News review: perceptions of water in Britain

Print media reacted to the Environment Agency’s briefing in early January on low groundwater levels and the prospect of a summer drought with headlines ranging from ‘Floody drought’ (The Sun) to ‘Drenched by the wrong kind of rain’ (The i).  As Southern Water applied for an abstraction permit journalists were given a background briefing putting the application into context.

UK Drought Jan 2018 print media montage by Sally Stevens, Institute for Environmental Analytics
UK Drought Jan 2018 print media montage by Sally Stevens, Institute for Environmental Analytics

‘Floody Drought’, ‘Drenched by the wrong type of rain’: headlines that pick up the contradictory nature of Britain’s relationship with water and an underpinning perception that Britain is a land of plenty – at least when it comes to water. But hiding behind these headlines, published in January 2018, is the real challenge: for the British Isles rely on fairly regular rainfall and rather wet winters to ensure a plentiful water supply.

As the headlines suggest, the South East experienced a dry autumn and, if followed by a dry winter, the area would have been at risk of drought in summer 2018. This would not have meant standpipes in the streets and we were not approaching day zero (when the city runs out of water), as Cape Town had. But the result of the Environment Agency’s briefing should have provided pause for thought and an opportunity for communities to consider their drought resilience (and the measures they could take now to mitigate against the risk of hosepipe bans in the summer). But it didn’t.

Trying to engage the public and communities with the risks of water shortage is hard at the best of times. Britain is perceived to be a rather wet island surrounded by plenty of water. This challenge to communication, though, is particularly hard in the winter because there is a perceptual link between drought and hot weather. If it’s not hot, it can’t be a drought. This perception makes winter droughts amongst the most challenging to communicate. How do you explain to someone who perceives that it’s dull and overcast (and therefore wet) that we’re heading for a drought?

And so we return to the wrong type of headlines. ‘Floody drought’ may be an attempt to link text to the water cycle, but how does it help people to understand that indeed drought may be followed by floods? Better a headline linking flood to the wrong type of rain. Headline writers love a contradiction: ‘Drenched UK might still see a hosepipe ban’ fits the bill but doesn’t help to address the problem of water resources and growing demand.

Newspapers may seek to grab our attention through these contradictory headlines, but unless readers go beyond the headline and start to understand Britain’s complex relationship with water, they will only reinforce stereotypes. In the face of climate change, it’s time to change those stereotypes.

Event debrief: Seasonal Forecasting – Meeting User Needs

The About Drought programme collaborated with the British Hydrological Society, University of Reading and University of Loughborough to present a national workshop on seasonal forecasting.

Rebecca Emberton (University of Reading) presenting to BHS meeting in January 2018, copyright Nevil Quinn UWE
Rebecca Emberton (University of Reading) presenting to BHS meeting in January 2018, copyright Nevil Quinn UWE

The aim of the workshop, held in Loughborough in January 2018, was to focus on the seasonal forecast needs of users and practitioners, and to identify ways of improving the dissemination, uptake and operationalisation of seasonal forecasts by the water and agricultural sectors.

Reliable seasonal forecasts can support planning of water resources for a variety of purposes, including allocation for urban and rural water supply, irrigation scheduling, reservoir operation, routine maintenance of infrastructure, and preparedness for hydro-meteorological extremes. In recent years, improvements have been made in seasonal forecasting skill. However, without translation of these state-of-the-art forecast products into direct, actionable information, little ‘real’ progress can be made.

Rebecca Emberton (University of Reading) is pictured discussing global scale seasonal hydrometeorological forecasting with the Global Flood Awareness System at a national workshop on seasonal forecasting.

Event debrief: 9th International Corpus Linguistics conference

Carmen Dayrell from the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), Lancaster University, has presented her work with Helen Baker and Tony McEnery on a diachronic analysis of newspaper articles about drought and water scarcity at the 9th International Corpus Linguistics conference (CL2017). Corpus linguistics is a methodology for the systematic analysis of large amounts of empirical data to study language. The CL2017 was hosted by the University of Birmingham, from 24-28 July 2017.

Carmen Dayrell of Lancaster University, image copyright Mathew Gillings @mathewgillings
Carmen Dayrell of Lancaster University, image copyright Mathew Gillings @mathewgillings

Entitled ‘Enriching our understanding of historic drought and water scarcity: investigating 200 years of news texts’, the paper discussed the media representation of drought and water scarcity throughout the United Kingdom, covering two hundred years of newspaper data, from 1800 to 2014.

The results showed that, throughout the entire period, drought events were portrayed as intense and prolonged, with negative impacts of across the country, especially England. But the analysis also unveils some interesting shifts in the discourse. While references to drought the 19th and most of the 20th centuries overwhelmingly related to lack of rain, the word drought started to be used increasingly more frequent as a metaphor towards the end of the 20th century. These mainly related to sporting achievements (e.g. goal, trophy or scoring droughts) and finance (credit, mortgage droughts).

