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Accuracy and balance out of the window at the Institute of Civil Engineers

The Institution of Civil Engineers has just released a report on UK water security in the 21st century, a splendid opportunity to sound the global warming alarm bell if ever there was one (H/T Peter).

I bet you can't guess what they had to say about climate change.

You can? Well, alright, yes, you probably can.

Take this for example:

By the 2050s, summer river flows may reduce by 35% in the driest parts of England and by 15% for the wetter river basin regions in Scotland. This will put severe pressure on current abstractions of water.

A bit odd that one, since the IPCC has predicted increased precipitation for this part of the world. However, let's follow things through. The citation for this claim is to a report by Defra, the Climate Change Risk Assessment for the water sector. Here's the relevant paragraph:

A large number of national assessments and catchment studies indicate that winter river flows are likely to increase across the UK and summer flows are likely to decrease due to climate change (e.g. Christierson et al., 2011; Lopez et al., 2009; New et al., 2007; UKWIR, 2007; Wilby et al., 2006). However, there is a wide range of results and in the near term (2020s) and medium term (2050s) changes in average seasonal flows may be positive or negative and may also vary significantly across the UK. The CCRA analysis indicates that by the 2050s, summer river flows (characterised by the Q95 flow that is exceeded 95% of the time) may reduce by 35% (-7 to -54%) in the driest parts of England (Anglian river basin region) and by 15% (-2 to -25%) for wetter river basin regions in Scotland (Orkney and Shetland). However, it should be noted that it is difficult to project changes in precipitation (rainfall and snow).

It gives you a rather different impression, doesn't it?

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    - Bishop Hill blog - Accuracy and balance out of the window at the Institute of Civil Engineers

Reader Comments (78)

Step 1: What is the best way to get government grants? Answer, tell it what it wants to know.

Step 2: Write a report stating the same.

Step 3: Collect government grant.

Jun 8, 2012 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

The really sad things is that this coming out of the Institution of Civil Engineers , and Engineers are not normal inclined to accept such unsupported BS. So at a guess its politicized 'leadership' that pushed this out in an effort to keep government happy and lets hope their members remind them ,forcible, that such BS is not the norm for Engineers.

Jun 8, 2012 at 8:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I watched the head of the the Civil Engineers (I think) on the 10:30 BBC news last night, they gave him one line talking about the hose pipe ban. *Drum roll*

"Due to global warming there will be less rain".

Jun 8, 2012 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

I counted 22 mentions of 'climate change'. One of them says
"As climate change exacerbates this situation, rainfall will intensify".

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:00 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

No detectable trend in Met Office rainfall records.

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Audley

So, 'summer river flows MAY reduce by 35% in the driest parts of England ...' BUT 'This WILL put severe pressure on ...'. Slight case of legerdemain, anyone?

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

Presumably the report does not say that "thanks to global warming our droughts will be wetter than ever so we will have the worst of both worlds to contend with."

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy


ooh, ooh new word for me to use thanks!

What got me about the release of the report was the timing. Everyone was listening it to it whilst under a huge rainstorm after the wettest few weeks in ages and no doubt laughing at it. Haven't these people got the sense to wait for a hot dry spell to announce it??

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

I saw a bit of a programme on ice cores and the presenter was interviewing a scientist about the gases trapped in ice core and she said " When ever CO2 is increased so is the global temperature " This is deliberately miss leading; one of them should have made it clear the order and cause of these effects.
As an engineer I am very ashamed of the item above that had me shouting at the screen. I thought that at least we engineers had our feet on the ground and could see through this MGW SCAM.

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

@ Shevva, I've just located that segment on iPlayer; the spokesman was Phillip Mills, member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and who was also Deputy Chief Executive at Water UK (trade association of the UK’s water industry), now a director at the Policy Consulting Network.

"The water situation in the UK is becoming critical, and so we do need to think about it now. The situation is just gong to get worse, because of the impacts of climate change, with less rainfall, so less water availability."

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

This is just the excuse for them not having to increase investment to account for the population growth, they were on the R4 Today program yesterday saying metering for all even in areas where there was a surplus.

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

I've just got one word to say to you, Benjie. Hurst Kolmogorov.

(OK I can't count.)
For those of you who haven't seen it, there is an outstandingly good presentation by Koutsayannis, here:-

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul_K

The Met Office numbers from 1910 to 2011 are here.
The lowest UK annual rainfall was 835.4mm in 1933
*The highest UK annual rainfall was 1309.1mm in 1954.*
The average annual rainfall for the UK from 1961 to 1990 was 1100.6mm
The average annual rainfall for the UK from 1971 to 2000 was 1126.1mm

It looks pretty steady to me.

