Experts discuss changing extremes in hydrology in the UK

The conference ‘Changing extremes in hydrology’ was held at Exeter College in Oxford on 15 April 2013, and examined the characteristics and impacts of the extreme hydrological conditions experienced in the UK during 2012.

The conference’s theme was inspired by the extraordinary nature – in hydrological terms – of 2012. The first three months of 2012 were marked by the on-going drought which began in 2010. In early April water companies were forced to issue water use restrictions, affecting 20 million users. Then just a few days after the restrictions were imposed, a period of intense rains commenced and continued for the entire summer period, making it the wettest summer in the past 100 years. This prolonged period of rain resulted in widespread flooding across the country throughout the remainder of the year.

The aim of the conference was to review the meteorological and hydrological conditions that characterised 2012, to review the economic damages associated with the drought and flooding, and to provide a broader conceptual framework for understanding how the occurrence of extreme hydrological events might change in the future as a result of climatic changes and other drivers.

Mike Kendon from the Met Office opened the event by describing the characteristics of the 2010-2012 drought and placing it within the context of previous droughts across England and Wales. The drought was one of the ten most significant of the last century, but what was really remarkable was its sudden end in the spring of 2012 with the onset of greater than average rains.

This sudden transition from too little water to too much water was discussed by Simon Parry from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Parry explained how a shift in the jet stream in the spring of 2012 provided the climatic conditions necessary to produce two of the wettest months on record. This rapid change from drought to flood conditions had massive impacts on farmers, explained Tim Hess from Cranfield University. He pointed out that very few farmers are insured against flood damage and recommended a series of measures to make the UK agricultural industry more resilient to weather-related shocks.

Stuart Hyslop from the Environment Agency spoke about the effects of the 2010-2012 drought on water supply in the Thames region. He pointed to the increasing sectoral competition for water for agriculture, domestic use, recreation and wildlife during low flow periods. In order to resolve this conflict, the Environment Agency has a role in monitoring and coordinating the different water users to ensure that an equitable balance is struck between users wherever possible. Edmund Penning-Rowsell, Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University, described the damages caused by the 2012 floods.  Comparing the damage with that of historical floods, he showed how economic losses caused by flooding are overestimated in the UK.

Bill McGuire, University College London, addressed the problem of extremes from a broader perspective, providing examples of how changing climate triggers geological events such as volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. He suggested that changes on the Earth’s surface induced by climatic changes, such as ice sheet melting and sea level rise, may trigger geological catastrophes. This may imply that in the future we might witness “geological mayhem as well as climatic mayhem”, he said.

Patrick McSharry from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, discussed the contribution of mathematical statistics and the theory of extreme values to quantifying risks associated with extreme weather events, enabling better estimates of the levels of risk associated with catastrophic events.

Bruno Merz from the German Research Center for Geosciences discussed the linking of observed changes in flood frequency with specific drivers. While it may be easy to detect changes in flood frequency, separating the effects of drivers such as climate change, dam building or land use change on flooding is much more difficult and requires further research effort. This issue was also taken up by Thomas Kjeldsen from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, whose research investigates the effects of urbanisation on a catchment’s flood response. Comparing pre-urbanisation and post-urbanisation flood data has increased understanding of how urbanisation affects flooding frequency.

The final presentation by Harvey Rodda, Hydro-GIS Ltd, considered the nature of floodplain development in the UK and how flood risk is incorporated within the planning process. A number of examples showed how flood risk may, in some instances, be used as a lever against problematic planning applications.

The conference demonstrated clearly the need for further research to link observed changes in flood frequency to drivers, and to better understand and manage rapid shifts from drought to flood conditions. At the intersection between research and policy, thinking should be devoted to investigating risks associated with extreme events, and to means of financing these risks and sharing the burden of extreme hydrological events across society. In terms of policy-relevant findings, a better understanding and an unbiased representation of the damages caused by hydrological extremes is required to prioritise flood protection investments and also to reduce the chances of inappropriate use of flood risk information in planning.

The conference was organised by Hydro-GIS Ltd, a UK-based hydrology and GIS consultancy company, and received sponsorship from Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Visit the conference website

By Edoardo Borgomeo, DPhil student at the Environmental Change Institute

Job opportunity: Postdoctoral Researcher

School of Geography and the Environment

Grade 7: Salary in the range £29,541 – £33,230 p.a.

