Combining water data across Hull and East Riding

It would be hard to have missed the vast quantities of water across parts of the UK over the past few months, but when water isn’t so obvious other ways are needed to track where water is, how much there is and what it is doing.

Monitoring of water is routine and carried out by the Environment Agency, water companies and local authorities, amongst others, and covers rivers, water and groundwater levels, pumping stations, overflows, sewage treatment works and rainfall levels. Many of these monitoring and gauging stations feed their results in automatically from remote or inaccessible locations meaning many measurements can be recorded without human interaction. In many cases measurements are captured every 15 minutes and fed back to the system daily; data as far back as 10 years ago is available for some gauges and monitors. Some of the Environment Agency’s gauges have been taking measurements for almost 40 years

This vast wealth of data is held and used by different organisations and, until recently, had never been combined to create a better understanding of what is happening in a region.  Until that is, the Living with Water (LWW) Telemetry Integration project team collaborated through their partnership work to share various data sets.

Combined data from the Environment Agency, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Yorkshire Water showing the spatial distribution of gauges and monitoring stations across the region

The LWW partnership are working together with other organisations in this Catchment Telemetry Integration project to better understand what data is being routinely captured and where, and will be using it to identify ways for its use in improved forecasting and responses. Ultimately the data will be used to influence where future monitoring might be most usefully installed to provide the most useful data.

The project team produced the first ‘combined data’ maps earlier this year which show the locations and types of all the monitoring stations across Hull and East Riding, including how long they have been operating for.

Combined data from the Environment Agency, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Yorkshire Water showing the duration of measurements, in months, by individual monitoring stations (the larger the circle the greater the duration of measurements)

These maps are provisional results so far, but show the amount of monitoring already taking place across the region.

By sharing this data, and ultimately combining it with decision-making tools, the project team hope to develop an early warning tool that will help improve operational preparedness and improve response times at the outset of a flood risk event.

Surveying across Yorkshire to understand levels of Property Flood Resilience

A new survey has just been launched by The Yorkshire Property Flood Resilience Pathfinder project to understand levels of Property Flood Resilience (PFR) across Yorkshire. This project is one of three national projects commissioned by DEFRA and is led by the City of York Council partnering with several local stakeholders including Yorkshire Water, Living with Water, the Environment Agency and Yorkshire based local authorities.

The project will work with communities, planning and construction professionals, the insurance sector, and local authorities to deliver sessions to encourage behaviour change regarding the perceptions of flood risk awareness and flood resilience.

River Ouse, York
Photo courtesy of Environment Agency

Addressing a diverse audience base, a range of activities will be developed to actively involve and empower local communities and businesses to adopt measures to make themselves and their properties more resilient to flooding. All districts in the Yorkshire region have different experiences with flooding so including local context is a crucial part of the project’s approach.

iCASP has been commissioned to survey current knowledge, attitudes and uptake of PFR measures across the region at the start of the project. The survey will be repeated again at the end of the project to understand the impact the Pathfinder project has had.

The initial survey is appropriate for those who live, work or operate in Yorkshire and have been affected by flooding. All contributions through this survey will help inform the development of educational workshops being undertaken throughout 2020 to help improve awareness of, and overcome potential barriers to, the uptake of Property Flood Resilience.

If you would like more information about the project, you can follow its progress on Twitter or email the project team (YorkshirePropertyFloodResilience@york.gov.uk). More information will be shared once sessions have been organised.

Confluence 2020 – have your say

Confluence 2020 will take place on Friday 26 June at Nexus, University of Leeds – so please, save the date!

We want to involve partners and stakeholders in shaping the agenda so are keen to understand your views on what we can most usefully schedule into the agenda and cover throughout the day.