*Correction thanks to Jeremy Harvey @ 10:34*
The highest annual rainfall was actually in 2000, at 1337.3mm

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland


Excellent, I'll be stealing that.

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered Commentermrsean2k

Civil engineer ... oxymoron ... they insult my intelligence and should leave precipitation forecasts to those who know what they are doing or try astrology instead.

Water situation critical ? Build more cheap dams or do as the Australian labor governments did, build multi-billion dollar RO plants that rust up in quick time and pollute the surrounding ocean environments with salty brine.

Jun 8, 2012 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

hmmm ... civil engineering - dams, earthworks, watercourse diversions, canals, conduits. aqueducts, pipelaying, desalination plants - touting for business perhaps?

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

David Holland @9:48, the record highest annual rainfall was actually in 2000, at 1337.3mm, according to the page you linked to. Easier to see in graphical form on the page Martin Audley linked to a bit earlier. Anyway, same difference - there does not appear to be a meaningful trend to me.

Rainfall gets a lot of interest. Our anonymous friend 'chris' tried to convince me that there was a trend towards greater incidence of heavy rainfall back on the thread about Wunsch & sensational reporting in Nature, a few weeks ago. And last year, we had a thread here about Myles Allen's Nature paper blaming CO2 for the large floods of 2000. There was a paper in the same issue of Nature saying that extreme rainfall had increased (both were enthusiastically commented on by Richard Black at the BBC). All these cases of trend-picking look like a case of Rohrschach test to me - you see the patterns that you want to see.

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

So all the increased water vapour caused by warming will increase in less rainfall?

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo


"So all the increased water vapour caused by warming will cause less rainfall?

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Prattling about Climate Change = Give me da money.

That engineers should be reduced to it is, however, very sad.

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme


In a world where up is down and inside is out your first post made more sense!

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Tolson

You hit the nail right on the head when you stated "the IPCC has predicted increased precipitation for this part of the world."

These guys could do with a geography lesson. Unless topography changes, there will be no significant reduction in rainfall, and indeed, there has not been these past 50 years. The UK is a small narrow island surrounded by water. There will always be copious amounts of rainfall in the highlands of Scotland, the Lake District and Wales. If air circulation patterns were to change, it would simply alter the dominant rainfall pattern from one side of the mountain range to the other. When moist air coming over the sea eventually reaches the mountains, it drops it load.

The only issue is proper water management and what has blighted the UK (particularly the South East which may become slightly drier) is one of poor water management. Over the past 30 years there has been an increase in the population in the South East of at least 10million but not one single new reservoir has been built to meet this need. The poor management and lack of investment in infrastructure (in which I include not roperly addressing the pipe leak issue) is being covered up by the Global Warming mantra. It is nothing to do with Global Warming, it is simply poor management. The South East desperately needs a couple of reservoirs to smooth over periods when there are lulls in rainfall.

I am not against privatisation but the government made a mistake by not inserting provisions regarding infrastructure investment and holding the water companies to account. The water companies inherited a monopoly and have increased water rates and have profited excessively from this as well as the extra 5 or so million households paying water rates. Now these companies do not wish to spend the money investing in the reservoirs (and possibly dams) that are needed to properly manage water supply and ensure that all home owners can enjoy uninterupted supply. They have spent the profits of the past 20 or so years, and now want to force the tax payer to pay for the investment required. Hence the issue of reports claiming it is all a consequence of Global Warming and matters will get worse.
The government should not be fooled by this but since the Government supports AGW, it is difficult for it to claim that this is all nonsense. More importantly, the tax payer should not be hoodwinked.

A campaign is needed to expose this nonsense for what it is.

Jun 8, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Ross Lea

> I saw a bit of a programme on ice cores and the presenter was interviewing a scientist about the gases trapped in ice core and she said " When ever CO2 is increased so is the global temperature " This is deliberately misleading; one of them should have made it clear the order and cause of these effects.

Actually, the chap slicing up the cores and enthusing about them did get the order right, but this nugget of truth was immediately countermanded by the presenter (Gabrielle Walker) who was clearly following the script.

Not for the first time, I wondered if there is 'ministry of truth' in the Beeb that vets such things, as it seems unlikely that even a well-qualified presenter would immediately contradict someone introduced as an expert on camera otherwise.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"it should be noted that it is difficult to project changes in precipitation (rainfall and snow)"

Not to mention all other aspects of climate. Can we just admit that no-one knows enough to predict it with any useful degree of probability and get back to spending that money on things of more immediate import?

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

EUReferendum covered the failure to provide new reservoirs on 2 May 2012.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Sad to see the Institute of Civil Engineers succumbing to this alarmist propaganda, and bullshit propaganda at that.

