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

Dr Chris Lambert, Supply Demand Senior Technical Advisor, Thames Water

Putting the needs of stakeholders at the heart of drought research

“Climate change is decreasing water availability and this research has definitely demonstrated how that can cause significant problems in water treatment works and has given us a better understanding of different types of water resource options.”

Dr Chris Lambert, Supply Demand Senior Technical Advisor, Thames Water

From the initial proposal for funding in 2014 to the final event on November 7, 2019, About Drought was driven by the needs of the organisations, communities and people who would be relying on the results of its research. Their practical requirements, regulatory restrictions, governance and operational methods have informed the structure, design and accessibility of the datasets and tools.

Even at the stage of drafting the funding proposal Thames Water was invited to review it by MaRIUS’ project leader Jim Hall, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at Oxford University.

Matching the needs of water industry, NGOs and government

Chris Lambert, who is responsible for developing Thames Water’s Water Resource Management and Drought plans, joined the MaRIUS Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG). The aim of drawing this expert group from industry, NGOs and government to steer the project, liaising with MaRIUS’ social and natural scientists, was to ensure its outputs, including the ‘impacts dashboard’, matched the needs of the group in an evolving policy context. This early access proved crucial to the benefits Thames Water has gained.

Chris says: “Being on the SAG as well as being involved in the parts of the project that were relevant to Thames Water, gave me wider visibility of the total work of the project. I had a much better understanding of how we could use some of the research in developing Thames Water’s water supply strategy.

“It led to us commissioning some tailored, specific work that gave us a better insight into the reliability of future water resource development and then we fed into our 2019 Water Resource Management Plan.”

Algae growth impact on reservoirs and abstraction

Of particular interest was the work on algae growth in rivers and ‘drought coincidence’. As a result, Thames Water commissioned its own more detailed research on how projected algae growth could impact on extracting water from reservoirs in conditions of water scarcity or drought, slowing its passage through the filtering system and therefore the speed at which public demand for water could be met.

Thames Water also commissioned the development of a bespoke application from MaRIUS’s water quality research data, focusing on the catchments of the Severn and Thames, and the added likely impact of climate change on water availability.

There are further potential impacts of the timing and positioning of water abstraction, i.e. from the bottom of the river catchment as opposed to higher up, including for the health of the Severn and Thames catchments. The results led to a change in plans for the management regime of Thames Water’s reservoirs.

Climate change is decreasing water availability

Chris says: “If you look into future likely scenarios, climate change is decreasing water availability and this research has definitely demonstrated how that can cause significant problems in water treatment works and has given us a better understanding of different types of water resource options.

“Part of my role is to engage with academic bodies to understand the latest thinking and communicate it internally to our senior executives and board members and to our external stakeholders as well. Another part is ensuring we have effective communication for public and community consultation on our Water Management Plans for the more practical aspects of day-to-day water supply. Through my involvement with MaRIUS and About Drought I have found the events – such as the one-day water suppliers’ feedback workshop in Oxford – very useful in giving me visibility of what has been done and in supporting me in getting internal funding.

“I have been able to follow-up with UK-based speakers who have always been very responsive and my colleagues have also found them very helpful.

“I do think that it would be worthwhile continuing bringing this community together, even if it is just once a year, to keep us up to speed. The work isn’t going to stop just because About Drought has stopped.

“It’s important to ensure the good work that has been done to date continues and doesn’t dry up just because the funding dries up.”

Interview by Sally Stevens

Posted October 2019

Resources for Learning

Cover image of the book "DRY, Diary of a water superhero"

Posts tagged ‘education’

Educational Resources

DRY: The Diary of a Water Superhero

A bright, engaging story book has been produced for use in primary schools, with accompanying teacher’s notes and is due for publication later this year (2019). Designed to inform children to become champions to change behaviour, ‘DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero’ follows the story of an ordinary schoolgirl who becomes a water hero during a drought in the UK. The thought-provoking storyline encourages class discussions on how we treat water and how we can all save water as well as including activities.

Cover image of the book "DRY, Diary of a water superhero"

The book, its concept and storyline were co-produced by Prof Lindsey McEwen, Luci Gorell Barnes, Verity Jones, Sarah Whitehouse and Sara Williams as part of About Drought, with illustrations by Luci Gorell Barnes.

A link to the online version of ‘DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero’ and the teacher’s notes will be available here after publication. Further resources will include lesson plans for KS4&5.

For older students: Water Futures

Water Futures is an interactive visualisation tool stringing together several different models, which allows users – including students under guidance – to explore how water resources move throughout London. Models in general allow researchers, engineers and decision makers to envision different possible scenarios or outcomes. The models used in this tool are from Thames Water, a weather model from the University of Bristol and a water resources model from the University of Oxford called the WATHNET model. Water Futures was developed by the MaRIUS project working with Thames21, a community project that aims to provide education, improve rivers and improve the quality of life of people in the community by enhancing waterway environments.

