In the words of the United Nations Panel on ‘Valuing Water’, water is ‘fragile, precious and dangerous’ – being both a key resource for life and a risk when there is too much or too little. Droughts and water scarcity can impact on the environment, agriculture, infrastructure, society and culture in the UK, affecting us all. The DRY (Drought Risk and You) project commenced in April 2014, with an aim to develop an easy-to-use, evidence-based resource to support decision-making for drought risk management in the United Kingdom. This is what we called ‘The DRY Utility’. This online resource – that you are using now – was co-designed with our catchment partners and national stakeholders all feeding in.
We have captured our creative experimental processes bringing science and stories together in the visualisation below:
Our project spanned seven river catchment areas in England, Wales and Scotland to reflect different hydrological, socio-economic and cultural contexts in the UK. Our catchments were the Fife Eden (Scotland), the Sheffield Don, the Bevills Leam in the Fens, the Berkshire Pang, the Bristol Frome, the Afon Ebbw (Wales) and the Cornish Fowey. You can access a summary of their physical and socio-economic characteristics here[LM1] [LM2] .
We took a unique approach that drew together information from multiple perspectives on drought science and storytelling in a series of creative experiments. These were undertaken to better understand drought risks, their impacts, knock on effects, and the trade-offs between sectors that need to be made. We worked with the following sectors: Business, Agriculture, Environment, Built Environment, Health and Well-being, and Public and Communities.
A key part of our research process in DRY was to bring together different types of data to build a better picture of drought risk in the UK. In our project, ‘data’ could mean statistics derived from a catchment-based hydrological model (undertaken by UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) or stories and images collected from people within a river catchment area. We think of each of these as equally valuable in helping us understand how we can better cope with, and adapt to, future drought.
To achieve this, the DRY project incorporated a two-way process for gathering and sharing knowledge about drought. This involved scientific images (graphs, animations) from the drought risk modelling stimulating stories, and stories (of past droughts) informing science.
Our participatory storytelling approaches were flexible and adapted to the opportunities in different catchment settings, working with our local partners.
The local stories we garnered provided important local contexts to feed into our drought models, which predicted future drought scenarios. Working with stories is a way of rethinking who might be considered ‘expert’,and blurs the boundaries between who produces and uses knowledge.
The DRY project also carried out a number of different citizen science projects, which engaged local people and generated learning opportunities about drought impacts on plants, crops, trees and domestic water use. During this process, we collected stories about volunteers’ experiences and their own knowledge about drought.
At each stage of the process, we shared our findings with local groups in our case-study catchments and incorporated their feedback into our research design. You can find the outcomes from this process throughout this ‘DRY Utility’ website – in its Story Bank, its 60+ Story Maps that capture personal observations across catchments and sectors, and the varied DRY Resources for knowledge exchange generated by the project.
Throughout DRY, we aspired to raise awareness of drought as a risk in the UK and to fuel discussion about how it is perceived by different communities and across sectors. Importantly, this includes exploring the potential for adaptation in the management of future drought risk, and the sharing of knowledge about positive water practices cross sectors and cultures.
We gratefully thank the large number of people that have contributed to the success of the DRY project in different ways.
See also: The DRY Utility, page 43 in the About Drought Handbook