Jamie Hannaford, Principal Hydrologist, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Early warning forecasts – a real success story!

“Since September 2018 we have been providing bespoke hydrological forecasts for the Environment Agency’s area teams based on their reasonable worst-case scenarios and stress test scenarios … it is a real success story.”

Jamie Hannaford, Principal Hydrologist, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

A key need addressed by About Drought has been improved access to early warning information, especially for hydrological forecasting. 

Since 2013 a Hydrological Outlook had been provided by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)the Met Office and BGS, producing a static document that gives a 1-page summary for the UK as a whole, followed by regional and national information. But that did not allow users to access a forecast for the particular river in the UK that they were interested in. 

Under About Drought that has become possible. Our project IMPETUS aimed to improve drought forecasting for decision-makers, building on information gathered at a host of stakeholder workshops to establish current practices and their needs across water supply, health, power, agriculture, navigation and recreation. 

New insight into likely river flows 3 months ahead

It developed a new methodology of forecasting and the follow-on project ENDOWS gave researchers the opportunity to develop IMPETUS’ methods. Now an insight into hydrological conditions over the coming three months, with likely trajectories for flows in 300 rivers around the UK and groundwater levels is available.

Jamie Hannaford, ENDOWS’ Principal Investigator and Principal Hydrologist at CEH, says: “The science was done in IMPETUS. We tested the methods, validating them to see how reliable and accurate they are around the country and at different times of the year. 

“Then in ENDOWS we opened up the forecasts and operationalised that system to the extent that these hydrological forecasts are now available in the first few days of every month. 

Since the summer of 2018 we have worked with a very wide range of stakeholders, providing them with forecasts for the river catchments that are relevant and ensuring that they meet user needs. In last summer’s drought conditions when many stakeholders needed reliable information about what would happen next, they have told us that these forecasts were very useful.”

Bespoke forecasts for EA and Yorkshire Water

The forecasts have been provided to a wide range of users, including water companies, the Environment Agency (EA)Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, the National Farmers’ Union, energy industry and the Canal & River Trust

Jamie adds: “Since September 2018 we have also been providing bespoke hydrological forecasts for the Environment Agency’s area teams based on their reasonable worst-case scenarios and stress test scenarios. They have been used internally and for National Drought Group briefings – it is a real success story.

“In the dry spell of Summer 2018 we started providing hydrological outlooks to Yorkshire Water who wanted to specifically look at the likelihood of reaching certain flow thresholds for their internal management, and we came up with a bespoke outlook for them. 

“These are just two examples that illustrate the benefit of having the extra ENDOWS knowledge exchange and synthesis funding for the programme. It has enabled the excellent science from IMEPTUS to fulfil its potential, it gave researchers the time to hear directly from stakeholders how it could be used, to refine our outputs to make them user-friendly, for example through data visualisation. 

“We listened and as a result they were able to use them to access better information in a live situation in the 2018 drought. Users said they were pleased to see that this project produced such useful information, and that there is a pathway for this science to be continued after ENDOWS, through the Hydrological Outlook.”

Published October 2019

Neil Edwards, Environment & Chemistry Technical Support, RWE Generation UK

Informing the power sector

“There is much to be done and having access to the existing About Drought materials can only better inform the deliberations.”

Neil Edwards, Environment & Chemistry Technical Support, RWE Generation UK

Neil Edwards has represented RWE Generation UK in stakeholder discussions with MaRIUS and DRY, as well as attending conferences and workshops. He believes those connections have enabled About Drought’s outputs to be of greater benefit to the power sector, including building better resilience of services that rely on water-dependent infrastructure. 

He says: “The next few years could be important in how the UK positions itself to deliver resilience of services – such as public water supply, power and food – in a period in which we are going to be economically and institutionally challenged. There is much to be done and having access to the existing About Drought materials can only better inform the deliberations. 

New contacts improved understanding

“I’ve developed useful contacts through networking at the major events and workshops with practitioners that I didn’t have before. The networking and events together, gave me opportunities to contribute to improving the wider understanding of the interaction between power plants and the aquatic environment, which is sometimes not well-represented in academic literature. 

Boost for power sector

“I believe this to be of value to RWE and to the wider power sector. It led to some power sector-focused work being done within the research programme, which has given power sector players a better information base to think through some aspects of water quality in drought and hence, contribute to developing better understanding of resilience issues. 

“I also hope that the forecasting initiative with CEH will lead to improved river flow and seasonal weather forecasting information for relevant power sector locations, which will aid better risk management of commercial positions in low flow events; though this has not advanced as fast as I would have liked.”  

Neil has also been able to draw on access to communications resources. He says: “I have used the softer communications / story telling materials to get an understanding of wider social considerations surrounding major drought events as background in participation in freshwater-related stakeholder activity, such as interaction with DEFRA/EA on water resource management and regional water planning.”

Risk and scenario building

Collaboration with MaRIUS supported RWE’s work on risk to power generation and scenario building. Neil says: “We have used the tailored water quality modelling work to better understand potential risk – this is now factored into our thinking and into our interaction with DEFRA/EA on aspects of resilience. We are aware of the grid-to-grid river flow work and climate change-related work, and we would access it if we felt the need.”

Interview by Sally Stevens

Posted October 2019