Drought and water scarcity in the UK: Social science perspectives on governance, knowledge... (Grecksch, 2021)

Laurence Smith


Grecksch, K. 2021. Drought and water scarcity in the UK; Social science Perspectives on governance, knowledge and outreach. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-030-65577-8 (hardcover), ISBN 978-3-030-65578-5 (eBook), 43 Euros (e-copy)/53 Euros (hardcover)

(URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65578-5)

Laurence Smith

SOAS University of London, ls34@soas.ac.uk


To quote this review: Smith, L, E. 2022. Review of “Drought and Water Scarcity in the UK; Social Science Perspectives on Governance, Knowledge and Outreach”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021, by Kevin Grecksch, Water Alternatives, http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/boh/item/274-uk


Focusing on the governance of drought and water scarcity in the UK, this book reports the findings of research under two nationally funded projects from 2015-2019. Six chapters, but broadly three parts, address governance, knowledge and outreach, and conclusions. Key themes explored and illustrated with examples include: power relationships between stakeholders and their implications for the management of drought and water scarcity; the creation and use of relevant technical knowledge; and the potential role of public outreach and engagement. Arguments are developed for a more inclusive and integrated approach to management of water scarcity and drought, including communication and engagement strategies, employed before and after drought and not just during an event. Emphasis is placed on the need for public engagement; envisaged as a two-way process with stakeholder groups and wider public.

After an introduction, Chapter 2 seeks to assess the status of drought and water scarcity management in the UK. This assessment is made through a detailed analysis of management options identified in the statutorily required Water Resources Management Plans (WRMP) produced by English and Welsh water supply companies for the period 2014–2019 set against drought and water scarcity management options identified in academic literature, policy reports and other government documents. It is concluded that water companies in England and Wales lack a sufficiently broad array of management options to ensure that sufficient water supply is available during a drought or water scarce situation and are unduly confined by the regulatory framework of prescribed options and measures.

Chapter 3 explores the role of business in drought and water scarcity management. More specifically, how large UK water consumers prepare for water shortages and a changing climate, and their relationship with regulatory authorities. Empirical data is derived from a literature and document review, and a small number of semi-structured expert interviews. Three sectors - food and drink, horticulture and the Scotch whisky industry – are considered in detail. Potential impacts of drought and water scarcity unsurprisingly vary across sectors. Necessary solutions to future challenges are identified as both technological and cooperation with other sectors and regulatory bodies. It is strongly recommended that the latter be fostered and institutionalised to redress an ‘absence’ of businesses and industries in UK drought governance.

Chapter 4 considers drought-related knowledge and power relationships between stakeholders. Three key themes arise from interviews with water companies, regulators, consultancies and abstractor groups. First, the importance of the quality, validity and acceptance of hydro-ecological data. Second, the role played by power relationships between actors and how contested technical knowledge influences use of regulatory tools. Third, the role of local expert knowledge and the scope for greater consideration of this in drought management. These themes are illustrated by a detailed case study of management of wetlands and agricultural abstraction licences in eastern England.

Chapter 5 reviews the rationales for dissemination of hydro-ecological research and dialogue about drought and water scarcity with stakeholders and wider public. It provides a detailed narrative of two “water-related walks” which engaged a range of stakeholders. The final chapter then summarises and concludes the volume, although the author states the aspiration that each chapter (2, 3, 4 and 5) can be read independently.

The target readership for this book is somewhat unclear. The impression is one of written by academics for academics; the style resembling a thesis or perhaps report to funder. Presentation of literature reviews and data collection methodology may be excessive in detail for many readers. For example, detail of literature search terms used and of interview protocols. There is also much repetition, and the book would have benefited from greater editorial input. Consequently, some appeal and clarity of messaging for practitioners and policy makers may be at least partially lost.

Chapter 2 is the most substantial, successful and potentially influential part. However, although there are some specifics relating to pre-drought preparations and response the analysis remains mostly quite generic and goes little beyond existing understanding in water resources management of need for an inclusive integrated approach at catchment scale. Discussion and further chapters add emphasis on the role and importance of public engagement and inclusive stakeholder participation and need for understanding of the potential contributions of both expert and local knowledge in the context of existing power relations.

This reader found the book’s concluding expectations of water companies to be somewhat unrealistic in the absence of placing drought and water scarcity management more explicitly and comprehensively within the context of catchment management, or indeed other holistic frameworks such as IWRM or the WEF nexus. How and why should water companies lead the multi-stakeholder, inclusive catchment scale approach that is advocated? What is currently missing from government? Who are the other key actors and what are their roles?  Is existing legislation and regulation fit for purpose?  These and other pertinent questions are not adequately addressed in a book on governance.

Some chapters provide useful case studies. However, these might also be criticised for some naivety and again lack of contextualisation within existing experience in water resources management.  For example, the two ‘water-related walks’ are cited as successful examples of engagement based on immediate participant response but there is no follow-up or evaluation of lasting impact. Although the ‘walks’ are examples of good and useful practice there is no consideration of the wider array of strategies and practice available for stakeholder and public engagement. Nor consideration of the vast experience of public participation in water resources management internationally, and not least in the UK through, for example, the work of the Rivers Trusts and many other community-based initiatives. In conclusion, this book provides valuable empirical contributions for a readership amongst students and academia but its deficiencies in approach, style and deeper contextualisation within both the literature and experience may limit the utility and impact that it might otherwise have found.



Additional Info

  • Authors: K. Grecksch
  • Year of publication: 2021
  • Publisher: Palgrave-MacMillan
  • Reviewer: Laurence Smith
  • Subject: Water governance, Water management, Drought
  • Type: Review
  • Language: English