Analysis of historic drought and water scarcity in the UK: a systems-based study of drivers, impacts and their interactions

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Geological Survey
Department Name: Groundwater

Abstract

Drought and water scarcity (D&WS) are significant threats to livelihoods and wellbeing in many countries, including the United Kingdom (UK). Parts of the UK are already water-stressed and are facing a wide range of pressures, including an expanding population and intensifying exploitation of increasingly limited water resources. In addition, many regions may become significantly drier in future due to environmental changes, all of which implies major challenges to water resource management. However, D&WS are not simply natural hazards. There are also a range of socio-economic and regulatory factors that may influence the course of droughts, such as water consumption practices and abstraction licensing regimes. Consequently, if drought and water scarcity are to be better managed, there is a need for a more detailed understanding of the links between hydrometeorological and social systems during droughts.

Based on an analysis of information from a wide range of sectors (hydrometeorological, environmental, agricultural, regulatory, social and cultural), the project will characterise and quantify the history of drought and water scarcity (D&WS) since the late 19th century and will produce the first systematic account (UK Drought Inventory) of droughts in the UK. The Inventory forms the basis of a novel joint hydro-meteorological and socio-economic analysis of the drivers of drought and their impacts, with a focus on a search for characteristic systems interactions. The enhanced systems-based understanding is expected to improve decision-making for future drought management and planning, including more informed and thus effective public discourse related to D&WS.

Currently there are no conceptual models of D&WS that describe interactions between hydrometerological and socio-economic drivers and environmental and societal impacts of droughts. The first task will therefore develop a new systems-based conceptualisation of D&WS. This will be used to investigate drought drivers, impacts and their interdependencies. The second task will produce the knowledge base for use within the project and the wider NERC UK Drought and Water Scarcity Programme. It involves the compilation of datasets and metadata, including data and information for selected case study episodes of D&WS. Information on the social and cultural aspects of D&WS will be compiled from oral histories and collation of reports in the historic and recent print and broadcast media, and the first analysis of social media from the 2010-12 drought will be carried out. The third task will develop the Drought Inventory by a novel combination of drought timelines, sector-specific narrative chronologies highlighting key events, and the production of new cross-sectoral drought indicators. To understand the interactions between social and environmental systems during D&WS episodes, the fourth task will: identify significant systems interactions across a range of droughts; identify key triggers and thresholds for droughts; and, describe the reasons behind any changes in systems interactions in droughts over the historic record. The final and fifth task examines how socio-economic context and water resource management practices contributed to resilience to episodes of D&WS in the historic record and considers the implications for changes in planning for the management of future droughts. It also provides an assessment of what are the most effective forms of dialogue and information exchange between the public and those responsible for water resource management that may contribute to beneficial outcomes during future episodes of D&WS.

The key research outcomes will be: a systems-based understanding of D&WS in the context of multiple environmental and societal drivers; an accessible, integrated cross-sector UK Drought Inventory; improved advice and methods to support decision making related to drought management; and, new strategies to re-frame public discourse related to D&WS.

Planned Impact

Due to the nature of the project, there will be multiple beneficiaries from the findings of the project. The following identifies who will benefit from the research and how they will benefit from different aspects of the proposed research.

The principal beneficiaries of the project will be: 1.) policy makers and environmental regulators in the UK; 2.) decision makers and water resource managers in water utilities; 3.) decision makers and managers in UK businesses where decisions related to water use and management are business-critical, including the agricultural sector; 4.) NGOs and Third Sector organisations with an interest in water resources issues and environmental management; 5.) the general public; 6.) communications professionals; 7.) academics and researchers with an interest in drought and water scarcity (D&WS); and 8.) the teaching profession, specifically those delivering key stage 3 and above related to environmental science.

The project will develop a systems-based understanding of D&WS. This will provide a framework for policymakers and environmental regulators, and those with responsibility for long-term water resource management to include and take account of broader socio-economic factors in decision making. Benefits will include improved, more integrated regulatory, planning and decision making processes related to D&WS in the UK.

The UK Drought Inventory, a cross-sector evidence base of historic episodes of D&WS produced by the project, will provide a common reference for policy makers and regulators, water supply companies, and UK business to make decisions in the context of D&WS and key reference droughts. This will enable the development of better drought mitigation plans, leading to improved long-term management of water resources and a reduction in the cost of droughts to UK business. Because it is a common evidence base, it will enable more consistent, transparent planning against standard benchmarks across multiple agencies.

The project will produce improved advice and methods to support decision making related to drought management during episodes of D&WS. Regulators, water resources managers, UK industry, particularly the agricultural sector, with responsibilities for strategic and operational decision making during episodes of D&WS will benefit from the advice, guidance and new methods developed to support decision making. Benefits will include more effective and timely management interventions as droughts develop and as they end; interventions based on commonly agreed principles and evidence; and, more certainty in management and co-ordination of response to droughts.

