CIWEM’s incoming president, Nicholas Howden, introduces himself, his presidential theme, and looks forward to the year ahead.
I am delighted to serve as CIWEM’s 35th president for the next year. My CIWEM journey began as a PhD student at Imperial College in 2000, continued through my consultancy roles in industry in the mid-2000s, and latterly as a Fellow in 2016, chair of the accreditation board in 2019-20 and then as a trustee and chair of the professional standards committee in 2020.
I am pleased that CIWEM decided to appoint Matthew Jack as the first junior president, to ensure we have a thorough understanding and visible champion for our members who, whilst they are presently in the early years of their career, will be tomorrow’s industry leaders.
Matthew and I felt that this year’s presidential theme should reflect our own journeys and our broader vision for CIWEM as a professional institution and so decided upon CIWEM to 2050 and beyond: lifelong multidisciplinary professional development. This emerged after a discussion with various CIWEM colleagues, a desire to consolidate recent presidential themes and, to focus our attention on what it means to be professionally competent in our industry now and into the future.
For my part, the above theme reflects my personal journey into and through the water and environment industry. I grew up in a former mill town in East Lancashire, spending many happy weekends walking in the Pennine hills often along footpaths around the reservoirs that encircle Pendle Hill, Haworth and its surrounds, and those on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border near Hebden Bridge.
My fascination with water and nature continued to direct many of my educational and career choices. I studied civil engineering at Durham University, spent some time at HR Wallingford working on coastal structures, and then became a research assistant in European water resources management under climate change.
This was followed by a PhD at Imperial College in London researching how surface/groundwater interactions control water quality in lowland UK rivers, and roles at Mowlem’s Environmental Sciences Group, focusing on hydrogeological risk assessment, and International Mining Consultants (now White Young Green), managing the water and air quality legacies of the UK’s coal mines.
After branching out into flood and environmental assessment of infrastructure work (pipelines, roads, rail etc) I moved to the National Soil Resources Institute of Cranfield University and then to the University of Bristol in 2010, initially running the MSc in water and environmental management, and where I am now faculty education director and graduate dean responsible for 34 postgraduate research programmes.
I have been fortunate to work across a variety of water and environmental fields in both academia and industry around the world, experiencing different disciplinary and cultural approaches, and to appreciate the importance of personal and collective knowledge and skills.
Looking to the future
As I take the baton from outgoing CIWEM president Niki Roach, hoping to build on the excellent contribution she has made to the organisation, it’s with the knowledge that we are entering an uncertain future which promises almost continuous revolution for our industry: data-driven approaches, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the climate and biodiversity crises, net zero and many other areas yet to be identified.
These highly complex challenges will require innovative approaches from CIWEM professionals across all career stages, disciplines, and sectors.
I think the key question for CIWEM is: how can we support our members to meet these future challenges? I hope this year’s presidential theme will allow us to focus on potential answers, such that we can embed the development of professional competency for all our members and fellows throughout their careers.
Nicholas Howden is professor of water and environmental engineering at the University of Bristol
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