A recap of the International Symposium on Managed Aquifer Recharge


By Kes Murray

Attending the 11th International Symposium on Managed Aquifer Recharge (ISMAR 11) in California, USA, 2022: A Hydro geologists perspective 

In April 2022, I had the pleasure of making the trip over to the United States of America to attend and present at ISMAR 11 in Long Beach, California. The International Symposium on Managed Aquifer Recharge (ISMAR) is held every 3 years and travels to a new country for each symposium; the last few being in the United Arab Emirates, China, Mexico and Spain.  

ISMAR – It’s a special kind of conference

Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is a bit of a niche aspect of the larger groundwater community of scientists, engineers, researchers, policy makers and economists, and is usually met with a raised eyebrow when first encountered.

As discussed in one of our articles on the GEOSS Knowledge Hub On undetstanding what Managed Aquifer Recharge involves – we explain that it is intentionally and purposefully putting water into aquifers, rather than taking the water out of the ground from a borehole, well or spring. This can be done for a variety of reasons (water storage without dam construction costs and evaporation being one) and through a variety of methods, and the purpose of my attendance was to learn from and rub shoulders with the best of the best from around the world in these methods.

The symposium followed the 5-day format which seems to be the winning formula for international symposia, allowing a day of workshops to start, 3 days of presentations, discussions, exhibitions, networking and socialising; and a final day for getting out of the venue to get up close and practical on organised field trips.

Achieving Successful Groundwater Recharge and Recovery Through Wells

To kickstart my brain from the 9-hour time difference from Long Beach to home, I started off with attending a 4-hour workshop on “Achieving Successful Groundwater Recharge and Recovery Through Wells”.

The workshop was given by David Pyne, ASR Resources, USA and Russell Martin, WGA, Australia; two heavy hitters in the MAR scene. The workshop was an excellent dive into the details involved in injecting water down boreholes or wells into aquifers for storage and how to later retrieve that water. The decades of project experience to draw on for both presenters proved useful as many of the attendees, myself included, were eager to pelter them both with questions between note-taking, especially once the coffee started kicking in. David and Russell were also familiar enough with each other’s work to know when they might be answering a question that the other might have some more recent information on and tossed several discussions back and forth make sure that each question got the best from both of them.

russel martin

Russell Martin, WGA, discussing clogging nuances in injection boreholes/wells

I did not sign up for or attend the afternoon workshops, fully intending to go out and see what Long Beach had to offer and then do some more polishing for my own presentation on Wednesday. However, after some traditional American cuisine (burger and chips or “fries”) the jetlag which had been held at bay by the interesting morning workshop came back with a vengeance. I only stopped briefly to admire some of the street art on the walk back to my accommodation.

Street art in Long Beach, California.

One of the best groundwater presentations I have ever seen – sharing information, getting connected & having fun

On Tuesday the presentations were in full swing. Prior to the two interesting panel discussions on the socio-economical aspects of several MAR sites in the USA, was one of the best groundwater presentations I have ever seen. I would not say that I have seen everything there is to see with regard to groundwater presentations. However, after attending our last three South African GWD conferences, the last ISMAR in Spain, and a scattering of other events, the presentation by David Kreamer, President of the IAH, absolutely took first place for his precise hydrogeological terminology humour. In fact, it impressed me so much that later during a coffee break I went to ask him if his words had been recorded anywhere so that I could enjoy them again. Instead of a YouTube link, memory stick, or vague promise of a follow-up email, he smiled, reached into his jacket pocket, said “here we go” and gave me his carefully worded notes. It is this type of gesture, amongst many others at ISMAR, that makes it such a special kind of conference.

It truly embodies the opening words of Adam Hutchinson, ISMAR 11 Planning Chair and Recharge Planning Manager for the Orange County Water District in southern California:

“The guiding principles of our planning were sharing information, getting connected and having fun!”

David Kreamer, IAH President, and Adam Hutchinson, ISMAR 11 Planning Chair

Right in line with the spirit of things, Tuesday’s presentations ended off with the brilliant ISMARx Presentations and Networking, moderated by Erik Cadaret. This was geared at giving students attending the symposium 5 minutes each to summarise their presentation or poster and let everyone know where they were studying and how far along their studies were. These “flash presentations” were followed by the hiring interview equivalent of speed dating, where the students were split over different tables of the attendees and had a few minutes to talk with anyone at those tables. The students were encouraged to ask the attendees at those tables about the type of work they did and the industry attendees were encouraged to approach the event as a “cut through the waffle” hiring process.

