In late August 2018 Prof Paul Whitehead attended the World Water Week in Stockholm. This is the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. It was attended by over 3,300 individuals and around 380 convening organizations from 135 countries participated in the Week. Experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today. The Water Prize attracts many entries each year; this year the junior prize went to two students from Singapore for producing reduced graphene oxide, a material that can be used to purify water, from agricultural waste products.
Paul attended many sessions and found these to be at a high level covering global issues with quite a focus on Africa this year. A strong reason for attending the meeting was to make contacts with others in the Water Sector, often at quite high levels. Paul rapidly got involved in a UN Habitats initiative to try to close the Sustainability Development Goal gaps, and in particular, ensure the provision of secure water for the entire world’s population. UN Habitats and other organisations (e.g. WHO) are very keen to close this gap; it is a massive task but projects are beginning to have an impact, in terms of new thinking and new methodology.
Meetings were well attended with people standing or sitting on the floor to get a space (see photo below). Paul found himself in the Dutch Embassy attending a packed event and discussing a wide range of topics from the MaRIUS Drought Project to new ways to measure the environment using biosensors, plus trying to persuade the Dutch to invest in Oxford Molecular Biosensors.
It was also a real pleasure to see so many Oxford Water MSc graduates at the meeting with at least 11 attending, representing their current organisations such as the World Bank, OECD, National Governments and Water NGOs from around the world. The evening get together on a Thai Boat in a Swedish Harbour was a great way to celebrate their success.
Jaeyoung Lee, who is a member of the MaRIUS project, received funding from the project to present her research at the 2018 Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology held in Glasgow, 20-24 August 2018. She describes her experience below.
Every summer, the Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology (EKC) brings together Korean scientists and engineers studying and working in Europe and in Korea. The conference aims to foster and develop new relationships, exchange knowledge and ideas and to promote science and technology that is of service to society. It also attracts European scientists and engineers interested in collaborating with Korean nationals. This year marked the 11th EKC, and it was held in Glasgow, UK from the 20th to the 24th of August 2018.
Science and Technology sessions provide an excellent opportunity for participants to exchange state of the art knowledge in comprehensive scientific areas ranging from basic science to engineering and policy. Ten groups with 42 specific sessions were on offer this year and my presentation was included in the basic science group, and the ‘Water on Earth: Rain, River and Ocean’ session. Many speakers were talking about their research within the Korean context, or Europe-Korean relationships or possible collaboration projects, whereas I shared my research in the UK context as part of the UK Drought and Water Scarcity programme.
I opened the presentation with a question, “Is there a drought in the UK?” As many of the Koreans in the audience are living in Europe and the UK and have experienced another dry and hot summer this year, a few started nodding, and many of them were curious about UK droughts. I started my presentation with how the MaRIUS project has started, and what we have been doing. I then brought the audience’s attention to my research on the ‘Dynamic water quality modelling in the Severn-Thames river systems and assessment of the impact of a water transfer in drought’. Inter-basin water transfer schemes have been discussed to tackle concerns on sustainability of water resources in the UK, and the Severn-Thames transfer scheme is one of the water resource development options under consideration by the Thames Water Utilities. The occurrence of severe drought events in past and climate change have highlighted the need for such transfer schemes. Key issues to examine and resolve relate to understanding water availability, water quality and the potential adverse biological impacts and it is important to ensure that both donor and receiving rivers are not adversely affected by the scheme. To explore possible risks and impacts of a water transfer on the Severn and Thames system, I applied newly developed MaRIUS climate change projection data (Weather at Home 2; W@H 2) to a hydrological model as well as a water quality model and then considered a set of hypothetical water transfer scenarios. I focused on my methodology and preliminary findings on water quality impacts including Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) concentrations in both river systems, which was driven by w@h 2 climate data. I got a few questions after the presentation, and the one we needed to discuss more was ‘the definition of drought’. As drought can mean different things to different people and is therefore defined in many ways, I explained the type of droughts including meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socio-economical drought and the relevant risks and impacts.
I thoroughly enjoyed talking with people who are not familiar with drought research in the UK, but at the same time it was challenging to translate complex science into words that a more general audience can understand as well as find interesting. These are skills that scientists must develop to have any policy impact, so I thank the MaRIUS project for giving me this opportunity to do so.
The UK Drought and Water Scarcity Research Programme is proud to announce its International Academic Conference to be held at Pembroke College, Oxford University, over 20 and 21 March 2019.
Droughts threaten societies, economies and ecosystems worldwide
They are costly natural hazards, a central risk on global risk registers, and are expected to become more severe due to the combined influence of climate change and pressure on water resources from economic and demographic changes. This conference will showcase multidisciplinary research on droughts and water scarcity.
