Strategy for Regulatory Material

1. Introduction

Regulatory material is the backbone of the WMO Quality Management Framework.

They provide standards and recommendations on what National Hydrological Services (NHSs) have to do to ensure the quality of their data and products, and how to do it.

They are of two types: standards and recommended practices and procedures (recommendations).

Standards are mandatory to be implemented and are defined by the use of the word shall in their formulation, while recommendations are incentive, being identified by the use of the word should. Figure 1 outlines differences between standard (Technical Regulations and Manuals) and recommended practices and procedures (Guides and other reference documentation).

It has to be noted that prescriptive statement (characterized by the use of shall) fall broadly into one of two categories: i) agree upon equally valid but alternative technical options for facilitating exchange and comparison (e.g. decision of a unit of measure, e.g. cm vs mm) and ii) compel the adoption of good practices as compared with poor ones (e.g. measurement equipment shall be regularly calibrated because lack of calibration is a bad practice as its affects the reliability of measurement and the ensuing analytical results)

An internationally agreed commitment on how to perform hydrological activities can be a solid support to mobilize the necessary national resource to ensure the NHS operations. This could mitigate the possible effect a prescriptive statement might have.

While the global nature of meteorological activities naturally calls for establishing and complying with internationally agreed standards, the more geographically delimitated nature of hydrology, and the highly varying conditions in which field work has to be carried out, had as a result that historically, within WMO, the hydrological community has preferred the use of non-prescriptive, approach based on recommendation of good practices.

Consequently, CHy developed its regulatory material over the years in a coherent style though not fully aligned with WMO’s culture of prescription and compliance and also with a slightly different hierarchy and terminology with respect to other WMO programmes.

As WMO Congress 17 held in 2015 and EC-60 in 2016 have adopted resolutions and measures to encourage and coordinate Technical Commissions efforts toward a review of WMO regulatory material, the Commission will have to assess its approach, review its regulatory documents and decide on the future course of action.

2. Background

2.1 Current Status of CHy Regulatory Material

CHy-XIII in 2008 decided to adopt a Quality Management Framework – Hydrology (QMF-H) providing an overall strategy, advice, guidance and tools for National Hydrological Services to attain efficiency, quality and effectiveness in their functioning.

The QMF-H web page provides access to this documentation: FAQ about water.

CHy XIII also adopted the following hierarchy of documents for the classification of its publications prepared as part of different activities of CHy:

  1. Technical Regulations, laying down the hydrological practices and procedures to be followed by WMO Member;
  2. Guide to Hydrological Practices, providing general practices across the full range of hydrological activities;
  3. Manuals on hydrology and water resources, providing more detailed guidance on practices and procedures of relevance to a specific field of hydrology and water resources. than is contained in the Guide to Hydrological Practices or in the Technical Regulations;
  4. Guidance material: guidelines in hydrology and water resources, providing important information and state-of-the-art summary on a particular topic;
  5. Technical documents, on topics of regional relevance, or describing not yet operational technologies and practices.

2.2 Particularities of CHy Regulatory Material in the WMO context

As stated above CHy Regulatory Material recommends, through the use of should, the adoption of practices and procedures, promoting a culture of voluntarism, rather than prescribing and enforcing a culture of compliance, hence only very rarely using shall.

The hierarchy of documents also differs in a number of ways:

  • Technical Regulation volume III – Hydrology has 13 annexes as an integral part of its content,
  • The Guide to Hydrological Practices Vol. I and II provides guidance on how to implement the recommendation stated in the Technical Regulations vol. III
  • CHy has also developed six Manuals complementing the Guide and providing more detailed guidance on practices and procedures described in specific chapters of the Guide, as well as an international glossary of Hydrology (in cooperation with UNESCO).

Other WMO Manuals are directly annexed to WMO Technical Regulation volume I, and also prescribe the procedures to properly implement the requirement stated in the Technical Regulation while Guides provide recommended practices.

A significant implication related to the use of prescriptive language in Technical Regulation and Manuals is the applicability of WMO’s convention article 9(b):

WMO Convention ARTICLE 9

Execution of Congress decisions

(a) All Members shall do their utmost to implement the decisions of Congress;

(b) If, however, any Member finds it impracticable to give effect to some requirement in a technical resolution adopted by Congress, such Member shall inform the Secretary-General of the Organization whether its inability to give effect to it is provisional or final, and state its reasons therefore.

Figure 2: WMO Regulatory Material hierarchy of documents

2.3 WMO’s Enhanced Technical Regulation Framework

WMO’s Executive Council, Sixty-Height Session (EC-68) in June 2016 endorsed the Introduction to WMO Senegal HYCOS, requesting technical commissions to prioritize in their work plans the review and update of relevant parts of the WMO Technical Regulations in accordance with their specific terms of reference with a view to their approval by the Eighteenth Session of WMO  Congress (Cg-18) in 2019.;

The Executive Council also invited Members to participate actively in the consultative process for review of draft amendments to the Technical Regulations and continue providing support in translating and editing of regulatory publications.

In short, there is a clear impetus from WMO to ensure consistency and alignment of all WMO regulatory documents (its style), as well as measures and recommendations to enhance Members’ compliance. For CHy, it represents an opportunity for improvement of its regulatory material but would imply changes in the structure of the document hierarchy and in the approach towards prescribed vs recommended practices.

