NRFA Review of the Year: 2019/2020

The UK Surface and Groundwater Archives Committee (SAGA) convened for its 37th annual meeting at UKCEH Wallingford on Wednesday 4th 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 British Geological Survey, NERC, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Environment Agency (EA), Natural Resources Wales, Met Office, CIWEM 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, as well as reviewing existing data. The NRFA’s core daily mean flow dataset alone was subject to around 615,000 updates and changes in the last 12 months.

The annual update to the Archive this year contained data for water year 2017/2018, which included a number of new record low flows across the country. Alongside the routine update to daily flow data, an annual update to peak flow data as well as a period of record review of 20% of peak flow stations took place. This led to the release of Version 8 of the NRFA Peak Flow dataset, and some 5,000 station years of data reviewed.

Three Measuring Authority liaison visits were undertaken over the last year. In May NRFA staff visited each of the three areas of SEPA and in March and July respectively, they held meetings and made field visits to the EA offices in the West Midlands, and Wessex. 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 data 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. Members of the team gave presentations at World Water Day events, the joint BHS-CIWEM meeting on Celebrating Hydrometry, and the UK Environmental Observation Framework Conference.

The NRFA website remains very popular and has seen sustained activity in 2019. There were around 40,000 downloads of river flow, spatial and metadata and around 700,000 page views by 60,000 users across all pages on the NRFA website. There were also a number of new additions to the NRFA website, including the display of live data. These near real-time data have been extracted from the EA Hydrology API and used to present a live data tab on around 500 station pages in England. New interactive rating plots were added to the peak flow data tabs which are currently undergoing testing, and an API allowing programmatic access to NRFA holdings has been recently released. Improvements were also made to the search page metadata.

The National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP), operated jointly by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the British Geological Survey has continued to publish the monthly Hydrological Summaries for the UK.  The NHMP has also published a number of hydrological status updates commenting on the water resource situation, and latterly flooding that occurred at the end of 2019.

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 presentation of Environment Agency live data on our website, and the formal launch of the API for accessing the NRFA data holdings. At this week’s SAGA Committee meeting our plans for the next 12 months were discussed. They comprise further development to our tools and systems including automated machine learning quality control processes to improve validation and access to our data with the aim of helping users to better understand the UK freshwater environment.”