We anticipate following a similar structure to previous years with an overview of the programme and updates from several projects in the morning, as well as a keynote presentation from an MP or equivalent. In the afternoon we anticipate a range of parallel breakout sessions to give attendees an opportunity to go into more detail on issues and engage with fellow attendees. At the end of the day we will wrap it all up in a final summary session

Confluence 2019: breakout session

If you would like to comment on ideas for this year’s Confluence, make suggestions for sessions or topics you would like to be discussed, please complete this short survey or drop us a line at icasp@leeds.ac.uk

Home truths on housing and climate change

A new report from the Climate Coalition, Home Truths: How climate change is impacting UK homes has been released today.

iCASP’s Dr Jenny Armstrong and Dr Ben Rabb, working in collaboration with the Priestley International Centre for Climate have contributed to two chapters  – one on the climate science focusing on the increased risks of flooding and droughts and the second suggesting ways in which we can work with natural processes to improve the resilience of households.

2019 was a record breaking year for both hot weather and autumn rainfall with the UK experiencing the hottest summer and warmest winter days ever recorded. This came on the back of the prolonged heatwave and joint hottest summer season on record in 2018. While insurance claims arising from too much water resulting in flooding are the stories we usually hear, there was also a surge in insurance subsidence claims as a result of the hot, dry conditions.

Image: Flood Victims June 2007 – Keith Lavarack CC BY-SA2.0 (geograph.org.uk)

1.8 million people in the UK currently live in areas at significant risk from flooding, and this number is growing. If the current rate of warming continues the number of people at risk could rise to 2.6 million in as little as 20 years.

While our homes may be at risk, they are also a contributing factor to rising emissions. Heating and hot water in UK homes currently makes up 25% of total energy usage and 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, and more housing is planned.

The report highlights a range of actions that can be taken; from decarbonising our homes to reduce emissions to improving the resilience of households to the impacts of climate change. Suggested actions don’t just happen in our home, for example peatland preservation can not only sequester carbon helping reduce total emissions, but also reduce surface water runoff and in turn reduce flood risk.

Home Truths: How climate change is impacting UK homes also features a foreword from TV presenter George Clarke, and comments from gardener Monty Don.

Publication of the report marks the launch of the annual #ShowTheLove campaign from the Climate Coalition. Every February since 2015, people are encouraged to show the love for the things they want to protect from climate change, and showcase the ways they can create a safer world for future generations. Actions include making and sharing green hearts, writing to local MPs and starting conversations about climate change.

The Climate Coalition is the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action against climate change. Along with their sister organisations Stop Climate Chaos Cymru and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, they are a group of over 140 organisations — including the National Trust, Women’s Institute, Oxfam, and RSPB — and 22 million voices strong.

The Priestley Centre has partnered with the Climate Coalition on previous reports, including Gamechanger: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK and Recipe for Disaster: How climate change is impacting British fruit and vegetables.

Improving SME resilience

The cost of the 2015 Boxing Days floods was £47M in Calderdale alone, and the indirect knock-on effects to the regional economy was £179M. This is just from one flood event.  In every flood event there is the immediate damage, loss and destruction which is often highly visible; the knock-on effects which are wide-reaching and significant are not always so obvious. With climate change we are likely to experience more extreme weather events that can lead to flooding, so we need to improve our resilience across society.

The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector can be highly vulnerable to flood impacts. Because a large proportion of the private sector is made up of SMEs – about 99% of Yorkshire’s private sector is made up of SMEs – flooding can have a massive impact across the wider region reaching areas outside those that were flooded.

Our newest iCASP project seeks to address this issue through supporting the SME sector to become more resilient to the impacts of flooding so the negative impacts on the wider economy are reduced.

Currently there is a large knowledge gap about the impacts of flooding upon SME businesses; this lack of knowledge extends from the SMEs themselves, through insurers and lenders, local and sub-regional authorities to national government. The effect of this knowledge gap can mean SMEs not understanding how to protect themselves adequately, and insurers or lenders not understanding the risks and so not providing lending or insurance. At the government level this lack of knowledge can manifest as a lack of appropriate funding being included in businesses cases and missed opportunities for evidenced resource allocation and investment in preventive measures.

This project will bring together local authorities and the insurance sector to help them improve their understanding of the impacts of flooding upon SMEs, identify how they can support the sector to become better prepared for floods and help prioritise their responses if and when flooding occurs. A key aspect of the project will be a robust methodology that can be used to assess the direct and indirect costs of flooding. This will enable local authorities (LAs) to carry out future flood assessments and subsequently develop evidenced and robust business plans for funding to support better responses for any future flooding.

