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

Tracey Dunford, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Lead Specialist Planner Water Resources

Drought in Wales

‘About Drought’s workshop in Cardiff helped to really engage the interest of my peers and colleagues who deal with drought in Wales’

Tracey Dunford, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Lead Specialist Planner Water Resources
Low water level in a South Wales reservoir
Pontsticill Reservoir in South Wales. CREDIT: Karl McCarthy

About Drought has given people creating water policies and strategies, face-to-face access to scientists at the forefront of drought research through a series of workshops held around the UK. Tracey Dunford, who has worked in water resources for Wales for 20 years, attended a wide range of workshops organised by MaRIUS and DRY, returning to Cardiff to share information about the programme’s latest datasets and communications research with her colleagues

Targeted workshop for Welsh audience

She says: “All the Drought and Water Scarcity and ENDOWS events I went to were extremely useful. I have been feeding back to my colleagues on the various outputs and they have been considering how to incorporate them into their decision making. The workshop About Drought held for NRW and the Welsh Government in Cardiff was especially useful as it was targeted to the Welsh audience. 

 “All our drought leads in NRW across Wales attended, including colleagues from biodiversity, fisheries, water resources, water quality, forestry and policy. It helped to engage people’s interest across our whole organisation and keep us all up-to-date with the current science.” 

The Natural Resources Wales/Welsh Government Workshop was held in December 2018, with delegates hearing directly about the research and outputs from About Drought and inviting them to help shape the final phase of activity. Initially the delegates heard from NRW who introduced the areas of their organisation that are most likely to be engaged with About Drought, which then gave way to introductions from the About Drought team. 

ENDWS Principal Investigator, Jamie Hannaford from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) introduced the programme. The agenda covered Water Supply with Dr Helen Gavin from the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, Environment with Dr Nevil Quinn (University of the West of England) and Dr Francois Edwards (CEH), and Agriculture with Prof Ian Holman (Cranfield University). Following these introductions, the floor was opened for discussions and Q&A, to further discuss next steps for NRW’s and the Welsh Government’s involvement.

Engaging with experts in Wales

A separate meeting was held with NRW community colleagues in early 2019 with Prof Lindsey McEwen, Ruth Larbey and Emma Weitkamp of the DRY (Drought Risk & You) Project, working with communities and business. 

“These two helped to really engage the interest of my peers and colleagues who deal with drought in Wales, for instance our Hydrology and Agriculture Leads are now in direct contact with CEH and Cranfield University, providing their feedback on, for example, the UK Drought Portal, and with UWE to provide feedback on the environmental drought report cards,” says Tracey. 

“Our next stage is to consider all the data and outputs that have come out of About Drought and take stock of how we can use it. We need to put it into the context of Wales – for example, what are the drought impacts in Wales and the sectors most at risk? What does it mean for our natural resources including land, water and forestry? It can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the evidence. 

“During 2018’s prolonged hot dry weather we found the UK Drought Portal and the monthly Hydrological Outlooks useful, for example, for collating the Standard Precipitation Index triggers.” Being able to sit in a series of workshops around the same table as About Drought’s leading experts behind the data sets, has been invaluable for Tracey and for the programme team as well.

Two-way knowledge exchange

Tracey says: “It’s been beneficial both ways, not only did I get to know about so many things – including the drought communications work – but I was able to explain to the researchers that what works for England isn’t always necessarily right for Wales. Drought planning isn’t always the same, some of the policy and governances are quite different.

“I am concerned about losing contact with everyone now the programme has ended. Will I have ability to still contact people if we don’t understand something or we want a bit more background? 

“The briefing papers and one-pagers on topics have been very useful but I need to think ‘How is that useful for Wales? What are the most likely drought impacts? Where will they be? What are the short, medium or long-term impacts?’ As an organisation we in NRW need to take that forward. 

“It would be good to have it packaged up for Welsh policy, a synopsis of how drought affects Wales rather than topic by topic. In terms of decision-making we are re-visiting how we ‘do’ drought in Wales and we are going to find the About Drought datasets useful now that we are evolving our drought policy.”

Interview by Sally Stevens

Posted October 2019