D-Risk2: Multi-scale management of irrigation abstraction and drought risks in UK

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


Droughts highlight the important risks faced by irrigators in not only having access to sufficient volumes of water available through their licence but also to the reliability of their licensed water due to imposition of voluntary and/or mandatory restrictions during droughts. Whilst NE/N017471/1 developed the D-Risk webtool (www.d-risk.eu) to understand the risks of having insufficient licensed water during drought, it did not address an additional important aspect which is the reliability of that access to water for abstraction either due to voluntary or mandatory (Section 57; Hands Off Flow) restrictions. Abstraction reforms being proposed by the government need to be supported by clear evidence-based assessments of the need for water and the reliability of access to water resources, particularly during droughts when the responses to irrigation and environmental risks and economic consequences are highest. However, there are no tools available to support Environment Agency staff and Natural England catchment sensitive farming officers in using a catchment-based approach in dialogues regarding agricultural water needs, and for irrigated farming businesses to objectively assess their abstraction reliability due to restrictions during drought events.

This proposal will provide significant added-value to NE/N017471/1 by using newly developed methods for assessing abstraction reliability developed through integration of agricultural and hydrological research within NE/L010186/1 and NE/L010208. In response to an identified need from our national and regional project partners, this project will develop an enhanced version of the D-Risk decision support webtool (D-Risk2) with added functionality to evaluate the joint risks of abstraction restrictions (voluntary and mandatory) and insufficient irrigation volumes during drought events, and provide support to inform longer-term strategic options for reconciling drought risk with water availability at catchment to business scales. The D-Risk2 tool will support decision-making regarding the future opportunities for water trading, licence reductions and the need for and scale of on-farm resource investment (e.g. high flow winter storage reservoirs).

This KE proposal therefore sets out to develop a new tool (D-Risk2) which will:
- Enable the EA to better understand the national spatio-temporal risks of excessive low flows that trigger voluntary and/or mandatory abstraction restrictions;
- Provide the EA and NE staff with a publically-available tool to assess the irrigation supply-need balances and reliability at a local-scale to support Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) discussions with water abstractor groups and irrigators to improve collective management and use of catchment water resources, thereby improving transparency and trust, particularly in water-stressed catchments where irrigation demand is concentrated;
- Provide water abstractor groups within a tool to help them identify opportunities for water trading to increase high-value food production and maximise the economic benefits of irrigation, and;
- Enable individual farm enterprises to critically evaluate their business plans and irrigation infrastructural investments to achieve acceptable future levels of drought and water resources.

The project involves a small but integrated team involving the EA, Natural England, UK Irrigation Association, NFU and ESWAG, a water abstractors group with 80 farm businesses.

Planned Impact

In co-designing this research, a series of discussions were held with national and regional staff within the EA and NE to discuss the use of the existing farm-based D-Risk tool to support their national to catchment-scale activities within abstraction reform and the Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) to improving the quality of the water environment. These discussions identified key areas of improvement, which knowledge translation of MaRIUS research could address, which form the basis of D-Risk2:
1. Being able to assess the aggregate drought risk faced by groups of irrigators, rather than individual irrigators;
2. Adding additional irrigated crops into the list of options within D-Risk2 for which irrigation needs can be derived, and;
3. Incorporating the likelihood of voluntary and mandatory restrictions on abstractions from rivers, so that D-Risk2 assesses both the individual and combined drought risks associated with volumetric licensed limits and abstraction constraints.

The main project outputs will include:

1. An innovative web-based tool (D-Risk2) to support the EA, NE, irrigated agribusinesses and farming enterprises to understand the implications and benefits of abstraction reform within a drought management context;
2. Two case studies describing the use of the D-Risk2 tool in Priority Catchments to support improved drought management and enhanced water sharing;
3. Materials and training to support CSFOs in their own engagement activities with farm business to improve their water abstraction management and drought risks;
4. Online information and guidance promoting the use of the D-Risk2 webtool, hosted on the UKIA website, with supporting guidance and case studies;
5. A programme of dissemination events, co-organised with ESWAG, the UKIA and NFU to promote awareness and uptake of the D-Risk2 webtool, and;
6. Technical presentations on the use of the D-Risk2 webtool at regional and national conferences and technical meetings to support improved drought risk planning and promote the use of the D-Risk2 tool to agribusinesses.

The main outcomes for end-users will include:

1. More effective engagement between EA / NE staff and the agricultural sector to deliver catchment management improvements, enabled through an improved and transparent understanding of the implications and benefits of abstraction reform within a drought management context gained from shared use of the D-Risk2 webtool;
2. Direct embodiment of new knowledge on drought risks into the farm business plans of our agribusiness Project Partners, reducing their agronomic and economic exposure to drought risks (Impact);
3. Direct embodiment of new knowledge on drought risks into non-Project Partner farm business plans reducing the economic exposure of UK irrigated agriculture to drought risks (Impact);
4. Increased awareness of the links and consequences of drought on future abstraction licensing management
5. Voluntary re-allocation of unused and unrequired licenced water resources between agricultural abstractions to support increased agricultural production and economic benefits, and;
6. Improved representation of needs of agricultural irrigation within ongoing regional and catchment level initiatives linked to Water Resources East (WRE).
7. Improved management and use of water resources in an increasingly extreme climate that successfully balances sustainability, environmental and economic concerns (Impact)


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