“The Leeds City Region Flood Review was published in 2016 and developed in partnership between West Yorkshire Combined Authority/LEP, local authorities, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency. The Review and its 19 recommendations aim to implement a more consistent and effective approach to both flood risk management and mitigation, and responding to future flood events across the City Region.  Recommendation 3 of the Review relates directly to this project as it confirms the urgent need for a robust regional formula for modelling the indirect economic impact of flooding”.

Regional Authority

The ability of lenders and insurers to accurately assess and understand the likely risks of flooding will enable them to understand the right level of risk, develop new products and properly price the current products unlocking access to them for SMEs who may currently be unable to do so. An improved understanding of the effectiveness of different protection and resilience measures could also boost an increase in lending for preventive purposes and thus better uptake of these important measures to improve resilience.

“The work package on insurance will cover an important gap as it provides valuable information to insurers/lenders and surveyors to increase our understanding of SME flood risk.  When I hold my regular meetings with insurers, they are bought into the concept of resilience, but cannot move forward meaningfully to acknowledge it without more information and evidence.  They want to understand from SMEs what is the real financial impact of a flood.  But also, what difference in financial terms has, or could, a resilient strategy make to the cost of the claim. The tool that the project will co-create to assess the effectiveness of resilience measures will be key to identifying the most beneficial strategies SMEs can take to protect themselves”.

Insurance broker specialising in flood risk

As with all iCASP projects this has been co-designed and will be carried out in close collaboration with partners and stakeholders. Co-creation ensures efforts are joined-up to support widespread uptake in the Yorkshire region, and nationally, to spread the benefits of closing this current gap in our knowledge. This exciting new project will push the limits of our understanding on the economic impacts of flooding on SMEs and the effectiveness of property flood resilience measures. And, in collaboration with the City of York Pathfinder project “Yorkshire Future Flood Resilience”, it will work to improve the uptake of Property Flood Resilience across Yorkshire and the UK.


Calderdale catchment modelling workshop

As part of the Natural Flood Management (NFM) work being undertaken on the Calderdale Flood Action Plan, which iCASP’s Calderdale NFM project is contributing to, three sub-catchments in Calderdale are being modelled to improve understanding of how the current land management impacts upon flooding.

iCASP’s Tom Willis explaining how SD-TOPMODEL is being used to map three sub-catchments in Calderdale

On 14 November, Tom Willis held a workshop to explore the modelling work he has been undertaking. Tom has been using SD-TOPMODEL which helps identify which areas of the 3 sub-catchments contribute most to flooding in the lower valley. Knowing which parts of a catchment contribute most to peak flows makes it easier to assess the impact of locating an NFM measure in one place rather than another, and allows prioritisation of those measures that will have the greatest benefits.

SD TOPMODEL output showing the baseline modelling for the Jumble Hole catchment

Having seen how the model works, workshop participants could apply their knowledge and insight of the catchment into devising different scenarios for the next on-the-ground stage of the project. They then live-tested them during the session to see their impact upon peak flood levels

The next steps in this project will be the creation of a handbook to assist landowners and managers in targeting the most appropriate NFM measures across the catchment.

Tackling flooding; whole catchment approaches

At times when we experience floods, such as those currently devastating people’s homes and businesses in parts of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, it is very common to see people attempting to distill the problem down to a single cause. In complex hydrological systems there is no sense in taking this simplistic approach; rather the whole catchment needs to be considered and we need to think about how we make entire catchments more resilient to extreme events. This is one reason for the ’i‘ in the NERC-funded Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP). We work on the understanding that what happens in one area of the catchment affects other parts of the catchment because it is a whole system.

Our work looks at how processes integrate across the entire catchment and while finding solutions to environmental problems we also seek ways to address multiple problems at once, thereby delivering value for money. It isn’t just physical elements of catchment management, there’s a human element too: we work closely with partners and stakeholders on all projects to build relationships and trust and to support organisations to work together in confidence to maximise beneficial outcomes.

