tour/excursion yielded a number of important benefits for the project, then in its early stages:
- observing field hydrogeological conditions suited to the development of groundwater resources for irrigation purposes;
- learning about good practices in groundwater management as applied to irrigation projects;
- exchanging and gaining experience with/from local farmer groups in growing chemical-free vegetables ;
- studying co-operative systems of water management, financial management/cost recovery and marketing of agricultural products.
Details on the visit are provided in the Excursion Guide (KKU-GWRC, 2013c). Over the course of this project, numerous other trips were made to provinces in northeast Thailand. In some cases these allowed other project team members and collaborators who could not visit in April 2013 to gain direct exposure to groundwater. In other cases, they served to reinforce concepts presented during the short courses and workshops.
KKU-GWRC (2013c) Excursion Guide on Groundwater Development for Irrigation in Sumsung District, Khon Kaen, Thailand. One-day excursion as part of the Short Course on Hydrogeology I undertaken for ACIAR Project LWR-2010-81, Khon Kaen University, Groundwater Research Center, April 2013.