The development of new strategies to re-frame public discourse related to D&WS is a specific goal for the project. Beneficiaries of these new strategies include: policy makers and regulators; water supply companies; the public; and, NGOs and community groups, particularly those who are responsible for providing information for and engaging in dialogue with the public on issues related to water resources. The benefits include a more informed public debate around issues associated with D&WS; greater clarity regarding decision making process during droughts; wider consensus regarding the positive contribution the public can make to best water resource outcomes during episodes of D&WS.

The project will deliver a series of significant new resources for academics and researchers working in the field of drought research, that when combined with outputs from the other UK Drought Programme projects will have a significant international impact and will lead to major advances in research in this field.

The resources proposed to be developed for teachers as part of the follow-on knowledge exchange activities will provide teachers with appropriate, authoritative materials that will make their teaching of issues related to water resources more effective and will contribute to a more informed generation of young people.

Publications

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Bloomfield J (2018) Increased incidence, duration and intensity of groundwater drought associated with anthropogenic warming in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions

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Bloomfield J (2019) Changes in groundwater drought associated with anthropogenic warming in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences

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Bloomfield J (2015) Regional analysis of groundwater droughts using hydrograph classification in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences

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Jackson C (2015) Evidence for changes in historic and future groundwater levels in the UK in Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment

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Lange B (2017) A framework for a joint hydro-meteorological-social analysis of drought. in The Science of the total environment

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Marchant B (2018) Spatio-temporal modelling of the status of groundwater droughts in Journal of Hydrology

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Watts G (2015) Climate change and water in the UK - past changes and future prospects in Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment

 
Description Note that this project is on-going and not yet complete. However, to date the original objectives of the project are being met and selected key findings are: a new index for standardising groundwater level time series and characterising groundwater droughts, the Standardised Groundwater level Index (SGI), has been developed; unsaturated zone thickness and hydraulic diffusivity both influence the response of groundwater to episodes of drought; and that there is a need to take into account the hydrogeological context of groundwater monitoring sites when designing and interpreting data from groundwater monitoring networks. Reconstruction of groundwater levels for selected sites across England and Wales is extending the observed groundwater drought record back to 1900.
Exploitation Route Potential to improve EA operational drought monitoring and early warning. We have an agreement with EA staff to talk about this during 2016.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/groundwater/waterResources/drought_overview.html
 
Description Membership of the UK Environmental Observation Framework Steering Committee ( see http://www.ukeof.org.uk/ )
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The UKEOF Catalogue holds metadata of over 1100 activities, providing the only UK overview of observation activities. The Systematic Observations section of the UK's Sixth National Communication, a report required of Parties to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was drafted for DECC by drawing on the UKEOF catalogue, and work by the UKEOF Secretariat and a contractor, to provide a comprehensive overview of UK activities making observations of the climate system.
URL http://www.ukeof.org.uk/impact
 
Description International Opportunities Fund
Amount £249,527 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R004994/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2021
 
Title Historic Standardised Groundwater level Index (SGI) for 54 UK boreholes (1891-2015) 
Description Monthly Standardised Groundwater level Index (SGI) for observation boreholes across the UK from 1891 to 2015, based on reconstructed groundwater level time series (Bloomfield et al., 2018; https://doi.org/10.5285/ccfded8f-c8dc-4a24-8338-5af94dbfcc16). Standardised groundwater levels have been estimated using a non-parametric normal scores transform of groundwater level data for each calendar month. Probability estimates of an SGI being less than 0, -1, -1.5 and -2 are also provided. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Centennial length groundwater standardised indices available for the first time that enable water companies in England to use benchmark historic droughts in their Water Resource Management https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/water-resources-planning-managing-supply-and-demand and Drought Management ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/drought-management-for-england ) planning processes 
URL https://catalogue.ceh.ac.uk/documents/d92c91ec-2f96-4ab2-8549-37d520dbd5fc
 
Title Historic reconstructions of monthly groundwater levels for 54 UK boreholes (1891-2015) 
Description This dataset is a model output created using the BGS AquiMod model. It provides monthly groundwater level relative to the Ordnance Datum (maOD) from 1891 to 2015, reconstructed for 54 observation boreholes across the UK. Based on the Generalised Likelihood Uncertainty Estimation (GLUE) methodology, 90th percentile and 10th percentile confidence bounds have been estimated and are given for each of reconstructed groundwater level time series. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Centennial length groundwater level records available for the first time that enable water companies in England to use benchmark historic droughts in their Water Resource Management https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/water-resources-planning-managing-supply-and-demand and Drought Management ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/drought-management-for-england ) planning processes 
URL https://catalogue.ceh.ac.uk/documents/ccfded8f-c8dc-4a24-8338-5af94dbfcc16
 
