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Global experts discuss drought risk

A symposium was held in Oxford on 22 September, bringing together global experts on the causes and impacts of droughts. The speakers shared experience and expertise from Australia, America, Europe and the UK, providing interdisciplinary insights into the climatic and socio-economic factors that contribute to drought.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!” said Professor Donald Wilhite, University of Nebraska, stressing the need to change the way droughts are managed. Although drought is a normal part of climate variability, unprepared governments and vulnerable societies often react to droughts with shock and alarm. Professor Wilhite proposed that droughts can act as a window of opportunity to change from post-impact crisis response to a pre-impact drought risk management approach. The cost of preparedness action against drought is insignificant when compared to the cost of inaction, he said.

The speakers at the symposium are members of the International Advisory Board of the Oxford-led MaRIUS project on drought and water scarcity in the UK. Oxford University’s Professor Jim Hall presented the project which was launched earlier this year and adopts a risk-based approach to understanding droughts and water scarcity; analyses the impacts on people, the environment and the economy; and will develop methods to support decision-making and improve drought risk management.

Dr Henny van Lanen from Wageningen University in the Netherlands said that there is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st Century in some areas and during some seasons in southern and central Europe, central North America, Central America and Mexico, northeast Brazil and southern Africa. Elsewhere in the world inconsistencies in models make it difficult to draw any firm conclusions. The ability of scientists to identify future drought trends is constrained by available data, various definitions of droughts, different ways to quantify or identify a drought, and the inability of models to include all the factors that influence a drought.

Climate change poses a challenge to water planners, as drought risks in the future may be greater than in the past. Professor Casey Brown, University of Massachusetts, argued that the best approach to address these uncertainties is to focus on understanding the project and its vulnerabilities to climate change. By identifying the key climate variables to which the system is sensitive and the magnitude of climate changes that cause unacceptable outcomes, a water planner can incorporate the desired or acceptable level of resilience into the project.

Drawing on research in the Shale Hills / Susquehanna wetland catchments in northeastern United States, Professor Christopher Duffy from Penn State University presented a methodology for assessing the vulnerability of wetlands to climate change and droughts. Early results show that upland catchments are the most vulnerable based on depth to groundwater which acts as a buffer during periods of low rainfall.

Professor Lucia De Stefano stressed that stakeholder input is essential for understanding vulnerability and response to drought. Her research in Spain and on a pan-European scale found that there are inconsistencies in drought perceptions across scales and that improving communication could benefit drought management and address mismatches between policy objectives and implemented measures.

Dr Narendra Kumar Tuteja from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology shared experiences from Australia, a country that has faced around eight major drought events in the last century, with the Millennium drought (1997-2009) radically influencing national water reform. He talked about the need for water availability forecasts at a range of time scales for operational water planning and management, and the challenges in generating these. He underscored the importance of continued and extensive consultation with stakeholders and users in order to deliver useful research, data or tools.

Safe enough? Proportionate climate change adaptation in London’s water supply system

London faces increased risk of water shortages in the future due to climate change and population growth if no actions are taken to increase supply or reduce demand, according to a new study led by Edoardo Borgomeo and Jim Hall at the Environmental Change Institute. The research presents a new methodology for water managers to incorporate climate change uncertainties into water resources planning.

Water resources managers have significant experience in planning and operating their systems in the face of hydrological and weather variability. The reality of climate change, however, poses new challenges for water resources managers. Whilst the precise impacts of climate change for temperature, precipitation and water availability remain uncertain, water managers still need to take into account these uncertainties in their water plans. In the UK water companies are now legally obliged to evaluate the impacts of climate-related risks on their systems.

To help water managers address this challenge, this study develops a methodology for incorporating climate change related uncertainties in water resources planning. The methodology uses a risk-based metric to compare different water management options on the basis of their ability to reduce risks of water shortages under continuously changing climate conditions.

This methodology responds to the need in the UK and worldwide for a way of identifying water management investments which are proportionate to the risks the water systems are facing. Supply-side and demand-side management strategies can be compared based on how cost-effective they are at reducing risks to acceptable levels.

The risk-based methodology was applied to the London water supply area to characterise the most important uncertainties and identify water management options that are capable of reducing the harmful impacts of climate change. Results from the study demonstrate that without further supply or demand interventions, the combined effects of climate change and population growth are projected to increase the risk of water shortages in the future in London.

This research, led by Edoardo Borgomeo and Jim Hall, was carried out in partnership with Thames Water and the Environment Agency. The study contributes to the ongoing discussion in the UK water sector on whether the current approach to water resources planning should change for the next round of water resources management plans in 2019.

