Webinar: Advancing Data Sharing between the UK Water Industry and CaBA

CaBA and the Rivers Trust held a webinar today, on data sharing between CaBA and water companies. Dave Johnson (Rivers Trust/CaBA) opened the webinar by mentioning the biggest gaps in the CaBA data package. These are water company data, without which we can only partially understand hydrology; and monitoring data. The CaBA package includes Environment Agency monitoring data, but it is important to use more partnership data, plus information from water companies.

Dave pointed out how we already know there are barriers to sharing data. This webinar aims to determine the areas where catchment partnerships can work alongside water companies to develop solutions and first steps to take towards improving this situation. For example, we need to ensure water companies are sharing data that is appropriate for partnership working, and we need to understand that different water companies have different data, and are able to share different datasets.

Lucy Butler (Rivers Trust/CaBA) then presented on what water industry data is available on the CaBA data package. These data layers include drinking water information such as abstraction data. We can find out which sector is abstracting water, whether it is groundwater or surface water abstraction, and what the abstracted water will be used for. Other data that is available are the Source Protection Zones, defining the risk to a water source, and its potential sustainability. Surface water and ground water safeguard zones highlight were water quality is at risk of deterioration, where land use might be causing pollution, and areas which may need additional treatment in future. This is useful for highlighting areas where catchment interventions could be used to alleviate poor water quality.

Lucy also pointed out the importance of not just considering the size of the abstraction, but also considering consumptive abstractions. This considers where the water is taken from and returned to, and whether large volumes of water are being taken but not replenished, illustrating a problem for water resources. Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS) can be used to monitor abstraction areas. In the image, green patches shows where areas are available for abstraction, and the red shows a large area of the catchment is over abstracted. Sometimes there might be more water available for abstraction at low flow rather than at high flow. This is because at low flow, levels might be being boosted by other sources.

Lucy also mentioned sewage data which is available including combined sewer outflow (CSO) spill data. CSO data is available on the frequency and duration of the spills and discharges. There are also maps available showing what action is next planned at a site. This can be useful for catchment partnerships to highlight and focus on key problem areas.

Following this, Dave Johnson gave a presentation looking at case studies considering local collaboration and partnership delivery supported by data sharing. He mentioned there are 9 types of partnership data, that can help stakeholder organisations:

  • Reducing runoff, for example through reduced flooding or targeting a CSO.
  • Abstraction data including safeguard zones which are updated by the water company. Knowing what’s causing the problem can help to maximise partnership working and delivery.
  • Discharge and water quality which considers treatment works and nitrate and phosphate levels.
  • Misconnections to identify areas with separate systems and where monitoring has picked up issues. Poor local practice can be used to show the local community what is causing the problem, and is a useful way to engage the local community.
  • Behavioural change highlights regios with specific issues causing problems. For example issues with available resources, or extensive areas of unflushables. Education and monitoring would be effective community responses.
  • Recreational benefit such as areas where the water company could provide step changes and improved enhancements such as footpaths, recreational areas, access to the river, to benefit the community
  • Low flow data, highlighting the opportunity for river restoration to improve resilience of ecology to low flows by creating more natural morphology with refuges and low flow channels.
  • Barrier to fish migration data to highlight key areas for potential alleviation of pressures.
  • Carbon offsetting and biodiversity net gain information.
This map therefore is a water company version of the reasons for not achieving good status, as published by Environment Agency. This data provides a tighter spatial focus and clear obligation to the types of options partnerships could contribute to providing. As projects are delivered, the map could be updated and see whether projects have delivered the expected benefits.

Dave then went on to explain how case studies with varying amounts of water company data had struggled or thrived. For example, when water company data is not available or accessible, modelling flood risk is a lot less sensitive and more ambiguous. Alternatively, Dave mentioned a different case study where misconnection data was available from the local water company, and provided a much better understanding of the catchment hydrology.

Data can also help determine where SuDS could be located to be most effective within a catchment. This emphasises the importance of collaborating with all stakeholders including water companies, catchment partnership organisations, and modellers, to determine the best plan and encourage the best outcome for a project. Working with modellers helps to make the most of the data available, whilst incorporating the engineering knowledge of water company representatives.

There are barriers for water companies regarding data sharing, however working in partnership and sharing engineering knowledge would ensure proper use and understanding of data. Data is detailed and complex to understand, and we need quite detailed technical knowledge to use it well.

Dave continued by mentioning that it is important for catchment partnership organisations to understand how water systems work, from the water industry point of view. For example, the water companies have information on costings, to aid working in partnership and ensure all stakeholders can fully understand a system or network. This can ensure that monitoring strategies are designed to determine how best to manage resources. This data and output results can also be fed back to the water industry, and data can be updated to show progress within a catchment. This further emphasis how sharing data can help partnerships focus on tackling specific issues such as misconnections, barriers to fish migration, flooding, abstraction and unflushables.

Next there was a thorough discussion session with various stakeholders and water company representatives. Partnership working was highlight as key, and making sure the water company is fully involved in discussions and data sharing. There is a risk of being data rich and information poor, so partnerships need to work with water companies in order to get a comprehensive understanding of information, and implement this into plans and solutions.

It is important to consider what water companies get back from sharing water information. We need to showcase how catchment management adds value to what they are working towards as a water company, such as saving money or making resources more resilient. Data sharing and working in partnership enables a narrative to be developed, explaining the workings of a catchment. This illustrates an exchange of data rather than just the water company providing data with nothing in return. It can be difficult for water companies to share data without knowing who they are sharing it with and what the information will be used for. This again stresses the importance of communication from the start.

Different water companies work across different catchments, so the freedom for data sharing lacks consistency across the county. Different companies and catchments will have different prioritise based on land uses, key issues and water resources. It is important for water companies to consider both what they need to share in a data package to showcase their efforts, as well as what they can share that will help catchment partnership projects.

Dave Johnson suggested potentially developing a generic template for working with water companies, which can be altered for different catchments based on the water company priorities and abilities. This could be a step forward for opening a communication channel between partnerships and the water industry.

Following the very engaging discussion session there was a feedback and survey session on the current level of data sharing, opportunities and challenges. A series of polls were opened for attendees to vote and choose options. One of the questions asked what types of issues would Catchment Partnerships be most interested in collaborating on, with local water companies. The top issues chosen by webinar attendees were citizen science monitoring, and catchment phosphate management. Data from these plans could be shared with all partners in a catchment programme.

Another poll asked attendees what they think are the main barrriers to accessing data from water companies. The top choices chosen by attendees were commercial sensitivity of data, and lack of techncial resource or capability to analyse and use the data.

The water company representation closed the webinar with a final comment that this has been a very interesting discussion, and hopefully will be the start of some really interesting partnership and collaboration opportunities.

Thanks to everyone at Rivers Trust and CaBA for running another brilliant session. It was great to be part of this webinar and hear lots of perspectives and thoughts on data sharing.


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