Please submit an abstract
We invite abstracts for spoken and poster presentations for the following themes:
Climatology and hydrology of droughts: past, present and future
Drought impacts for example on the environment, agriculture, energy production and other areas
Please use the online booking system to reserve your space at the conference.
The conference spans over two days. Tickets are available for the whole conference (£90) and individual days (£50).
Accommodation can be booked, and is provided at Pembroke College comprising single ensuite rooms, with breakfast included (£80).
About Drought’s Len Shaffrey wrote an article in Conversation UK in July which triggered heatwave and drought articles across the UK media spectrum.
Len, who leads the About Drought IMPETUS project, improving predictions of drought to support decision-making, is particularly pleased to see climate change make The Sun front page.
The About Drought Showcase Review is available as an online magazine , featuring the high quality inter-disciplinary content from the About Drought Showcase held in March 2018. It is packed with useful presentations, links and information for people who attended as well as for those who did not. The Showcase Review also gives a detailed introduction for anyone new to the programme and its work.
It provides a comprehensive guide to:
The UK Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme
Its four projects – DRY, IMPETUS, Historic Droughts and MaRIUS
The engagement project – ENDOWS
A documentary video filmed at the Showcase, including interviews with presenters and delegates
An overview of each session
Slides from presenters
Links to all the About Drought outputs and datasets
The purpose of About Drought is to share information, tools and datasets from the programme, continuing stakeholders engagement and further supporting evidence-based decision-making for the management and planning of drought and water scarcity.
Three experts from About Drought provided journalists with an insight into the impact of the UK summer drought – Jamie Hannaford, Professor Jim Hall and Professor Ian Holman. Answering questions from the Daily Mail, Press Association, BBC, Telegraph and Financial Times they presented detailed but accessible information on the pressure on water resources, highlighting the way new data from the programme is already supporting decision-makers, such as the Environment Agency. Articles were published in the Daily Mail, The Sun, Telegraph and Mail Online.
Sally Stevens from the Institute for Environmental Analytics describes the “About Drought” initiative that is raising awareness of the wealth of data, insights, new findings, and resources that have been created in the Drought and Water Scarcity Research Programme.
16-18th April 2018
Location: Cranfield University
Event organiser: International Water Association (IWA)
Event type: Conference
Booking: Register online
Towards a Resilient Water Future
The UK-YWP is the best opportunity for young professionals working on the water to network, share skills, ideas and opportunities, and learn from each other. The Conference will have a mix of regular sessions, keynotes, PICO poster sessions, career fair, social and technical visits, and much more. Young Professionals from all sectors are welcome.
Thank you to all the delegates who attended the About Drought Showcase in Birmingham. Around 120 people representing a very broad range of interests and expertise joined us to connect with the truly interdisciplinary research initiative that is the RCUK Drought & Water Scarcity programme. Outputs from the day will be available to view in the updated e-delegate pack and slides and other outputs from each session will be available on this website in due course. In the meantime you can keep in touch with us on Twitter @AboutDrought and sign up to our newsletter mailing list via the home page.
Transcript of Podcast Four: Impact of the Media Drought in South-East England
Hello again and welcome to episode four in the Who’d had thought that, about drought podcast series. I’m Dr Rebecca Pearce and I am using this edition to pose a question: how, when, and through which media should we discuss droughts?
The 2004 – 2006 drought was once described by Philip Eden as one that was largely political, “characterised by extensive ‘spin’” (Eden, 2008, p160).
From my perspective, this drought coincided with a peak in interest in climate change and climate modelling. And at the same time, a peak in criticism of so-called fat-cat executives. Broadsheet newspapers regularly covered global warming as a topic, and still the scientific community were pushing against a heavy-weight of climate denial. Authors like Fred Pearce were busy writing end-of-life as we know it books like The Last Generation, warning us of the revenge nature would take against us for filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and the weather certainly did appear to be changing. However, as the drought slowly developed, and hosepipe bans appeared, it was water company bosses who were criticised for taking large salaries and bonuses whilst their companies invested too little in repairing ageing infrastructure and preventing leaks. Not much had changed in that respect since 1995. Housing developers also came into the frame for building in places where there appeared not to be quite enough water to go around. This political hot-potato that no one wanted to face up to created a void that was filled by the media through endless column inches on gardening tips, Mediterranean planting schemes and water-saving devices.
It seemed as though the media were used to maintain the dialogue about dwindling water resources while water companies in the South-East entered into a battle of brinkmanship each waiting to see who would break first and have to apply for a drought order.