Another clear shift relates to people’s concerns. In the 19th century, the newspapers frequently mentioned the impact of droughts on farming and agriculture. From the 1990s onwards, the focus seems to have shifted to constraints and limitations in people’s daily lives due to shortage or rationing of water, which in turn led to the introduction of hosepipe bans or the use of standpipes. Concern over the impact of droughts on plants and gardens has become one of the major topic in the contemporary broadsheet papers and tabloids.

About Drought Showcase Event

14 March 2018
Location: Macdonald Burlington Hotel, Birmingham
Event organiser: Drought and Water Scarcity Programme
Event type: Showcase
Booking: Online registration form

Showcasing latest developments and hands-on access to outputs from the £12m NERC-funded Drought and Water Scarcity Project

This free event is aimed at all involved in supporting improved decision-making and communication in relation to droughts and water scarcity for a range of sectors, including:

  • water suppliers, energy suppliers and regulators
  • agricultural sector
  • environmental policymakers, stakeholders and regulators
  • UK businesses, ranging from high volume industrial water users to local small and medium-sized enterprises
  • community planning organisations, communities, and not-for-profit special interest groups.

As well as hands-on interaction with key project datasets, delegates will be able to ask the experts about on-going developments and give feedback on how best they can be tailored to support your area of interest. The showcase will give the opportunity to participants to interact with other stakeholders and researchers.

Book your free place now using the online registration form. The closing date for registration is 2 March 2018.

Registration for this event is limited to four delegates from each organisation. We will contact you if this number has been exceeded. Please contact the Project Office at endows@ceh.ac.uk for further information.

Programme highlights

Choice of interactive breakout sessions showcasing the programme work in the following areas, allowing you to hear what has already been done and allowing you to shape our future work:

  • Monitoring and Early Warning
  • Narratives
  • Data
  • Agriculture
  • Environment
  • Water Supply and Utilities
  • Business & communities

A showcase walk taking in the canals and parks of Birmingham, stopping along the way for conversations with key local stakeholders.

Interdisciplinary talks from across the programme and from stakeholders detailing how the work has helped them.

Networking opportunities throughout with a drinks reception after the conference.

Key timings

Registration from 09:15 with the showcase starting at 10:00 and closing at 16:30, with drinks and networking to follow.

The closing date for registration is 2 March 2018.

Further information

Please contact the Project Office at endows@ceh.ac.uk for further information.

Keep up with news and events from the UK Droughts & Water Scarcity Programme and its projects at the About Drought website or follow @AboutDrought on Twitter.

Like a fish out of water: water scarcity, and even drought, can be surprisingly local

The notion that it always rains is a pillar of the British psyche, but does it really? Real droughts only occur in far-away lands, or do they? But the truth is that water scarcity can be both common and very localised, and even when very local it can still have significant impacts. The current situation in a part of the Wye catchment, illustrates this well.

2017 was a dry year. Figure 1a shows early spring and summer rainfall expressed relative to the average in the last 30 years. Brown patches (see the red circle) over Herefordshire point to particularly low rainfall in parts of the Wye river catchment in August and September 2017 (Figure 1b+c).  Taking the six months from April to September as a whole, shows a shortage of rainfall along this part of the English-Welsh border (Figure 1d). Figure 3 shows that October was also a very dry month for the whole country.

Does such a localised shortage of rainfall really matter? Probably not for most people; our reservoirs and water supply systems are designed to cope with periods of low rainfall, ensuring water reaches your tap. So unless you are a farmer dependent on rain, we are generally protected from shorter term water scarcity.

But what of the natural environment? Low rainfall can have a direct impact on river flows. The extent to which river flows are affected depends on the catchment (the geographical area from which water flows into a river system). It also depends on your local geology, and whether these rocks are able to store water. Some catchments, like chalk streams, are quite robust because water filters through the rock during period of high rainfall, is held there and is then released when it’s dry.

But the Wye is not a chalk stream and the geology in this area does not allow water to penetrate easily and be stored as groundwater. Instead, when it rains heavily in the Wye catchment, most of the water runs off, leaving the catchment. Without this groundwater supply, the Wye is vulnerable, even when the dry weather lasts only 6 months. Our river plants and animals are used to summer periods with naturally lower river flows, but they are not adapted to extended periods of low rainfall. Unlike countries where rivers dry up seasonally, our river wildlife have not evolved ways of surviving these harsh conditions.