We are seeking to appoint a Postdoctoral Researcher to undertake the modelling of water quantity and quality and the development of future scenarios in a multidisciplinary project as part of the NERC funded ESPA Deltas Project (Assessing Health, Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation in Populous Deltas). As the key researcher on the project, you will be responsible for several areas of work, working closely with Professor Paul Whitehead (lead PI in Oxford) and supported by other experts in the project.

This full-time post is fixed-term for 30 months in the first instance with the possibility of extension, and is available immediately.

The successful candidate will have a PhD or equivalent professional qualifications and experience in hydrology, scenario analysis, including developing and validating models and code and managing databases, good quantitative skills and programming skills (FORTRAN and working in Windows and UNIX environments), excellent communication skills to support the project team and a willingness to travel.

The closing date for applications is 12.00 noon on Friday 17 May 2013. Interviews will be held during the week beginning 27 May 2013.

More information and application details

Job opportunity: Departmental Lecturer and MSc Course Director

School of Geography and the Environment

Grade 8: £37,382 – £44,607 p.a.

The School of Geography and the Environment is seeking to appoint a Departmental Lecturer and MSc Course Director. You will be required to manage and deliver the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management in conjunction with the programme’s Academic Director and the Director of the International Graduate School. The focus of this Masters programme is to develop a critical understanding of natural water science and the socio-economic, political, cultural and institutional environments within which water management decisions are made. Please visit the website for more information.

You will lead in the coordination, teaching, marking and supervision for one of our four masters taught course. You will also contribute to the academic administration of the department and maintain an active research and publication profile.

To undertake this role you will need a doctorate in a field closely related to the WSPM Masters programme and have a track record of postdoctoral research and high quality academic publication in an appropriate field. You will also need to demonstrate an awareness of pedagogic methods and the ability to be an effective teacher of graduate students of high ability by lecturing at an appropriate level in an interesting and engaging manner; supervising MSc dissertations; and undertaking student assessments and examinations.

This post is a full-time, 5-year departmental appointment with no formal college association, though informal relationships may be established on an ad-hominem basis.

Applications for this vacancy are to be made online. To apply for this role and for further details, including the job description and selection criteria, please click on the link below:

https://www.recruit.ox.ac.uk/pls/hrisliverecruit/erq_jobspec_version_4.jobspec?p_id=107536

The closing date for all applications is 12.00 noon on 17 May 2013. Interviews to be held during the week beginning 27 May 2013.

Dr. Rob Hope leads session at the Skoll World Forum

Dr. Rob Hope, School of Geography and the Environment, is leading a session on Mobile-Enabled Entrepreneurship for Water Security at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford on 12 April.

skollThe session highlights the mobile-enabled technologies that are charting new models for addressing Africa’s rural and urban challenges to water supply security. The mobile-enabled entrepreneurial landscape is evaulated based on the latest research and practice, including findings from the Oxford University research initiative mobile/water for development.

The programme also includes sessions on ‘Water, Water Everywhere: The Paradox of the 21st Century’ moderated by Gary White (Co-Founder and CEO, Water.org) and ‘A Collaborative Approach to Water and Sanitation’ led by Joe Madiath (Founder and executive Director, Gram Vikas).

Each year in Oxford the Skoll Forum gathers over 1,000 delegates from the social, finance, private and public sectors with an aim to accelerate entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues. The full programme, live streaming and other resources for the event which is running from 10 to 12 April 2013 can be found at http://skollworldforum.org/

Mobile payment innovations improve water service delivery in Tanzania

New research from Oxford University has found that mobile payments and related innovations are improving urban water service provision in East Africa by increasing revenue collection and reducing corruption.

Water service providers in Tanzania often struggle to provide satisfactory water supplies in its rapidly growing cities due to inadequate revenue collection and inefficient billing and payment systems. Mobile payment innovations are being used to improve public service delivery in East Africa by increasing the ease of payment for customers, expanding revenue collection for water utilities, and removing opportunities for theft, bribery, and collusion.

The project examined the use of mobile money applications and wireless pay point networks for water bill payments in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Data included 1,000,000 water payments made using different payment methods, 1097 surveys of water users in the city, and over 40 interviews with water sector officials and representatives with the telecommunications industry.