Some weeks are wet, some are dry. Some months are wet, some are dry. Some years are wet, some are dry. Some decades are wet, some are dry. Some centuries are wet, some are dry... In a geological timescale there is feck all difference between a decade and a century. Sad to see engineers and scientists so ignorant of something as simple as natural variability.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:28 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

It's come to something when engineers are working out ways for us to manage with less, rather than trying to build things to give us more.
Richard North has done several excellent posts recently on the artificially induced water shortages. Here in the south east, government has stopped several schemes which would dramatically increase water supply. Why?

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

I do not know how the Met Office calculate their 1971 to 2000 average rainfall figure but it is noteworthy that as from 1910 to 1995, the amount of annual rainfall (smoothed) was each and every year below the 1971 to 2000 average, and as from 1995 onwards (ie., to date) the amount of rainfall has each and every year been above the 1971 to 2000 average! The trend (if there is one) is therefore towards a slightly increased amount of tainfall.


But the reality is that there has been no significant trend in rainfall over the past century, There has been no significant reduction in rainfall during the late 1970s onwards warming period which period is said to have warmed due to AGW. That being the case, there is no evidence for the assertion that in future (should the warming continue) there will be less rainfall. Unless the Gulf Stream changes, it is difficult to see how there could be any significant change to UK rainfall given the geography of this small island (the UK is very different to Australia or some landlocked country). The IPCC's projection that there is likely to be a slight increase in rainfall if there is warming is logical. If of course, the future is one of cooling then there may be a slight reduction in rainfall.

As I have alluded to in my earlier post, there is presently a battle on going between government and utility suppliers (both energy supplies and water suppliers) with regard to how future infrastructure is financed and who pays for this. There has been a lack of investment in infrastructure for at least these past 20 to 30 years (partly due to lack of government policy and in particular the Labour Government's policy to come up with a sensible energy policy) and the utility companies want to make sure that they are not left paying the bill. They have particular control since unless the government prevents them from hiking their bills, if they are left with any expense for sure they will seek to pass on this expense to their customers. Unles the government forces the position they are unlikely to absorb the expense from past profits, after all they have already distributed those past profits in dividends to shareholders and high executive pay awards to top management.

It is all very cynical and one can be sure that the tax payer will be mugged (either in taxes, green subsidies or increased levies on bills) unless the MSM pick up on this game and inform the general public of the true facts and explain the end game.

It is time for Joe Public to open their eyes and smell the coffee.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

@Jun 8, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Alex Cull

Thanks I knew his segment lasted about 5 seconds, he didn't even have time to smirk at the end.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

This is very dissappointing. As a retired civil engineer I expect more fact and objectivity from the ICE.

Perhaps, like the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, members no longer have any real say, and no real rights to a view. It is all too easy for committed activists to take over these bodies and introduce their own political agendas. As we have seen, even the Royal Society is commanded by 'true believers'. CIWEM even has a political manifesto - so much for professional objectivity.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterGoeffry Simkins

Actually, the GCM's are notorious for their poor predictions on a regional basis particularly with respect tp precipitation. Perhaps the civil engineers are treating the IPCC rainfall projections the way most people treat MET office seasonal forecasts and just planning for the opposite.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterSean

"By the 2050s, summer river flows may reduce by 35% in the driest parts of England and by 15% for the wetter river basin regions in Scotland. This will put severe pressure on current abstractions of water."

Notice that the first sentence is just one possible scenario, it 'may' happen, and yet the second sentence has 'will' instead of 'would'. Anything 'may' happen, of course, but not everything 'will' happen. Will' suggests that this is not contingent. You know what will happen, of course: the Guardian will keep the second sentence as it stands and edit the first sentence to make it sound necessary and certain: 'The ICE report indicates that by 2050 river flows in England will reduce by 35%, putting severe pressure on water abstraction' or some such propaganda.

Jun 8, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

All these cases of trend-picking look like a case of Rohrschach test to me - you see the patterns that you want to see.
Jun 8, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey


Exactly. I've always seen most "evidence" of CAGW as being akin to pointing at a stained wall with its paint and wallpaper peeling and claiming that there's an image of the Virgin Mary there.
"If you look at that bit that looks more like a rabbit, squint a bit, turn it upside down, ignore the ears and draw in a couple of lines with biro... there she is! Complete with beard!"
Find a few really gullible believers and if you are unscrupulous you can fleece them for every penny.

Do the same with a bunch of noisy climate-related data and you can do pretty much the same but on a vastly more lucrative scale.

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

"..changes in average seasonal flows may be positive or negative and may also vary significantly. It should be noted that it is difficult to project changes in precipitation."

Then why on earth do they bother? If this kind of nonsense was submitted by a student, they would recieve a deserved admonishment.
This is nowhere near approaching a prediction. If I'd have paid for such a report I would now be asking for my money back.

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.W.