Flood Forecasting, and Drought & Flood Risk Mitigation are two of our six workstreams that determine the work we fund. We draw upon the research of several universities in the region including the University of Leeds, University of Sheffield and the University of York to address problems that organisations across Yorkshire are seeking to tackle. This ranges from trying to improve the ability of local councils to respond to weather forecasts by improving the advice provided in a forecast, or implementing measures that slow the flow of water across the landscape so it takes longer to move into the rivers and doesn’t contribute to sudden peak flows.

Restoring functionality

Restoring the peatland in the upper reaches of a catchment means that rainfall there takes longer to move through and into rivers downstream. Our Peatland Restoration project has developed guidance for practitioners and managers to help their decision-making as to the best restoration techniques to return the system to its normal functionality of water storage and slowing downstream flow. An added benefit of this kind of restoration is that functioning peatland acts as a sink/store locking up carbon that might otherwise be driving climate change.

Images of Sphagnum in peatland

Natural Flood Management: modelling, mapping and monitoring

Several of our other projects are on the same theme as this: using natural processes to slow and store water moving through the landscape to avoid the mass flows and peaks that cause problems. There are many Natural Flood Management (NFM) pilot projects throughout Yorkshire funded by government. Our iCASP projects are supporting these by working with partner organisations to develop modelling, mapping and monitoring capability.

We use computer models to understand which parts of a catchment contribute greater quantities of water into a watercourse than other parts, and to understand the role that landscape features – both natural and human-made – may play in this process either slowing or storing water. Our modelling expertise is currently being used in our Calderdale NFM project to understand how three tributaries contribute to water flows further downstream.

Combining rainfall data and high resolution terrain data, combined with the knowledge gained from site visits means we can create ‘Opportunity Maps’ that allow an identification of what the current landscape management means for flood risk and what might be done in future.

Once developed, Opportunity Maps allow us to identify locations where NFM interventions such as tree planting, aerating soil, buffer strips or leaky dams may best be sited for maximum effect. In the case of our Don Catchment project, we work with the land managers to identify which interventions could be installed by volunteers, what interventions would be best and where our mapping allows us to identify the additional impacts these interventions may play. Many NFM interventions can serve multiple purposes; they may not only slow down the flow of water across the landscape, but they might also improve water quality or provide valuable habitat for wildlife, contributing to improved biodiversity and species richness in an area.

“We feel very privileged to have benefited from our involvement in iCASP, as it has given us access to expertise that has resulted in opportunity maps that are guiding our decision-making in relation to our Hidden Heritage Secret Stream (HHSS) project. These maps identify locations in the landscape where we can have the most impact, and they have also helped highlight the types and locations of NFM interventions that not only slow the flow of runoff, but also reduce diffuse pollution and increase ecological connectivity across the landscape. Our team is using the maps to identify sites for investigation on the ground, and they have been very useful when engaging with our partners and landowners.”

Ed Shaw, Director Don Catchment Rivers Trust

Monitoring the impact and effectiveness of NFM interventions is critical; both to being able to identify what impact is delivered, but also in being able to make the case for funding such measures and for their ongoing maintenance.  A key aim of another of our Natural Flood Management projects is to improve the monitoring capability of those using NFM so they are able to carry out rigorous monitoring to contribute to the evidence base for this kind of flood risk intervention.

In our Payment for Outcomes project we are working with the National Trust to build NFM measures into their payment for outcomes trial. Farmers on some of the Trust’s tenanted farms will receive payment for the environmental outcomes they achieve, and this work will eventually inform Defra’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme and show how NFM can be integrated within this.

To maximise all the benefits of this work, we’ve developed a Natural Flood Management Community of Practice (CoP) to bring together people working on NFM to share skills, experience and best practice, build capacity and discuss challenges and opportunities.  The CoP meetings draw upon the expertise we are deploying in the NFM projects we work on and also brings together people from across the region – and increasingly from beyond it too – to understand how best to manage their areas of land in the most appropriate ways for our future climate.