Reference

Borgomeo, E., Hall, J.W., Fung, F., Watts, G., Colquhoun, K. and Lambert, C. (2014) Risk-based water resources planning: Incorporating probabilistic nonstationary climate uncertainties. Water Resources Research. DOI: 10.1002/2014WR015558

Long-term investment in flood and coastal risk management – scoping future approaches

Working in association with CH2M HILL, Paul Sayers, Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Geography and the Environment, and Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute, have recently been appointed to explore the next generation of methods to support the Environment Agency’s national long-term investment strategy.

The long-term investment strategy for flood and coastal risk management provides the basis for the Agency’s bid to Defra for funding and currently combines a national risk analysis (using an evolution of a method developed by Jim and Paul (Hall et al., 2003) and an exploration of investment needs under alternative climate and management futures.

Reference

Hall, J.H., Dawson, R.J., Sayers, P.B., Rosu, C., Chatterton, J.B. and Deakin, R. (2003) A methodology for national-scale flood risk assessment. Water and Maritime Engineering, 156(3): 235-247.

New research on water security and sustainable growth presented to high level panel at Singapore International Water Week

On 2 June, Professor Jim Hall stressed the importance of water security to economic growth at a high level panel discussion at Singapore International Water Week, chaired by Mr. Angel Gurria, Secretary-General, OECD, and Dr. Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Chair, Global Water Partnership.

The panel discussion was part of a UN Secretary-Generals’ Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) meeting and briefed the Board on the progress of the GWP/OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth.

The session was also attended by high level participants such as Chen Lei (Minister of Water Resources, China) and Melanie Schultz (Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Netherlands).

Mr Gurria provided an overview of the Global Dialogue, which aims to improve understanding of the linkages between water security and economic growth and to highlight the different development pathways that countries can follow to improve their water security. The Global Dialogue consists of a series of high level panel discussions, a Task Force of experts producing new knowledge on the issue, and a series of country consultations.

Dr Claudia Sadoff (World Bank) and Professor Jim Hall (Oxford University) presented the ongoing work and preliminary results of the Task Force, which they chair together with Professor David Grey (Oxford University).

The Task Force brings together an international team of economists, scientists, engineers and policy experts to provide new evidence on the relationship between water security and sustainable growth. By analysing the risks of water security and the constraints they impose on growth, the Task Force aims to promote global action to address water-related risks.

Hall and Sadoff presented research from a global analysis which for the first time demonstrates the significant impact of mean annual runoff and runoff extremes on a country’s economic growth. This confirms that high levels of water variability and unpredictability inhibit growth and helps make the case for investment in water security.

The presentation included a series of global maps which using new evidence from global datasets and models show where the water-related risks are located in the world. Risks fall into four categories: droughts, water scarcity and high variability; floods; inadequate water supply and sanitation; and harmful impacts on the environment.

The Task Force research will also provide new insights about responding to water insecurity, through analysing and comparing case studies of cities, aquifers and river basins, and illustrating pathways to achieving a tolerable level of water-related risks to growth.

Related links

The GWP-OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Counting each drop: corporate concern mounts about water supplies

Alex Money, DPhil Candidate at the School of Geography and the Environment, warns that big companies may have already taken all the easy options to improve their water efficiency, in a New York Times article.

Companies from beverage makers to the mining and energy industries are beginning to scrutinise their vulnerability to water stresses. ‘Water risk’ has become a useful concept to think about the potential for company costs or operations to be adversely affected by water-related problems, not just shortages or floods, but also pollution, regulatory troubles or increases in the prices of water and water-dependent raw materials.

Read the full article

Calculating the risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion

Scientists at the University of Oxford are developing a computer model that will forecast the environmental risks to Britain’s coastline for decades ahead. This will be of immense value to local authority planning departments.

Happisburgh Beach, Norfolk, UK. Photo credit

Happisburgh Beach, Norfolk, UK. Photo credit

Calculating the risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion has become ever more important as the UK’s weather patterns change and sea levels rise. The capability to do that depends upon having reliable data. Developing such data and creating a model for forecasting has been the work of scientists such as Professor Jim Hall and Dr Andres Payo at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.

Around 35% of the UK’s coastline is vulnerable to flooding or erosion. Some areas are especially susceptible such as the East Coast. Research in Norfolk and Suffolk by Professor Hall and other scientists has shown how coastal areas respond to the forces of nature over years, decades and centuries.