Further activity sheets and teacher’s notes will be added as they become available.

Impact of drought on agricultural and horticultural crops, and their response to different climate futures

Harper Adams University has undertaken an extensive review of the impact of drought on crops grown in the UK and their response to different climate futures. This also includes a consolidation of insights for protected and horticultural crops. This report is available in draft and more focussed crop factsheets are in production.

Economic value of supplemental irrigation in England and Wales StoryMap

screenshot of UWE StoryMap

Irrigation is an essential component of crop production to meet retailer demands for premium quality when rainfall is insufficient. Under drought conditions, irrigation can be constrained by water resources availability, with consequent impacts on yield, quality and revenue. Whilst most agriculture in Europe is rainfed, greater dependence on supplemental irrigation could become more important in humid environments due to a changing climate with greater rainfall uncertainty and higher frequency of droughts.

This interactive StoryMap explores the total financial benefit of outdoor irrigated production in England and Wales assuming no constraints in resource availability and optimal irrigation practices. The analysis suggests that the total net benefits of irrigation in a dry year are around £665 million. Map outputs highlight significant regional differences in water productivity reflecting the composition of land use and the importance of crop mix in determining economic value. A sensitivity analysis to changes in agroclimate, market conditions (crop prices) and water supply (costs) illustrates how the benefits might change under contrasting scenario. The study highlights the importance of supplemental irrigation, even in a humid climate, and the risks that future droughts and/or constraints in water resource availability might have on agricultural systems, livelihoods and the rural economy.The StoryMap is based on a paper, “Modelling and mapping the economic value of supplemental irrigation in a humid climate“.

View the StoryMap on the UWE website.

Drought impacts explorer

Screenshot of the Beta version of the Drought impacts explorer

As part of the Historic Droughts project, researchers at Cranfield University developed an inventory of qualitative drought data related to UK agriculture based on an extensive review from two weekly farming magazines in the UK, Farmer’s Weekly and Farmers Guardian for the period 1975-2012. The resultant inventory contains 2209 records with information on the start and end dates of the event and their location to characterise the temporal and spatial extents of the cited event, together with the text describing the driver, impact or response in relation to that event. The inventory is available to download as a csv file from the UK Data Service.

This dataset is also currently being translated in to a drought impacts explorer, which allows the user to view these records spatially and to search and save according to various criteria. If you would like to be involved in beta testing of the explorer please contact nevil.quinn@uwe.ac.uk. An early draft of the explorer is available online.

D-Risk

d-risk website screenshot

Recent droughts have highlighted the pressures on water allocations and the reliability of abstractions for irrigation.  Farm business models need to align cropping programmes to water availability – how resilient is yours to future water shocks?

D-Risk is an intuitive and free online webtool to help farming enterprises rapidly understand their business and drought abstraction risks and thereby support robust decisions regarding future investment in irrigation infrastructure, including equipment and storage reservoirs. D-Risk uses readily accessible data on your local soils, agroclimate, crop areas, irrigation plans, licences and reservoirs to assess the risk of having:

  • Insufficient headroom
  • Irrigation deficit

You can then explore:

  • Impact of licence changes
  • Modified crop mix and irrigated areas
  • Need for reservoir investment

Visit the D-Risk website

A Water Strategy for UK Agriculture

Increasing the farming sector’s resilience to drought and water scarcity risks

Water is at the heart of farming and agri-businesses, particularly in eastern England, the east midlands, and south-east, the driest and most water-stressed areas in the UK. Without water most agri-businesses would simply not survive. Irrigated agriculture supplies the UK’s agri-food industry with substantial quantities of high-quality potatoes, fruit and vegetables. But increasing regulation, droughts and a changing climate all threaten the sustainability of this industry and the rural livelihoods it supports. While other sectors and businesses have water strategies, the agriculture sector does need. Agriculture therefore needs a water strategy to ensure that it receives a fair share of the nation’s available water resources.

To address this need researchers at Cranfield University have been working in partnership with the National Farmers Union (NFU), the UK Irrigation Association (UKIA) and other stakeholders to develop a collective vision. The strategy sets out some guiding principles and proposes actions grouped according to the following themes:

  • Manage current and future demand in abstraction ‘hotspots’
  • Address environmental challenges linked to over-abstraction and climate change
  • Build water infrastructure to provide resilience for farming businesses
  • Promote business growth and support multi-sector stakeholder engagement

The strategy is undergoing further consultation and will be available at the end of 2019 for comment.