Corné Engelbrecht presenting on well efficiency in production boreholes and the implications for injection

Wednesday morning started with the 5km Darcy Dash at 06:30, which I hear had a competitive multi-national sprint to the finish line, allegedly on par with the Olympics. I skipped this in favour of a coffee and bagel to make sure my tummy grumblings would not carry through to the live stream audio, as I was presenting in the final session before lunch. It was a great session, with presenters hailing from Munich and Dresden in Germany, Israel, the USA and myself from South Africa, ensuring a high level of topic variability to match the level of accent variability. The topics ranged from mapping aquifer suitability for MAR, injecting air into infiltration basins to speed up biogeochemical treatment processes, river baseflow abstraction with boreholes for filtration, injecting water into coastal aquifers to prevent seawater intrusion to my own, injecting all dewatered volumes from a mining pit back into the aquifer for ecological purposes.

Engineering and Design, Emerging Contaminants, Environmental Considerations and Economics

After a filling lunch and coffee, the technical sessions and discussions continued. Attendees were spoiled for choice, with 4 sessions run in parallel, grouping topics under Engineering and Design, Emerging Contaminants, Environmental Considerations and Economics, with 5 presentations in each session. This was followed by a poster and exhibition session, after which the IAH MAR Plenary was held, where the big reveal was that ISMAR 12 in 2025 will be hosted in Cape Town, South Africa! Since its inception as the Artificial Recharge of Groundwater Conference in 1988, this will be the first time that ISMAR travels to the African continent and the reception of the news by the ISMAR attendees was fantastic. It will be an opportunity for all.

ISMAR 12 in 2025 will be hosted in Cape Town

The big Managed Aquifer Recharge players on the global level who want to make connections and set up MAR projects or collaborations for their companies or Universities in Africa will be able to meet, showcase and discuss what they have to offer, directly with the local African representatives. For us Africans, this is our opportunity to learn directly from the best of the best and to make the connections with those who have decades of MAR experience which will give us the confidence to really take the African MAR scene to the next level.

Managed Aquifer Recharge in Africa

Africa has several MAR sites and schemes, but we lag far behind the rest of the world in taking this crucial step towards sustainable groundwater development. What we lack in MAR experience though, we make up for in our understandings of the local contexts at play. Be they hydrogeological complexities that laugh in the face of homogeneous, isotropic, infinite-acting aquifer assumptions; or social customs and norms that can stop a project dead in its tracks or propel it rapidly to success. Without both our local knowledge and the international learning experiences earned over decades (of first world budgets no less), Africa will be slow on the uptake of this technology which could prove critical as temperature and rainfall patterns change.

ISMAR 12 was announced for 28 April – 2 May 2025 in Cape Town, South Africa

Wednesday evening was the social Speakeasy Gala, another embodiment of Adam’s guiding principles for the event. We were treated to live music with the talented Sergio Vellatti and accompanying 7-piece band, a dance floor to display just how uncoordinated a hydrogeologist can be, gambling tables (with free chips, luckily) and a photobooth. It was the perfect scene to socially solidify new connections and contacts made at the conference and have a lot of fun.

Sergio Vellatti and 7-piece band

Modelling, Sustainability, International Innovations, Rural and Agricultural Applications, Geophysics, Integrated Water Management and Aquifer Storage and Recovery

Thursday morning was straight back into interesting presentations, after some strong coffee and orange juice. Again, the day was brimming with options in three sets of four parallel sessions to choose from. In addition to some of the topics discussed on Wednesday, Thursday covered Modelling, Sustainability, International Innovations, Rural and Agricultural Applications, Geophysics, Integrated Water Management and Aquifer Storage and Recovery. It was an action-packed day, jumping between sessions to see specific presentations, visiting the exhibitions to discuss the latest equipment and techniques being used in the industry and swapping contact details with other enthusiastic attendees with many discussions about looking forward to case study updates at the next ISMAR in Cape Town.

Two presentations I really enjoyed were:

  1. ASR Implementation Challenges in Texas, USA – By David K. Smith, CMD Smith
  2. Power Regeneration During ASR Injection – By Kent Madison, 3RValve LLC.

The evening was left open for attendees to do as they please, whether it be a quiet evening in, a stroll along the beach, dinner with new friends and contacts or a night out to let loose.

The Anaheim’s recharge basins and water treatment works

Friday closed off the symposium with two field trip options and a final workshop. I had the incredible experience of joining the field trip visiting Anaheim’s recharge basins and water treatment works. The recharge scheme started over 85 years ago and now infiltrates ~284 000 ML per year into the aquifer through its basins (that’s about 9 thousand liters every second!). After all the presentations and discussions, getting out and seeing MAR in action at such a scale was a wonderful ending to another successful ISMAR and I’m left eagerly looking forward to the next one in South Africa.

Adam Hutchinson closed out the highly successful ISMAR 11 at one of Anaheim’s recharge basins which receive only highly treated and purified wastewater. 

If you would like to know more about Managed Aquifer Recharge MAR or discuss how this can help your own groundwater supplies, please get in touch by emailing us at info@geoss.co.za 

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