NRFA Review of the Year: 2018/2019

The UK Surface and Groundwater Archives Committee (SAGA) convened for its 36th annual meeting at CEH’s Wallingford Headquarters on Wednesday 6th March.

The SAGA Committee comprises representatives of organisations from across the UK involved in the measurement, management or use of hydrometric data. This year’s meeting was attended by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, NERC, Defra, Canal and River Trust, CIWEM, British Hydrological Society, and representatives from the UK water industry. Amongst the items discussed at this year’s meeting was a review of the activities of the NRFA over the last 12 months.

As normal the NRFA’s activities have included updating and ongoing maintenance of the nation’s central database for hydrometric data.  Ensuring that the archive is up-to-date involves an intensive programme of year-round work to quality control new data before it is added to the archive alongside reviewing existing data. The NRFA’s core daily mean flow dataset alone was subject to around 450,000 updates and changes in the last 12 months. 

The annual update of daily mean flows and peak flows to the archive this year contained data for water year 2016/2017, and alongside this, a period of record review of 20% of peak flow stations led to the release of Version 7 of the NRFA Peak Flow Dataset, and some 5,000 station years of data reviewed.

Other activities over the last year included liaison visits to each office of the Environment Agency East Anglia area, with Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk in March, and Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire in September. Such visits allow the NRFA’s Regional Representatives to update their knowledge of current equipment, processes and problems at each site, giving them a better understanding of how the flows are measured. This information informs the quality control of data submitted to the archive and allows metadata updates to inform the user community of new and emerging issues which should be considered when analysing NRFA data.

NRFA staff continue to liaise and engage with key stakeholders and the user community. In March 2018, the NRFA presented and exhibited at Flood & Coast 2018 in Telford. Led by the Environment Agency, the event brought together key stakeholders from the flood and coastal erosion risk management community. In September 2018, a number of NRFA staff members attended the British Hydrological Society’s 13th National Hydrology Symposium in London. The conference theme was, ‘Hydrology: Advances in Theory and Practice’ which led to wide-ranging talks, poster discussions and networking opportunities. Also in September 2018, the NRFA met with Defra staff to update them on their work and discuss hydrology and hydrometry in relation to Defra’s 25-year plan. In November 2018, the NRFA hosted the fourth Peak Flows Workshop attended by the four UK Measuring Authorities, where progress with the dataset was reviewed and addressed key issues with the data addressed.

The NRFA website remains very popular and has seen sustained activity in 2018. There were over 43,000 downloads of river flow, spatial and metadata and around 759,000 page views by 71,000 users across all pages on the NRFA website. The Environment Agency’s Hydrology API’s near real-time data has been added to the website for EA Devon & Cornwall sites and a new 'live data' tab has been created on the individual station pages. A subsequent release of live data sites, covering the rest of England is expected later in 2019. Improvements have also been made to the NRFA’s website with a new search page, improved spatial data, new trend pages and a new photo gallery.

The National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP), operated jointly by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the British Geological Survey has continued to publish the monthly Hydrological Summaries for the UK. Against the backdrop of drought concerns throughout 2018, the NHMP published a number of hydrological status updates and attended a media briefing at the Science Media Centre. In January 2019, the NHMP marked its 30th Birthday, and a commemorative blog post was published looking back at the achievements of the last 30 years.

Looking forward, Isabella Tindall, Head of the NRFA commented, "2018/2019 has been a successful year for the NRFA, with a number of important outputs and updates to our services including the display of EA live data on our website. At this week's SAGA Committee meeting our plans for the next 12 months were discussed. They include launching a number of new developments designed to further improve access to our data and help users to better understand the UK freshwater environment".