Images from the Natural Flood Management Community of Practice meeting in June 2019

Improved forecasting

Slowing the flow of water through a catchment, and the measures put in place to do this are just one aspect of the measures we are working on. As demonstrated in the last week, at times rainfall is extreme and even if there are lots of interventions in place upstream, the sheer quantity of water is overwhelming, so we also work on improving flood forecasting. Our Enhanced Surface Water Flood Forecasts project worked with a range of partners to trial new forecasting software to assess whether it helped flood risk managers and emergency responders in the decision-making processes they go through in a flood event.

In response to Defra’s Surface Water Management Action Plan, the Environment Agency and Met Office are scoping a new capability for sharing with responders very short range and rapid update forecasting (“nowcasting”) for the type of rainfall that causes surface water flooding. The Enhanced Surface Water Flood Forecasts project final report, including feedback from the incident response workshop, has provided valuable information and user response insight for the discovery phase of this project and we expect that continued engagement with the iCASP team will continue to be beneficial for understanding user needs and exploring piloting opportunities.”

Graeme Boyce, Project Executive, Flood Forecasting Centre

Our Living With Water Catchment Telemetry Integration project, which the Living with Water Partnership are undertaking in Hull, will bring together remote monitoring data of water flows carried out by several organisations with decision-making software to create a tool that will help deliver operational preparedness for events such as those we have seen in the last week and identify optimal locations for future monitoring. Combining such data collected by these organisations has not been done at this scale before; this way of joint working will be extremely powerful in making higher levels of knowledge available to decision makers and first responders about actions to take and deployment of flood defences.

Building resilience

Our newest project – Bridging the knowledge gap to boost SME resilience – starting later this month will be working on ways to build the resilience of the SME sector. Here in Yorkshire, much of the private sector is made up of SMEs who can be very vulnerable to flooding and the knock–on effects to the regional economy of a flood event can be significant and far-reaching. The project will work with local authorities and the insurance sector to develop a robust methodology for assessing the direct and indirect costs of floods on the SME sector so they are able to tailor their flood assessments and responses appropriately. By providing detailed information on the effectiveness of resilience measures and risk reduction activities, flood risk can be properly priced and managed by SMEs and appropriate support can be given to SMEs to make them more resilient and able to reduce their risks. Local Authorities will be better able to carry out future flood assessments, lobby for additional funds to better prepare for future flooding and, in the event of a flood, prioritise their response in a consistent and timely manner.

iCASP is also working with City of York Council on the Yorkshire Future Flood Resilience Pathfinder project to understand the current level of Property Flood Resilience (PFR) measures in place across Yorkshire, and what can be improved.

This just a snapshot of some of the work we are undertaking to produce solutions to water challenges across Yorkshire, the UK and globally. Our work extends right across catchments, from high and remote peatlands where some of the water that floods peoples’ homes begins its journey, to the streets where we live and the monitoring and forecasting that takes place to try to improve the way we respond, the advice given and the deployment of measures to reduce flood risk.

“Over time, we are increasing the number and diversifying the types of flood management techniques that will reduce peak flows downstream providing new tools to support farmers, villages, towns and cities susceptible to floods.”

Joe Holden, Director, iCASP

The environment is a complex system and we need to work at many different levels to tackle integrated problems. With climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events, it is clear that we need to continue to invest in ways to address resilience and to use a wide range of solutions across the landscape to tackle flooding, rather than think about each component of the system in isolation.

Sphagnum is a key ingredient of natural flood management

In 2008 Joe Holden and colleagues published research that showed how water running over Sphagnum on blanket peatlands moved much more slowly (often ten times slower) than water running through sedges or bare peat. This spawned a new body of research which has shown how revegetation of peat, particularly if it is possible to get a dense Sphagnum cover, can slow the flow of water during storm events to reduce the flood peak downstream. The research indicates priority areas in the landscape for dense surface revegetation that will generally maximise flood benefits. Given that research has also recently shown sediment release from bare peat strongly influences peatland stream ecosystems this gives added impetus to revegetating peatlands and enhancing Sphagnum cover to achieve maximum downstream benefits for river habitats and flood risk.

