Droughts are one of the headline strategic risks to the UK. In 2012 the UK experienced the driest spring in over a century, after two dry winters. Ministers faced the prospect of water shortages during the London Olympics. Whilst the drought conditions in early 2012 served as a wake-up call, the potential for water shortages in the UK, driven by changing patterns of demand and changing climatic conditions, had already been recognised. In the Thames Water region alone it is estimated that severe water rationing could potentially result in economic losses of £300million/day. The capacity for the natural environment to recover from periods of very low flows, deteriorated water quality, dry soils and hot temperatures is not well understood.

Following this experience, the MaRIUS project has received NERC funding to explore how best to manage future droughts.  This project – Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of drought and water Scarcity focuses on a risk-based approach to drought and water scarcity in explore impacts and outcomes.  The project capture the complexity of the water scarcity by examining aspects across the social and natural sciences and involving key stakeholders.

Some researchers in MaRIUS are using scenario modelling and case studies across a number of scales, in order to understand both the drought impacts at a local level as well as the institutional decision-making by governments and water companies. Our modelling work uses climatically rigourous drought scenarios and their impacts on water quality, agriculture, biodiversity and economic losses.

In addition to computer modelling, social science and stakeholder engagement are a key part of the project, helping us to understand the role of the community, institutions, regulators and markets in drought management.

The Project Team is led by Professor Jim Hall, and comprises leading experts from a number of research institutions, including the University of Oxford, University of Bristol, Cranfield University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and the UK Meteorological Office.

Funding comes from NERC, in collaboration with ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC and AHRC.

The project commenced in April 2014 and will extend until December 2017.  After this, some elements of the work will continue within the wider programme of drought research in a special phase targeting to engage stakeholders with outputs from the UK Drought and Water Scarcity programme.