By measuring the changes in coastal formation and recording how these changes occur – e.g. by sedimentary movement, wave height, wave direction etc, – the scientists have been able to construct a simulation model of the whole process of coastal change. Much of this process is self-regulating, e.g. rocky cliffs erode to form beaches below. More dramatic are those instances where soft cliff erosion leads to a build up of new headlands miles down the coast.

The current coastal model – created by Hall and colleagues – focuses on cliffs and beaches, but the newer, more advanced model will include estuaries, tidal inlets, sand dunes, spits and sandbanks. The East Anglian coast, which has long been the subject of Professor Hall’s research, has many examples of these. Meanwhile Hall’s colleagues in Manchester are looking at the coastal impact of offshore energy devices.

“The new insights of potential coastal change being delivered by the iCoast Consortium could bring about a step change in our understanding and management of the coast” said Owen Tarrant, Principal Scientist at the Environment Agency. “Only by understanding the full picture of the effects of both natural change and the influence of human activity over the long-term and large scale will we be able to manage flood and erosions risk sustainably.”

This research by Hall and his colleagues has applications far beyond East Anglia. In the UK the coastal model is being used by the Environment Agency and local authorities, when assessing long- term plans for coastal and offshore development. Beyond the UK New Zealand has shown interest. Other countries are likely to follow.

Funded by: Natural Environment Research Council

Related links

Grant won to investigate the resilience of water infrastructures

A team of Oxford researchers have been awarded funding to study how resilient water infrastructures are to natural and man-made threats. The project is a collaboration with the University of Massachusetts and Sandia National Laboratory in the United States.

The Oxford team is led by Professor Jim Hall and includes the researchers Drs Dustin Garrick and Raghav Pant, and DPhil candidates Edoardo Borgomeo and Scott Thacker.

Together with engineers in the United States, the team will develop methodologies for assessing risks to water security and modelling the resilience of piped water networks at a national scale. This research will provide new knowledge to inform the planning and design of water supply systems. It help target measures to increase the resilience of water infrastructures.

The project has been awarded funding from ‘Clean Water for All’, a new trans-Atlantic collaboration which brings leading water engineers from the United States and the UK together to tackle problems of providing clean, sustainable water supplies. Five projects have been funded, with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA.

Read the EPSRC Press Release

Oxford University edits a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions A on Water Security, Risk and Society

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey, and Drs Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope, have organised and edited a landmark collection of papers, an outcome of the 2012 international conference Water Security, Risk and Society.

The papers demonstrate the growing scale of water security risks. For example, over 45% of the global population is projected to be exposed to water shortages for food production by 2050 (Falkenmark), and South American cities have experienced a doubling of risks associated with extreme rainfall from 1960-2000 (Vorosmarty). Modelling demonstrates that climate hazards are an impediment to economic growth (Brown).

The agenda-setting themed issue includes eight papers from Oxford University authors and engages multiple dimensions of water security, ranging from drinking water, food production and energy to climate risks, transboundary rivers and economic growth. Risk provides the basis for a unifying framework to bridge across multiple disciplines and science-policy divides.

Fifteen papers are organised in three sections to: frame the policy challenges and scientific responses to water security from a risk perspective; assess the evidence about the forces driving water insecurity; and examine responses to water insecurity at multiple scales.

Recognising the need for interdisciplinary science to respond to unprecedented water security challenges, the University of Oxford organised the international conference on Water Security, Risk and Society in April 2012. The conference convened 200 leading thinkers from science, policy and enterprise in 30 countries to take stock of the scientific evidence on water security risk and prioritise future interdisciplinary research.

Taken together, these papers provide strong justification and strategic priorities for policy-driven science in the lead up to new development goals in 2015 and beyond.

 

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

Theme Issue ‘Water security, risk and society’ compiled and edited by Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope

November 13, 2013; Vol. 371, No. 2002


Preface
Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson, and Rob Hope

Opinion piece: Water security in one blue planet: twenty-first century policy challenges for science
David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Don Blackmore, Jerson Kelman, Mike Muller, and Claudia Sadoff

Opinion piece: Catalysing sustainable water security: role of science, innovation and partnerships
John Beddington

Opinion piece: The role of technology in achieving water security
Ian Thompson

Research article: Risk-based principles for defining and managing water security (open access)
Jim Hall and Edoardo Borgomeo

Research article: Extreme rainfall, vulnerability and risk: a continental-scale assessment for South America
Charles J. Vörösmarty, Lelys Bravo de Guenni, Wilfred M. Wollheim, Brian Pellerin, David Bjerklie, Manoel Cardoso, Cassiano D’Almeida, Pamela Green, and Lilybeth Colon