Description Collaboration with Dr Van Loon, University of Birmingham 
Organisation University of Birmingham
Department School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI and Co-I in new NERC-funded International Opportunities Fund project to investigate groundwater droughts at the European scale. BGS staff to lead on the identification and characterisation of groundwater droughts.
Collaborator Contribution Co-I in new NERC-funded International Opportunities Fund project to investigate groundwater droughts at the European scale. University of Birmingham to lead on the analysis of the impacts of groundwater droughts.
Impact No outputs of outcomes yet, beyond a successful NERC grant application NE/R004994/1
Start Year 2017
 
Description EPSRC-funded SECURE Network membership 
Organisation Lancaster University
Department Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Along with my colleague Dr Ben Marchant from the British Geological Survey we have joined the EPSRC-funded SECURE: Statistics of Environmental Change, Resources and Ecosystems Network and have also been awarded a small grant through the Network to produce statistical models of extreme groundwater levels. Myself and Ben Marchant are provided data and expertise related to extreme groundwater levels, in particular conceptualisation of processes that may influence non-linearities in the distribution of groundwater level extremes.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners at Lancaster University, Dr Emma Eastoe and Dr Jennifer Wadsworth, are provideding their expertise in extreme value statistics to analyse the groundwater level time series.
Impact None to date, the collaboration has only been running since autumn 2015
Start Year 2015
 
Description Attendance at the UNESCO-FRIEND Low flow and Drought working group meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Joint working group on low flows and droughts in Europe. Discussing collaboration on new joint research initiatives. I held a workshop specifically on Groundwater Drought to try and establish a new sub-group on this topic. The initiative was successful and I co-opted seven European research teams to join me in my successful NERC International Opportunities Fund proposal to develop a European Groundwater Drought Initiative.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited presentation to national meeting of technical staff of a national environmental regulator (Environment Agency, England) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of theory, methodology and preliminary results of national-scale modelling of groundwater drought in England on a monthly timestep from 1960 to the national meeting of hydrogeologists of the Environment Agency (EA) in Birmingham, 18th November 2015. As a result of the meeting Mark Whiteman, EA Senior Groundwater Resources Advisor in the Environment and Business Directorate to the EA has asked myself and Ben Marchant to return (Q1 of fy 2016-17) to discuss how the modelling could be turned into an operational tool for Agency staff and potentially how it to be extended to have a forecasting capability.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Keynote presentation at a two day conference on the Hydrogeology of the Chalk by the Hydrogeological Group of the Geological Society (supported by the Contaminated Land Group) covering current practice and future challenges on the characterisation and management of Chalk aquifers in the UK and across Europe. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 100+ attendees included international research community (Europe and N America), water resource managers and regulators from the UK and government policy makers. Extensive discussion of role of groundwater is public water supply provision with a focus of discussion of the most effective use of Chalk groundwater resources during episodes of drought.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.hydrogroup.org.uk/the-chalk-conference/downloads%20and%20links/
 
Description Oral presentation: Bloomfield JP, Marchant BP and McKenzie AA. 2016. Is there any evidence for changes in the nature of groundwater drought in the UK since 1890? Oral presentation at Groundwater - Managing our Hidden Asset, Geological Society of London, University of Birmingham, 13th - 14th September 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation to academics and industry practitioners to communicate current findings of NERC-funded work on historic groundwater droughts. Presentation generated useful discussions with staff from Thames Water on which benchmark drought episodes they use in their modelling of deployable output from public supply sources, and with academic colleagues not involved in the NERC-funded research on alternative methods to best model the historic groundwater level time series that we are currently reconstructing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation titled 'Bloomfield JP, Matthew Ascott, Ben Marchant, David Macdonald and Andrew McKenzie. 2018. Modelling asymmetries in groundwater drought and flood status across the Chalk aquifer of the UK since 1960'. EGU, Vienna, 13th April 2018, session HS2.1.1 - Hydrological extremes: from droughts to floods 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 100+ delegates. Presentation was part of a very well-attended session of hydrological extremes. The session highlighted the need for a far better understanding of groundwater processes at time so hydrological extremes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Two posters presented at Drought and Water Scarcity, First Annual Conference, Oxford, 27th - 28th June, 2016: 1.) Bloomfield JP, Marchant BP and McKenzie AA. 2016. Evidence for change in the nature of groundwater drought in the UK since 1890. 2.) Jackson CR, Christelis V, Wang L and Bloomfield JP. • Groundwater drought forecasting using lumped conceptual models. 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two posters presented at the Drought and Water Scarcity, First Annual Conference, Oxford, 27th - 28th June, 2016. Extensive discussion with Programme members on a wide variety of drought-related topics. Ideas for new research initiatives developed and currently being followed-up between academic colleagues across the different Drought and Water Scarcity projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016