In the days of Yellow Pages, I recall looking up Civil Engineers to find the listing;

Civil engineers:see boring.

It has taken them some time to join in on what is now monotonous, tedious, irksome, tiresome, humdrum.

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

This appears to me to be getting out of the problem of addressing the huge amount of leakage from an under-maintained system. Why don't these idle b*gg*s stop moaning and get to work doing some maintainance.

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer


If the leakage is into the water table from which it was extracted, then it is not lost although the processing cost is.

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

The motto of the Institution of Civil Engineers used to be "to harness the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind!". I dare say it is probably now "to ensure that Gaia is never harmed & as many humans as possible enter fuel poverty, starvation, & then death, so that the fluffy bunnies can all live in peace & harmony!" One reason I quit it & stuck to structures!

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Surveys show public's concern about climate change has declined dramatically: (Feb 2012) (Feb 2010)

Did the Institution of Civil Engineers just jump the shark?

Vis a vis the promised desertification, wonder how all those cacti, drought-loving plants etc recommended by every BBC horticultural programme are currently faring in waterlogged British gardens?

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

We should build more reservoirs in the South-East, of course, but I suspect the E.U. forbids this as part of its drive to cut down on European water consumption. Maybe someone knows more about this?

Jun 8, 2012 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterOswald Thake

Being in another branch of the engineering profession this kind of report annoys me. But those who have commented on the lack of new reservoirs in the SE should remember the attempt by Thames Water to build a new reservoir (I think it was planned to be near Abingdon), and the strength of opposition to it; something as big as a reservoir attracts a lot of nimbyism.

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

Could I remind everyone that the organization that's predicting drought in 2050 is the very same organization that forecast drought conditions for April, May and June on the 25 March. Since that forecast the rainfall has re-filled the reservoirs in some 8 weeks.

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

An old joke....

What's the difference between a Civil Engineer and a tomato?

The tomato isn't a real vegetable.


Jun 8, 2012 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

O/T (somewhat) but probably someone can help.

I want to collect the rainwater off my roof and store it water butts, so that when the annual hosepipe ban comes in, I can use stored rainwater to water the lawn.

Now when I read that we get 1100mm of rain a year, that is 1100mm in how wide of a tube? In other words, what is the annual volume of rain that falls onto an area 1cm square?

If I knew this, I could work out how much rain falls on my roof per year. I reckon my roof is about 8m x 8m looking at Google Earth and at just the planform area it covers (i.e. not the area of each facet but just the area of the square it occupies).

I *think* 1cm of rainfall means "1cm deep in a tube of radius 1cm". This would mean 1cm of rain is 3.1416 cm3 of water. The UK's annual 110cm of rain would thus be 346cm3 of water per 3.1416cm2 of roof.

My roof is 640,000cm2, so if my assumptions are correct, just over 70 tons of rain per year are falling on it; right?

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

J4R - IIRR the area is irrelevant. Imagine a dry, impermeable, undrained, level flat roof the approx size of a football pitch, with upturned sides exposed to a cloudburst of 15mins. Then walk across it and measure the depth - wherever you sink your measure it will read the same. The rainfall depth is simply the vertical ordinate of the accumulated rainfall. Area/volume ratios in collecting devices can be used to amplify the reading for greater precision or to aggregate over long time periods between inspections.

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Water levels in some of the South East's reservoirs:

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Two questions - in a genuine spirit of enquiry. Water is essential for life and a natural monopoly but water companies are basically retailers, aren't they? They take the raw product, treat it, store it, and distribute it. But they seem to be the only retailers I've heard of who urge their customers to use less of their product, in fact fine them if they use too much. Is that fair comment?

Secondly, is there a shortage of water in absolute terms? Doesn't it evaporate from the sea, fall as rain, and eventually one way or another make its way back to the sea? A closed cycle. So why aren't they planning new reservoirs, cross country pipelines or desalination plants?

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Justice4Rinka

1100mm of rain is a 1.1M height of water over your whole roof so 64m2 roof will get 70m3 of water or 70 tonnes as 1m3 of water weighs 1 tonne.

But don't take it all as you need some flow to keep the drains clear.

Jun 8, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Also Mike consider that if the water companies ever did prevent all the leaks there'd be a subsidence crisis as all those house foundations dried out and shrank.

Jun 8, 2012 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

As a retired (mechanical) engineer, I receive 'Professional Engineering' magazine - and have been increasingly concerned by the tone of some of the features. Wind farms outputs are, for instance, quoted as the name-plate capacity - much as 'The Guardian' might - and which we all know is about five times the 'actual' output; also Carbon Capture is described enthusiastically as though it was viable technology.
I do of course realise that there a lot of dedicated engineers engaged in these industries, but I've found it difficult to get a 'sceptical' view published...

Jun 8, 2012 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

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