Gardeners were naturally concerned. Panic buying of water butts ensued and arguments began to rumble on in some sectors about the potential impacts of further water use restrictions.
With large parts of the UK unaffected, it is not surprise to me that I have had few people say they can remember this drought. After all, it appears to most that it was just all media hype and in the end, no severe disruption to services was felt. But what was it like to be in an industry where access to large quantities of water was critical to survival. I’m talking about the Horticultural industry.
I spoke to Bob about his long career in horticulture, which resulted in his being in charge of the Chelsea Flower Show throughout the noughties. We compared his experience of the 1976 drought when he was running a busy parks department on the Devon Riviera with the difficulty of trying to prepare for Chelsea, knowing that a drought order, if sought by Thames Water, might prevent it from going ahead. Here’s Bob on 1976…
Bob“I couldn’t help but remember the 1976 drought because probably for the first time in anyone’s memory, of anyone I was working with at the time, we suddenly saw that we couldn’t maintain what we were formerly maintaining with tap water. That suddenly became a no. There was a hosepipe ban being introduced; standpipes were being talked about, if not implemented, in the South Devon area, and there was no way that we could use tap water to water plants; it would’ve been outrageous. So we had to think of other means to do that, and one of the means was to take water which was in a local stream in Paignton, a stream which went on out to sea, extracting water from that, putting it in tankers and then transporting it round to the 12 bowling greens we had in the borough, plus a number of other ornamental horticultural features that needed maintaining. Of course, in manpower, it became quite an exercise, and let alone other resources that we needed, like hiring tankers. Tankers which, interestingly enough, might’ve been employed doing other things. For example, the tankers which would normally have to go round an empty out gullies for dealing with storm water and having debris in them… They were all bone dry, so they really didn’t have anything to do, so it was great that we could commandeer those to come and do other things. We then managed to maintain the areas and keep areas alive and functional at least for the summer.”
And here’s Bob on that agonisingly difficult time trying to decide what best to do for Chelsea…
Bob“Well, I think the position is that whilst you’re able to use mains water out of the tap, everything’s pretty hunky dory, isn’t it? Because you have potable water; you’re able to drink it; nobody really cares whether you put it on plants because it’s quite plentiful. But I think as soon as you have these drought type conditions and people start questioning what you’re doing, it begs so many questions about the ethic approach that you should be taking, and the ethical questions are all about… Is it right, then, to hold a flower show at all, or shouldn’t we hold it? And if we are going to hold it, how do you manage it and how do you keep it alive? If you don’t hold it – and just being absolutely blunt about it – it would make a more than considerable hole in the finances of an organisation like the RHS, who have increasingly relied more upon its income from Chelsea to maintain all the other activities it’s involved in. You take that out; what’s it not going to do? Is it not going to maintain some of its gardens? Is it going to get rid of all its gardeners? Is it going to stop running some of its horticultural work that it carries out so valuably? So I guess some of the problems we had to face was the fact that it was almost inconceivable that we would not have Chelsea flower show. It was perhaps more conceivable that there might be other shows that we wouldn’t run in a drought situation. But Chelsea had been through everything in a hundred years. It wasn’t quite a hundred years old in 2004, but it was in 2013. It didn’t run during the war years, either the first or the second, because the Royal Hospital grounds were used for growing vegetables during those periods, but on the other hand, a lot of that was demonstrable ways in which the nation decided to get on with life, wasn’t it? So that was good. You could almost argue that when we were faced with really hot weather, it was another demonstrable reason to show how we could overcome it. And so we needed to explore every way in which we could still hold the show without necessarily using mains water for anything other than giving to people to drink. And I always remember some of the arguments we had about that, because people used to get very hostile and write to us, or raise the question, “This is terrible the RHS are still holding this show with all these people coming to it,” but of course, the argument about that is, that we’re not eliminating people. They’re transpositioned people who instead of spending the day in Devon, they’re going to spend it in London. But arguably, they’re not going to drink any more in London than in Devon. The long and short of it is we decided at some considerable cost to have our own borehole, which we would then, regardless of whether there was a drought order, use that as a statement of fact of how we were going to run the show. We would use water from the borehole for flushing the loos with at Chelsea, and for watering plants – in other words, for non-potable use.”
Well, I never expected the RHS to eventually sink a borehole to secure water supplies that would be outside a drought order. But I think it is fair to say that newspaper speculation combined with not knowing how things were going to play out, necessitated this quite drastic and expensive outcome.
We’ll be talking about the ways in which drought is communicated, how and why communications happen the way they do, and the best ways to communicate in a crisis, at the About Drought Showcase on March 14th. I look forward to meeting some of you there.