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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Law Faculty

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

10 25 50
 
Description see publications in international peer reviewed journals, which are being picked up and built upon by other researchers in the field (on semantics scholar currently 19 citations for the Lange, Bloomfield and Holman (2017) paper), and the chapter in the Handbook edited by Vinuales and Lees.

and generation of data set of extracted data from Hansard House of Commons and House of Lords debates on 'Drivers' of, 'Responses' to and 'Impacts' of five key droughts in the UK: 1976, 1984, 1995, 2003-6, 2010-12.

Additional data set generated of 32 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders who have managed specific drought episodes, including some who managed the summer 2018 pro-longed dry weather event.
Exploitation Route Challenges for managing water resources are continuing in the context of a changing climate. I am engaging in an additional co-operation with Dr. Blessed Ngwenya at the University of South Africa, Pretoria, a former doctoral student of mine, in order to generate further impact of the findings from the drought research, also in light of the fact that South Africa, and Cape Town in particular experienced a serious drought lasting from 2014-8. A research trip to Pretoria has been organized for the 12th to 28th of April 2020 but unfortunately had to be postponed due to Covid-19. I have contacted civil society organizations, such as Mvula, and the SA Government Department of Water & Sanitation, in Pretoria, as well as the SA Water Research Commission in Pretoria to present research findings, and to develop comparative perspectives entailing mutual learning about drought management.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/historic-droughts
 
Description Content of UK National Infrastructure Commission's review of the Costs of Drought Resilience
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact The contribution has been a part of a range of views that have informed the UK government's review of the Costs of Drought Resilience, and thus the UK government's likely future implementation of policy in relation to drought resilience.
 
Description ENDOWS: Contribution from the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 01/2019
 
Description NERC
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
 
Description UNISA Vision Keepers Programme
Amount R490,000 (ZAR)
Organisation UNISA 
Sector Academic/University
Country South Africa
Start 11/2018 
End 10/2020
 
Title 'A scenario-based framework for assessing the economic impacts of potential droughts'  
Description Working Paper by Decker, C, Freire-González, J. and J.W. Hall (2017). 'A scenario-based framework for assessing the economic impacts of potential droughts', submitted to:  Water Economics and Policy (under review)    
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact To be yet determined. 
 
Title A Conceptual Framework for Analysing Historic Droughts 
Description The purpose of the Conceptual Framework is to enable analysis of key elements of drought systems in the UK, and to understand relationships between these key elements. Moreover, the Conceptual Framework seeks to integrate explanations of drought systems that draw on social and natural processes. The framework builds on existing Drivers, Pressures, States, Impacts and Responses (DPSIR) models and modifies these in three key ways. First, it foregrounds, 'Drivers', 'Impacts' and 'Responses', and considers 'Pressures' as a sub-category of 'Drivers', and 'States' as a sub-category of 'Impacts'. Second, it adds time as a key dimension according to which 'Drivers', 'Impacts' and 'Responses' can vary. Third, it adds spatial 'scale' (e.g. national, regional, catchment, local) as another key dimension according to which 'Drivers', 'Impacts' and 'Responses' can vary. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This framework is currently being finalised, and its impacts will be discussed during further reporting on this. 
 
Title A methodology to determine optimal restrictions for water scarcity management 
Description Working Paper by: Decker, C, Freire-González, J. and J.W. Hall (2017). 'Linear programming input-output method to determine optimal restrictions for water scarcity management', submitted to the journal:  Water Research (under review) 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact To be still to be determined. 
 
Title Joint Framework for the hydrological-social analysis of drought 
Description A framework for the analysis of historic droughts capturing different disciplinary perspectives, including natural and social science perspectives, by building on and modifying existing DPSIR (Drivers, Pressures, States, Impacts and Responses) models. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact To be developed. The tool was presented as a poster at the RCUK conference 'Droughts and Water Scarcity' 27 - 28 June 2016, St. Anne's College Oxford. 
 