Research article: Growing water scarcity in agriculture: future challenge to global water security
Malin Falkenmark

Review article: Water security, global change and land–atmosphere feedbacks
Simon Dadson, Michael Acreman, and Richard Harding

Research article: A cost-effectiveness analysis of water security and water quality: impacts of climate and land-use change on the River Thames system
Paul Whitehead, Jill Crossman, Bedru Balana, Martyn Futter, Sean Comber, Li Jin, Dimitris Skuras, Andrew Wade, Mike Bowes, and Daniel Read

Research article: Water security in the Canadian Prairies: science and management challenges
Howard Wheater and Patricia Gober

Review article: Domestic water and sanitation as water security: monitoring, concepts and strategy (open access)
David J. Bradley and Jamie K. Bartram

Review article: Risks and responses to universal drinking water security
Robert Hope and Michael Rouse

Research article: The politics of African energy development: Ethiopia’s hydro-agricultural state-building strategy and clashing paradigms of water security
Harry Verhoeven

Research article: The governance dimensions of water security: a review
Karen Bakker and Cynthia Morinville

Research article: Managing hydroclimatic risks in federal rivers: a diagnostic assessment
Dustin Garrick, Lucia De Stefano, Fai Fung, Jamie Pittock, Edella Schlager, Mark New, and Daniel Connell

Research article: Is water security necessary? An empirical analysis of the effects of climate hazards on national-level economic growth
Casey Brown, Robyn Meeks, Yonas Ghile, and Kenneth Hunu

Oxford University co-chairs global Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey are co-chairs of the Expert Task Force of the Global Water Partnership and OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, launched at the World Water Week in Stockholm on 2 September 2013.

The Expert Task Force is made up of a multi-disciplinary team of leading economists, water managers and scientists who will provide new evidence on the linkages between economic growth and water security. The group is coordinated by Dr. Claudia Sadoff of the GWP Technical Committee, co-chaired by Professors Hall and Grey, and includes Drs Simon Dadson and Dustin Garrick.

The Task Force will  develop, model and economically assess a set of water security scenarios at the global and basin level, with the aim to illustrate and compare different strategies and pathways for achieving water security. This new knowledge will enable countries to better understand and manage water risks, and ensure that efforts to promote economic growth and development are not jeopardised by these risks.

At the official launch of the project at World Water Week, Dr. Claudia Sadoff explained that “the structure of the task force will be to work from risk based perspective: we will document economic costs and risks associated with water, and then we will look at trade-offs and benefits.”

The Global Dialogue project also includes a high-level panel co-chaired by Angel Gurría, Secretary General of OECD, and  Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, President of Liberia and UN Goodwill Ambassador for Water and Sanitation.

Another component of the project will be a country level consultation process led by GWP that will investigate country perceptions and priorities regarding water security.

The Global Dialogue will result in a milestone report on ‘Water Security and Economic Growth’ to be presented at the World Water Forum in South Korea in 2015. The project will draw attention to the importance of water within the post-2015 Development Framework and will provide input to the United Nation’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

Related links

The GWP-OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Proportional water allocation policies help federal countries cope with drought extremes

Dr. Dustin Garrick (School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford Martin School) delivered a presentation on drought management in federal rivers at a conference on Water in the Anthropocene, held in Bonn on 21-24 May.

Garrick and colleagues compared water allocation policies used to divide water and spread drought risk between state jurisdictions in federal countries, analysing the Colorado, Ebro and Murray-Darling Rivers. He highlighted the importance of proportional allocation rules to cope with climatic variability. Proportional allocation rules distribute water based on a share of available water – not a fixed volume or priority.

Allocation reforms in the three rivers indicate that proportional allocation rules are prevalent among upstream states, while downstream states seek fixed volumes to increase water security. The comparative study suggests that proportional rules distribute risks and benefits in a way that is perceived as fair and limits conflict when compared with fixed allocation systems.

The conference ‘Water in the Anthropocene: Challenges for Science and Governance. Indicators, Thresholds and Uncertainties of the Global Water System’ was organised by the Global Water System Project.

A Declaration signed by the participants of the conference warns that within one or two generations, the majority of the nine billion people on Earth will be living under conditions of severe pressure on fresh water, due to climate change, pollution and overuse.  However, these experts assure that this outcome is entirely avoidable. The Declaration calls for a partnership of scientists, public stakeholders, decision-makers and the private sector to take action to protect and conserve water systems worldwide.

Read the Bonn Declaration on Global Water Security

Visit the conference website