Far reaching influence of MaRIUS research into water risks

By Dr Helen Gavin, Project Manager for MaRIUS

Research from the MaRIUS project is widely recognised as having transformed how water risks are managed by the Government, water suppliers and regulators.

MaRIUS (Managing the risks, impacts and uncertainties of droughts and water scarcity) developed the first national-scale water resource model for England and Wales, triggering a transition in government policy and industry practice. Between 2014 and 2020 MaRIUS research involved new theory, the creation of new datasets and models, validation and demonstration in case studies of how the risk of droughts can be assessed and better managed through system modelling and ‘outcomes-based’ approaches to decision making. To date, four major reports have drawn on its work: ‘Water UK Long Term Planning Framework (2016); the National Infrastructure Commission’s ‘Preparing for a drier future, England’s water infrastructure needs’ (2018); the Committee on Climate Change’s CCRA3 Water Availability study (2018-19) and the Environment Agency’s report ‘Meeting our Future Water Needs: A National Framework for Water Resources’ (2020).

Prof Jim Hall, Principal Investigator (PI) of MaRIUS and Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at the University of Oxford, is a member of the Prime Minister’s Council of Science and Technology and an Expert Advisor to the National Infrastructure Commission. The project was based at the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford.

“Our research has caused a transition in government policy and industry practice for water resource management in England. It has shown how drought risks can be assessed and better managed through system modelling and ‘outcomes-based’ approaches to decision making.

“We have achieved a significant shift in thinking and practice by the regulators, through interaction over eight years with water companies, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Defra and the National Infrastructure Commission.”

Professor Jim Hall, University of Oxford

The increasing frequency of droughts and water scarcity in our warming climate, combined with our growing population and increasing demands for supply present huge challenges for national and local government, water suppliers, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, industry and communities.

MaRIUS’s work has provided conceptual frameworks and methodologies that have enabled government and its agencies to address these challenges and has provided data, systems models and other evidence that are transforming policy and practice. The new water resource system simulation model integrates public water supplies with use of water in agriculture, power generation and other industries. It has been used to explore different future scenarios of drought and assess the frequency, duration and severity of water shortages now and in the future. Tools have been developed to explore trade-offs between different aspects of risk and the cost of alternative management plans.

Key to the take-up of MaRIUS’s research was a series of well-managed and effective workshops where potential users sat down with the leading researchers to explore datasets, models and tools in development, sharing their real-world decision-making and communications processes.

“We are continuing to work very closely with the Environment Agency and Ofwat, at their request. We are undertaking joint resilience assessments and exploring the impacts on water resources. We continue to train Environment Agency staff on our model and will transfer this tool to them as they wish to use it to fulfil their regulatory responsibilities.”

Professor Jim Hall, University of Oxford

Groundwater management during droughts and future prospects

A new publication has been released today which explores how our essential groundwater resources are managed during droughts, and against a backdrop of environmental change, what future priorities should be.

The work reports the outputs from a meeting over 50 hydrogeologists from water companies, regulators, consultancies and academia that was held by About Drought in July 2019 in Birmingham. The aim of the meeting was to consider current groundwater drought management practices and identity research needs.

Four key themes are discussed throughout the paper:

  • Joined up definitions of drought
  • Enhanced monitoring
  • Improved modelling of groundwater during droughts
  • Better information sharing

“Managing groundwater supplies subject to drought: perspectives on current status and future priorities from England (UK)” has been published in Hydrogeology Journal and is available to all now.

Putting real-time data into the hands of water managers

A year on from the launch of the UK Water Resources Portal, it is being used as a valuable and reliable real-time water monitoring tool by environmental and water managers.

The web-based system tracks the latest hydrological situation across England, Wales and Scotland, allowing users to explore up-to-date data including rainfall, river flows, soil moisture and groundwater levels.

It makes use of very recently published real-time river flow data from the Environment Agency (EA) and puts it in the context of longer term water availability, using data from the National River Flow Archive based at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), including knowledge about drought indicators that have been developed through the About Drought programme.

It includes standardised indicators for rainfall (Standardised Precipitation Index), river flows (Standardised Streamflow Index) and groundwater (Standardised Groundwater Index), but allows users to switch to actual values, which can make them easier to understand. Indices can be compared between locations with very different rainfall and between times of year or be calculated over different time frames, depending on the user’s requirements.

Matt Fry, Environmental Informatics Manager at the (UKCEH), manages the data workstream of the About Drought knowledge exchange project. His focus has been on co-designing the tools to put the research programme’s data into the hands of users in an accessible and meaningful way. He says:

You do not need technical skills to use the UK Water Resources Portal. Anyone with an interest in current water resources or drought conditions can use it – from policymakers to members of the public, businesses to farmers and regulators to consultants. It really helps to raise awareness of the status of river flows and rainfall, particularly during drought episodes, and we believe it is an excellent communications tool for all sorts of end users and decision makers

Jamie Hannaford, Principal Investigator of About Drought and Principal Hydrologist at UKCEH, adds:

“The UK Water Resources Portal is a big advance in real-time data availability.”

The UK Water Resources Portal is just one of the many user-friendly data products from About Drought.

Explore the data platforms here.

Read more in the online About Drought Handbook.