Droughts and water scarcity
Droughts are multifaceted both in their characteristics and range of impacts; a distinction may be drawn between meteorological droughts (defined essentially on the basis of rainfall deficiency), hydrological droughts (where accumulated shortfalls of runoff or aquifer recharge are of primary importance) and agricultural droughts (where the availability of soil water during the growing season is the critical factor). For the purpose of this project, a drought is defined as “an extended period of below average rainfall that leads to a reduction in the availability of water”.
Water scarcity can be defined in a number of ways, but for the purpose of this project, we refer to a temporary or short-term lack of water for human and/or environmental use at the local level (for example, catchments to households). We are not referring to comparative national or international water scarcity.
The UK Droughts and Water Scarcity Programme is a £12m+ collaborative investment from five of the UK Research Councils and has been developed in conjunction with several UK Government Departments and Agencies. The five UK research councils are:
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC)
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The Interdisciplinary Team will bring together information from drought science and scenario-modelling (using mathematical models to forecast the impacts of drought) with stakeholder engagement and narrative storytelling. While other drought impact studies have focused on mathematical modelling of drought risk, this project is very different.
The project spans work on drought and water scarcity in a range of intersecting ‘domains’ including water supply, health, business, agriculture/horticulture, built environment, extractive industries and ecosystem services, within seven case-study catchments. Through a storytelling approach, scientists will exchange cutting edge science with different stakeholders in water resource management, and these stakeholders will, in turn, exchange their local knowledge and information about drought and its impacts on their activities.
Stakeholders include those in construction, gardeners and allotment holders, small and large businesses, local authorities, emergency planners, recreational water users, biodiversity managers, public health professionals – both physical and mental health, and local communities/public.
Study of drought impacts will take place at different scales - from small plot experiments to local catchment level. Citizen science, involves active citizen participation in the research process, and stakeholder engagement with drought experiments in urban and rural areas, which will be used to stimulate drought risk conversations and narratives.