Friday, 20 January 2012

Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.

The 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' may have been talking about salty water but the sentiments in the classic poem by Coleridge could apply equally well to the freshwater situation in some areas of England at the start of 2012.

In the past 12 months the English Midlands and Anglian regions had their second driest years since 1921. This lack of rainfall led our latest monthly Hydrological Summary of the UK, which is issued to the water industry and regulators, to conclude that in some areas “Substantially above average rainfall is needed over the next 10 - 12 weeks to improve the water resources outlook for the rest of 2012.”

Statements of this type are often seized upon by journalists and water industry stakeholders to back up other ‘anecdotal’ evidence of water supply issues in the UK such as photos of empty reservoirs or dried up soil.

CEH's Jamie Hannaford talks to BBC TV about drought


CEH’s hydrological scientists often spend hours agonising over each word of the summary, always making sure that conclusions are backed up by strong, quantitative, evidence. In this respect they are helped greatly by the presence at our Wallingford site of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP).

One of the NHMP’s aims is to provide an authoritative voice on hydrological conditions throughout the UK, placing major events, for example the 2007 summer floods, in a historical context, and identifying emerging hydrological trends, perhaps linked to land use or climate changes.

The NHMP draws upon the data resources in the National Water Archive, jointly managed by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the British Geological Survey, which collates hydrological data from measuring authorities in all parts of the UK on rainfall, river flows, groundwater and reservoir levels. The archive is a veritable treasure trove of information for those interested in the UK’s hydrology, and includes the National River Flow Archive and National Groundwater Level Archive.

Over the last decade staff in the archive have worked hard on making the historical information easily accessible to the general public via the web. Here’s a few examples:
  • In April 2011 the archive launched a set of new webpages to allow easier access to river flow data
  • The new webpages included a great new search facility to find river flow gauging stations in your local area.
  • Efforts are continuing to make the majority of daily flow data available as simple downloads,  and recently full, quality assured, river flow data for 2010 has been released.
In the world of hydrology data is ‘King’ so next time you see a ‘Drought’ headline please spare a thought for our staff who are working hard behind the scenes to ensure such stories are based on a sound evidence base and not just one photo of a half-empty reservoir!

Posted by Barnaby

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