Unlike most soil types where movement of water through the soil attenuates the rate of water loss into rivers, research has shown that water movement in blanket peatlands tends to be dominated by flow very close to the surface or at the surface1. This means large volumes of water move over short periods of time, associated with rainfall or snowmelt, producing very high flow peaks in blanket peatland rivers compared to the flows that occur during dry weather2, 3. The condition of the peatland surface may therefore be crucial in determining the downstream flood peak during storms.

Over a decade ago research was published that showed how water running over Sphagnum on blanket peatlands moved much more slowly than water running through sedges or bare peat4. This spawned a new body of research which tried to establish whether such effects made any difference to riverflow. This work, which included both empirical field demonstrations5, 6 and modelling experiments7-9, has now shown that revegetation of peat, particularly if a dense Sphagnum cover can be achieved, can slow the flow of water during storm events reducing the flood peak downstream. These effects hold (and can be proportionally greater) even for the very largest storm events10. The research indicates priority areas for the densest revegetation in the landscape to maximise flood benefits. These areas include strips of peatland several metres wide that run either side of streams, ditches and other watercourses, and areas of peatland covering other gently sloping parts of the catchment.

Research has also recently shown that sediment release from bare peat strongly influences peatland stream ecosystems11, 12 affecting both their biodiversity and functioning. This shows that we need to do all we can to disconnect sediment sources from the peatland streams. The most effective way to do so is to support revegetation of peatlands, especially near any watercourses. Thus, targeted restoration work that aims to achieve an end-point with a dense Sphagnum understorey will deliver maximum downstream benefits for river habitats and flood risk, while simultaneously adding resilience to the peatland ecosystems in the face of climate change, drought and wildfire.

This article by Prof. Joe Holden was originally published in the IUCN Peatland Programme newsletter July 2019

References

1.         Holden, J. & Burt, T. P. Runoff production in blanket peat covered catchments. Water Resources Research 39, 1191, doi:10.1029/2003WR002067 (2003).

2.         Acreman, M. & Holden, J. How wetlands affect floods. Wetlands 33, 773-786, doi: 10.1007/s13157-013-0473-2 (2013).

3.         Price, J. S. Blanket Bog in Newfoundland 2. Hydrological Processes. Journal of Hydrology 135, 103-119 (1992).

4.         Holden, J. et al. Factors affecting overland flow velocity in peatlands. Water Resources Research 44, W06415, doi: 10.1029/2007WR006052 (2008).

5.         Grayson, R., Holden, J. & Rose, R. Long-term change in storm hydrographs in response to peatland vegetation change. Journal of Hydrology 389, 336-343 (2010).

6.         Shuttleworth, E. L. et al. Restoration of blanket peat moorland delays stormflow from hillslopes and reduces peak discharge. Journal of Hydrology X 2, 100006 (2019).

7.         Gao, J., Holden, J. & Kirkby, M. J. A distributed TOPMODEL for modelling impacts of land-cover change on river flow in upland peatland catchments. Hydrological Processes 29, 2867-2879, doi: 10.1002/hyp.10408 (2015).

8.         Gao, J., Holden, J. & Kirkby, M. J. The impact of land-cover change on flood peaks in peatland basins. Water Resources Research 52, 3477-3492 (2016).

9.         Lane, S. N. & Milledge, D. G. Impacts of upland open drains upon runoff generation: a numerical assessment of catchment-scale impacts. Hydrological Processes 27, 1701-1726 (2012).

10.       Gao, J., Kirkby, M. & Holden, J. The effect of interactions between rainfall patterns and land-cover change on flood peaks in upland peatlands. Journal of Hydrology 567, 549-559 (2018).

11.       Aspray, K. L., Holden, J., Ledger, M. E., Mainstone, C. & Brown, L. E. Organic sediment pulses impact rivers across multiple levels of ecological organisation. Ecohydrology doi: 10.1002/eco.1855 (2017).

12.       Brown, L. E. et al. Sediment deposits from eroding peatlands alter headwater river invertebrate biodiversity. Global Change Biology 25, 602-619 (2019).

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