So, if you are a fish in the Wye catchment, recent dry weather spells bad news. In fact so bad, that in some areas flow was so low that the river had separated into pools. In the River Dore near Peterchurch, Herefordshire, earlier this month (13 to 16 October) the Environment Agency had to rescue fish stranded in diminishing pools of water. On the 14th October, 47 trout, 24 lamprey and 8 eels were rescued and moved to safety by Environment Agency staff.  These problems have not just been limited to the Wye catchment. On the 16th October the Environment Agency’s Chris Bainger tweeted to draw attention to the fact that water levels on the River Teme at Ludlow in the adjacent Severn catchment, were so low that they were preventing the upstream migration of salmon.

Since then, we’ve had rain, so it’s all right now? Well, no. Recent rain has had little effect on water levels and fish rescues continue, with minnow recently removed from what remained of the Eign Brook in Hereford.

These examples highlight the severe impacts to fish and other wildlife that can occur during periods of localised water scarcity. Sustained dry weather can lead to complete loss of habitat as rivers break into pools that dry up. Important ecological functions such as salmon migration are also disrupted, as just one indicator of fragmentation of connected habitats upon which river life and natural processes depend. Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of these periods of low rainfall and what might seem a freak incident this year is likely to become a more regular occurrence in the next decades.

The Drought and Water Scarcity research programme, funded by UK Research Councils, is addressing these concerns. We would like to hear from you about the ways dry weather is affecting your river systems. If you have stories like the ones above, and would like to contribute your views or would just like to stay in touch with developments in the research programme, please contact the co-ordinator of the environment work stream, Associate Professor Nevil Quinn (nevil.quinn@uwe.ac.uk). Further information can be found elsewhere on this website, including more information about the Drought and Water Scarcity research programme.

Article authors: Nevil Quinn*, Emma Weitkamp*, Francois Edwards+ and Cédric Laizé+, 26 October 2017
* University of the West of England, Bristol  + Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford

Planning for drought in England

In England, water companies have plans that set out the actions they take before, during and after episodes of drought to ensure security of supply of water. The drought plans also describe how they will assess the effects on the environment and what they can do to mitigate any damage. The plans are revised regularly, every five years, following public consultation. Water companies are undertaking such a review at the moment. Current and draft plans are available on water company websites.

Water companies use knowledge of past droughts and potential future drought intensity combined with information about current conditions to guide them through a staged response to episodes of drought. Every few years drought severity is such that water companies expect to warn customers through radio, newspapers and social media that water resources are relatively low in their region and to use water sparingly. Less frequently, in anticipation of a more significant drought, water companies may introduce temporary use bans, popularly known as ‘hosepipe bans’. If a severe drought is anticipated, water companies can ask the Secretary of State for a Drought Order to ban nonessential use where more extensive restrictions apply. They may also apply to the Environment Agency for permits to take additional water from sources in their region. Under the most extreme conditions water companies may apply to the Secretary of State for additional powers, for example to apply rota cuts. However, water companies may never plan to reach this level since it would involve droughts worse than any on record.

The Environment Agency also has a drought plan, available on the gov.uk website, that, amongst other things, sets out how the Environment Agency monitors and measures the impacts of drought, and how it reports on the drought and communicates with others. All water companies, as well as the Environment Agency, see good communications with water users as vital to the successful management of water resources during a drought.

Links:

Environment Agency drought management for England
Map and list of water supply companies in England and Wales, including links to websites

Advancing Drought Monitoring, Prediction, and Management Capabilities workshop

18th – 20th September 2018
Location: Lancaster
Event organiser: India-UK Water Centre
Event type: Workshop
Applications: Apply online

The India-UK Water Centre is inviting applications from Indian and UK water scientists to participate in a workshop on Advancing Drought Monitoring, Prediction, and Management Capabilities to be held in Lancaster, UK 18th – 20th September 2018.

http://www.iukwc.org/call-participants-iukwc-workshop-advancing-drought-monitoring-prediction-and-management-capabilities

This workshop aims to bring together in one platform key actors engaged independently in the three domains of drought monitoring, prediction and management to leverage cutting-edge drought science to inform new approaches to meet society’s needs for drought planning and management. Specifically, this workshop aims to:

1. Assess the state-of-art of the science of drought monitoring, prediction and management globally and in India, with special focus on remote sensing-based approaches.
2. Identify gaps between research knowledge and operational requirements for drought policy and management;
3. Discuss options to develop a road map for advancing operational capabilities for drought policy, monitoring, prediction and management in India.

Applications close 17/05/2018

DRY Weather and an allotment – what would you do on the allotment with less water?

Wed 23 May 2018, 10:00 – 16:00
Location: UWE Frenchay, BS16 1QY
Event organiser: UWE
Event type: Public workshop
Booking: Register online

The workshop will be hosted by the NERC DRY (Drought Risk and You) project, the National Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Association (NSALG) and About Drought (knowledge exchange about drought).