Researchers on the project include Aaron Krolikowski (School of Geography and the Environment), Professor Xiaolan Fu (Department of International Development), and Dr. Robert Hope (School of Geography and the Environment). Funding was provided by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

The report, entitled “Wireless Water: Improving Urban Water Provision Through Mobile Finance Innovations” is accompanied by a policy brief and three analytical sub-reports on customer payment behaviours, governance, and user characteristics, which can be downloaded below.

Read the Oxford University press release

Report: Wireless Water: Improving Urban Water Provision Through Mobile Finance Innovations
Policy Brief: Improving Public Service Delivery with Mobile Payment Solutions
Analytical Perspectives: Mobile Payment Innovations and User Characteristics
Analytical Perspectives: Analytical Perspectives – Governance
Analytical Perspectives: Mobile Payment Innovations and Customer Payment Behaviours

Smart Handpumps feature at the Department for International Development on World Water Day

Today Oxford University’s Dr. Rob Hope presents research on Smart Handpump technology at the UK Department for International Development, as part of their celebrations for World Water Day 2013.

The seminar A Life (in a Day) of a Girl will consider how water impacts on the life of a girl, from her birth, to school, adolescence, through to adulthood. Experts from the Department for International Development (DFID), universities and NGOs will discuss key issues such as early childhood development, childhood undernutrition, menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, the burden of water collection, and technology.

The Smart Handpumps project is led by Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. The technology consists of a GSM-enabled transmitter, securely located within the handle of the pump. The transmitter is programmed to send periodic SMS messages detailing pump usage which are transmitted cheaply and automatically over the GSM network.

Immediate detection of handpump failure can help ensure that repairs are made quickly and open-access data can improve the monitoring and regulation of water service delivery. Mobile networks allow for the scaled-up management of multiple handpumps, thereby reducing operational and financial costs.

Field trials in rural Kenya have been running since August 2012 and are being expanded with support from DFID and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The interdisciplinary project team is made up of Geographers, Engineers, Economists and Public Health experts from a number of departments across the University. Other partners include the Government of Kenya, UNICEF, GSMA and Rural Focus Ltd. (Kenya).

 

View the Smart Handpumps poster

Watch the Smart Handpumps video

Read more about the Smart Handpumps project

Economic Rights and Regulatory Regimes: is there still a ‘right’ to water?

On Tuesday 19 March, a workshop at Oxford University gathered 55 participants from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency, the National Farmers’ Union, water companies, along with academic experts to discuss the right to water in the light of increasing regulatory intervention.

 

The event was convened by Dr. Bettina Lange, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford University and Dr. Mark Shepheard, McGill University, in association with the Foundation of Law, Justice and Society and Wolfson College.

The workshop’s theme was inspired by increasing concerns about water scarcity issues in the face of pressures from climate change and reforms to the abstraction licensing system currently being discussed for England and Wales.

The first panel, which invited speakers to ‘rethink’ water rights through stewardship, was opened by Professor Karen Morrow from Swansea University who provided an extensive overview of the common law applicable to water regulation. Morrow highlighted the links that water regulation has not only with property law but also with administrative environmental and human rights law. She introduced the new and more radical approach of granting rights to nature to protect water resources. Dr. Bettina Lange and Dr. Mark Shepheard shared their findings from empirical socio-legal research which mapped how farmers think about a right to water and identified key factors that shape such conceptions.

Henry Leveson-Gower, Head of Defra’s Future Water Resource Management Project, opened the second panel which explored the use of market mechanisms for promoting water stewardship. He explained the need for a reform of the current water abstraction licensing system, highlighting that the current system is not flexible enough to respond to alternating floods and droughts due to climate change. Leveson-Gower urged the need for more efficient use of water resources and outlined three economic incentive-based options currently being considered by the government. 

Alice Piure, Strategy & Policy Analyst at Anglian Water, presented interesting findings from a research project that explored the use of various types of water trading and their contribution to promoting water stewardship. Finally, Jon Stern from City University London discussed market-based approaches to dealing with periodic water scarcity, in particular the sale of raw water from one region to another.

The third panel offered academic perspectives on state regulatory approaches to water stewardship. Donald McGillivray of Sussex University gave a historical overview of the approach taken by the common law to regulate water stewardship. He argued that the current regulation gives mixed legal messages about water rights and sustainability as there is no real clarity regarding the regulatory goals.