Title Database of 32 semi-structured interviews conducted with stakeholders about the historic evolution of the governance framework for historic drought episodes in the UK 
Description These interviews relate to Task 4.1 of the Historic Droughts project. The purpose of these interviews was, firstly, to obtain an understanding of continuities and changes in the governance of historic drought episodes in the UK from the perspective of stakeholders, including drought managers who actually managed specific historic drought episodes. Secondly, the purpose of these interviews was to understand whether and how drought managers might work with a systems-based approach to drought, and in particular whether the 'Drivers, Pressures, States, Impacts and Responses' (DPSIR) model and its variations inform drought management 'in action'. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Impacts arising from this original primary data set are to be further developed. 
 
Title Socio-legal contribution to the CEH Historic Droughts Inventory 
Description A database of extracts from Hansard House of Commons and Lords debates around key Historic Droughts in the UK, 1976, 1984, 1995, 2003-6, 2010-12 that codes these debates into statements about their 'Drivers', 'Pressures', 'States', 'Impacts' and 'Responses' with reference to the 'Framework for a joint hydro-meteorological-social analysis of drought' developed for this project. The final version of the 'Regulation' contribution to the Inventory will be deposited shortly by CEH in conjunction with other thematic sector contributions to the Inventory in the UK Data Services Re-share Repository. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Later research fish submissions will report on this. 
 
Description Collaboration with international water resource management expert group 
Organisation International Water Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Dr. Chris Decker has collaborated with other researchers through his involvement in:     Member of IWA Working Group on public policy and regulation for resilience.    
Collaborator Contribution Dr. Chris Decker contributed to the text of the following Policy Briefing Reports arising from the working group:   Contributed to International Water Association: Public policy and regulatory foundations of an effective strategy for resilience in the provision of water, sanitation and wastewater treatment services" 
Impact This is a multidisciplinary collaboration involving engineers, water resource managers, hydrologists and economists. Dr. Chris Decker contributed to International Water Association: Public policy and regulatory foundations of an effective strategy for resilience in the provision of water, sanitation and wastewater treatment services
Start Year 2016
 
Description Collaboration with the Rivers Trust 
Organisation Rivers Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution 1. Knowledge gathered from previous NERC funded research about the governance of water resources in the UK. 2. Writing of a primer-type document that sets out Guidelines for the incorporation of drought risk into the catchment based approach to water resource management.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise about the operation of the catchment based approach to water resource management in the UK, new ideas about how catchment actions may address drought risk, best practice examples of catchment actions that link drought risk to water quality, land use and flood management.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration, involving socio-Legal and environmental studies.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Dr. Chris Decker is a Member of the Global Water Partnership/IDMP Expert Group on Drought Preparedness 
Organisation Global Water Partnership
Department IDMP Expert Group
Country Sweden 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Dr. Chris Decker contributed to the text of the Report of the IDMP Expert Group  -  'Benefits of Action/ Cost of Inaction for Drought Preparedness'  
Collaborator Contribution Contribution to text of the Report of the IDMP Expert Group  -  'Benefits of Action/ Cost of Inaction for Drought Preparedness'  
Impact Contribution to text of the Report of the IDMP Expert Group  -  'Benefits of Action/ Cost of Inaction for Drought Preparedness'   A multi-disciplinary co-operation involving engineers, hydrologists, economists and water resource managers.
Start Year 2016
 
Description UNISA collaboration 
Organisation UNISA
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provide presentations of research methods and findings so far.
Collaborator Contribution Financing research trip to UNISA campus, Pretoria, 12th to 28th of April 2020, i.e. return flight costs, accommodation and food, opening up opportunities to meet SA researchers and policy-makers.
Impact Presentations, impact outputs currently anticipated.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Dr. Chris Decker is a Member of IWA Working Group on public policy and regulation for resilience   
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 Contribution to Policy Briefing Report of the International Water Association: 'Public policy and regulatory foundations of an effective strategy for resilience in the provision of water, sanitation and wastewater treatment services'. Continuing contribution from Dr. Decker on work of the IWA Working Group on Regulation and Resilience in relation to the costs of action/inaction for drought.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
 
Description Dr. Chris Decker is a Member of the Global Water Partnership/IDMP Expert Group 
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 The participation in the expert group led to the preparation of a policy briefing paper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017