Background: In the DRY project, we are keen to work with different groups who may be able to give early warning of dry conditions in their communities and who are already aware of when there is a lack of rain and when the soils are dry. Allotment holders are one such group. We are also interested in different ways of using water in growing food (e.g. across cultures) and the seasonal demands that different crops have for water.

Aims and outcomes:

At this workshop, we will:

  • share story and videos developed with allotment holders and Allan Cavell, NSALG in the DRY (Drought Risk and You) project.
  • ask ‘What if’ for different drought risk futures under different climate projections in the Bristol Frome catchment. We will share some of the new science on forecasting and prediction in easily accessible ways so we can think about what the implications might be for growing on allotments.
  • explore together what we might do on an allotment with less water. What options are available?
  • seek your advice about what sorts of resources would be useful as outcomes from the UK Drought and Water Scarcity research. What would be useful to allotment holders? (e.g. seasonal water advice; drought resistant planting).

The day will be interactive and we will have a cartoonist working with us to capture our discussions.

Who will this workshop interest? Allotment groups who have worked with the DRY project, other ‘growing’/ ‘food’ groups, those interested in community adaptation to water risk and climate change, those involved in plant growing/horticulture in different ways, those involved in teaching, and others…

FAQs

There is no cost for the workshop but we ask you to register by clicking this link by 18th May 2018. A buffet lunch will be provided so, if you have specific dietary requirements, please email dry@uwe.ac.uk.

For information on how to get to UWE Bristol please visit http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/about/visitus/howtofindus.aspx

If you are coming by car you will need a parking space to be booked for you. Please email dry@uwe.ac.uk with your car registration details.

For more information on the DRY projecthttp://dryproject.co.uk; NSALG www.nsalg.org.uk; and About Drought http://aboutdrought.info/

Civil Society, risk and climate change: science, perception, communication and exchange

Wed 16 May 2018, 10:30 – 16:00
Location: UWE Bristol
Event organiser: ESRC Seminar Series CASCADE-NET
Event type: Seminar
Booking: Register online

The Centre for Water, Communities and Resilience and the Science Communication Unit at UWE together with Climate Outreach are pleased to announce a one day workshop exploring the interface between science communication, the arts and community resilience in the context of climate change and extreme weather.

For further information about the aims of CASCADE-NET see: http://www.cascade-net.com/aims/

Alison Tickell, CEO of Julie’s Bicycle will open the workshop with a Key Note relating her experiences working with creative industries on sustainability, and the opportunities for utilising their influential voices to reach new audiences on climate change.

She will be joined by speakers from academia and practice, including Sam Illingworth (Manchester Metropolitan University), Stuart Capstick (Cardiff University), Luci Gorell Barnes (Artist) Lyndsey Bakewell (Loughborough University), Corra Boushel (UWE) and Adam Corner (Climate Outreach).

The day will include a mix of provocative presentations followed by facilitated discussion exploring questions including:

1. What are the challenges and constraints of communicating about climate change and extreme weather (e.g. challenges of communicating complexity)

2. How might creative arts approaches be employed to open discussions about climate change and extreme weather? (use of case study examples to open discussion) (also how can these approaches help to overcome the challenges of communicating complex risks, like extreme weather)

3. How could arts, science and community work together to build resilience?

Spaces are limited and early booking is advised. Please sign up by Tuesday 8th May 2018.

Meet the Researchers: Drought Risk and You

Mon 30 April 2018, 10:00 – 12:30
Location: UWE Frenchay, BS16 1QY
Event organiser: UWE
Event type: Public open day
Booking: Register online

Join University of the West of England for a field trip with the researchers to discover the real-life effects of drought on our local grasslands, as part of Bristol Festival of Nature’s City Nature Challenge.

DRY project field site at UWE, copyright UWE
DRY project field site at UWE, copyright UWE

The Drought Risk and You project integrates physical science with social science and narrative to produce a decision making tool to help individuals and policy makers plan their response to drought.

Drought is a natural part of the UK climate but is predicted to become more frequent and severe in the future. Grasslands are by area the most important agricultural crop in the UK, and an essential feature of most parks and gardens.

You will learn about the experiments being done by UWE’s researchers as they look at the effects of drought on plants and pollinators, learn about the types of measurement they make and why, and see some of the preliminary results. You can also help the team by making your own survey transect across the field and submit your findings to Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre.

Booking essential, details of where to meet and parking available on application.For more information please contact: dry@uwe.ac.uk

Please note: we will be meeting on UWE’s Frenchay campus and walking down to the research site through a rough woodland track. The track and fieldsite are not accessible for wheelchairs or pushchairs. Please dress appropriately for working outdoors.This event is suitable for adults and older children (10+).