Prof. Bill Howarth of Kent University pointed to the significant advances that have been made in regulation to anticipate and manage the risks of unpredictable events such as floods or droughts, but argued that much more must be done to effectively enhance ‘water security’.  Dr. Sarah Hendry from Dundee University closed the session with some contrasting insights from Scottish water regulation.

The final panel involved a round-table discussion regarding the future research agenda in water stewardship. Various themes were raised, including the challenge of reconciling potentially different competing regulatory goals, specifically ‘water security’ and ‘food security’, as well as challenges to and opportunities for developing cross-disciplinary perspectives on water stewardship.

By Sebastián Castro, DPhil Student, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford.

View workshop presentations and podcasts

More severe and widespread UK droughts expected with climate change

UK droughts are projected to be more severe and affect larger areas of the country over the next 100 years, according to a new study by Muhammad Rahiz and Prof. Mark New published in the journal Water Resources Management.

The team made a detailed analysis of regional climate data from the Met Office’s Hadley Centre to investigate future drought trends. “Both drought intensity and the spatial extent of droughts in the UK are projected by these climate models to increase into the future”, said Professor Mark New, Professor of Climate Science at the School of Geography and Environment and co-author of the study.

The findings of the study could have implications for the way water is managed, particularly in the South East, one of the most vulnerable regions. “If you have small, localised droughts, that’s not so important from a water management point of view, because most utilities can move water in from another place,” said Professor New. “But if a drought affects a whole region like the South East of England, then you’ve got a more significant problem.”

Read the full article on the Natural Environment Research Council website

Reference

Rahiz, M. and New, M. (2013) 21st Century drought scenarios for the UK. Water Resources Management, 27(4): 1039-1061.

Open innovation in the water sector

Professor Carolyn Roberts, Director of the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network, calls for major shifts in the way we think about water and wastewater. She writes about open innovation and the principles of collaboration for water management in the Water and Sewerage Journal.

Roberts notes that a recent surge of interest in innovation in the water sector is an encouraging sign. The impetus for change comes from emerging pressures such as the Water Framework Directive, carbon reduction targets and growing concerns about sustainability. Water companies are starting to rethink their approaches but Roberts suggests that a fundamental paradigm shift may be needed.

“Government backing and open innovation principles of collaboration and partnerships have underpinned the changes in the waste sector, but despite the rhetoric, a steer clear for water management is yet to emerge” she writes.

Progress is being seen in some areas, such as leakage control and anaerobic digestion for treating waste. But imagination is limited, says Roberts, and planning for cities where water, energy and waste sytems are monitored and managed together is far from the norm.

According to Roberts, the solution must be like an orchestra creating great music. The various and overlapping sectors, such as water, energy and land management, along with the cross-cutting themes of resource efficiency and carbon management, need to be managed collaboratively and creatively to produce a harmonious whole.

Read the full article in Issue 1 / 2003 of Water and Sewerage

Find out more about the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network’s Sustainable Water Management Group

Responding to flood risk in China

Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute, has jointly edited a special issue of the Journal of Flood Risk Management, which presents important lessons learned from a flood risk management project in China.

The Taihu Basin, located on the southern side of the estuary of the Yangtze River, is remarkably vulnerable to flooding. Major floods occurred in 1991 and 1999 and were associated with water levels that exceeded historical records. Damage was extensive and the events received significant attention from both local and central government.

The UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir David King, visited China in 2004 to cultivate scientific collaboration. During has visit it was decided to apply the methods of flood risk analysis and scenario analysis – developed in the recently completed UK Foresight project on Flood and Coastal Defence – to the Taihu Basin area. Funding was provided for a Chinese Foresight flooding project by the UK and Chinese governments and United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs. The project was launched under the auspices of the China-UK Science and Technology Commission in 2006 and was completed in 2009. It considered how the risks of flooding in the Taihu Basin might change over the next 50 years, as well as the best options for Government and other stakeholders for responding to future challenges.

The Taihu Basin Foresight Project involved collaborative work by researchers and practitioners in institutions in the UK and China, including numerous bilateral visits. It revealed a number of important lessons about flood risk management in rapidly developing countries, which form the basis of this special issue of the Journal of Flood Risk Management.

The project provides a blueprint for how the impacts of long-term changes in flood risk, driven by climatic and socio-economic changes among other processes, may be analysed in order to provide the evidence needed to inform adaptation decisions.