3. Discussion

To respond to the decision of the Executive Council, CHy has in front of it three alternative options:

Option 1: Business as usual

Continue with the current practice concerning regulatory material; do not embrace the Roadmap to Enhanced WMO Technical Regulations Framework.

Option 2: Implement enhancements to CHy Regulatory Material as per WMO Technical Regulations Framework, while keeping some specific aspects

This option takes into account the operational reason behind the particularities of HWRP regulatory material, while recognizing the benefits and needs of the enhancement of WMO Technical Material as outlined in the decision of the Executive Council. It would involve as main activities:

  1. Review and update the content of Technical Regulations Vol. III – Hydrology
  2. Review of CHy Regulatory Material to change, whenever required and appropriate its style from recommending to prescribing, starting with Technical Regulations Vol. III – Hydrology
  3. Improve document version control, pagination, removal of obsolete content, etc.

Option 3: Fully realign CHy Regulatory Material similar to meteorological documentation

This option would imply conforming strictly with other WMO practices, and, besides the activities of Option 2, would include

  1. Extend the use of more prescriptive language also to the Guide to Hydrological Practices, Volumes I and II, and other Manuals;
  2. Implement an overall realignment of the hierarchy of of CHy Regulatory Material against WMO practices, including categorizing documents and changing the practice in using terms such as Manual, Guide, etc;
  3. Extract embedded annexes in Technical Regulations to be referred to in a new WMO-style Manual;
  4. Implement a compliance monitoring and reporting structure.


NHS input is solicited to identify a possible path forward to regarding the strategy CHy should adopt regarding the review and update of its regulatory material. The following questions aim at initiating a discussion in the CHy community about the best life jacket options for toddlers, with a possible resolution to proceed with a review and update of CHy Regulatory Material.

  1. Do you think that the prescriptive language and culture of compliance promoted by WMO should be applied more extensively to CHy’s Regulatory Material, thus moving away from CHy’s historical culture of voluntarism and recommendation of good practices, but helping NHSs delivering consolidated products?
  2.  Do you think that CHy should embark in an overall review of the content and hierarchy of its regulatory material?
  3. Do you think that CHy’s hierarchy of regulatory material documents should better align with WMO’ Technical Regulation composition as depicted in figure 2?
  4. Would you support the establishment of a Task Team of experts, operating under CHy AWG to review and assess CHy Regulatory Material, recommend CHy a detailed plan for updating its regulatory material and overview its implementation, and prepare a revised text of Technical Regulation vol. III to be submitted to Executive Council in 2018?

5 Responses to CHy Overall Strategy for Regulatory Material

  1. Jan Danhelka says:
    I don’t think that in hydrology we can go to be as prescriptive as in meteorology. I think that operational practices are different in nature between our disciplines, e.g. the sitting of meteorological station might be strictly prescribed in the meaning of elevation, distance from obstacles etc., but in hydrology you have to deal with morphological conditions of the channel that are simply available. Similarly in case of formats (not counting for WaterML2.0) e.g. models has not been unified and today there are too many (mostly commercial) that it is impossible to unify easily. At the same time, I agree that there should be more ‘shalls’ in our documents, however the question is for which activities. For example for field discharge measurements national standards exists in many countries, but I am afraid that imposing those to all NHSs might lead to non-compliance at least developed countries, and go against the WMO idea to develop non-traditional (easier but likely less accurate – better than nothing) measurement techniques trough GHSF/HydroHub. So we have to balance and select carefully where to put new ‘shalls’. Another side of the story is assessment of compliance among NHSs that might be beneficial to indicate where more effort is needed globally and nationally. (I am afraid that even in meteorology many services do not comply in many aspects, e.g. sitting of many stations is poor even in developed countries – I think that setting more prescription, and then be blind of their violation won’t help anyway.)

    Ad2) and 3) My feelings are ambivalent in this matter. Firstly, one must note, that hydrological aspects start to being included to other materials (Manual on WIS/WIGOS, Manual on GDPFS). This favors for aligning the structure with meteorology. Secondly, none of our Manuals, nor Guide to HP has a form that is expected for an annex of TR, what would mean a need for new documents (TR annexes) development. In addition, renaming of the Guide will be confusing for hydrological community, what advocates against changes. In conclusion, if thee spirit for change to culture of compliance (ad1) and revision of TR (ad4) outweigh, than the change of hierarchy should be done (if concerning above mentioned options, I would prefer compromise between option 2 and 3 – I think we should identify the most critical things we want to elevate to newly developed TR annex.

    Ad4) Yes, absolutely. However, given a suggested timeline for next Cg (meaning before next CHy) an opportunity for discussion on changes (e.g. by similar pre-discussion forum) shall be enabled to all CHy members prior the Cg.  
  1. Evelyn Quirós says:
    Answer Q1: Yes, I agree. In order to achieve standarized processes and products in NHSs.

    Answer Q2: Yes.

    Answer Q3: Yes.

    Answer Q4: Yes, I recommend CHy a detailed plan for updating regulatory material and responsabilities should be clearly defined.  
  1. Elizabeth Jamieson (on behalf of Canada’s National Hydrological Services) says:

    Canada cannot answer this question with a straight yes or no response. This question needs to be broken down further with respect to a response. In the first part of the question “Do you think that the prescriptive language and culture of compliance promoted by WMO should be applied more extensively to CHy’s Regulatory Material….? There are two elements for consideration, which should be answered separately: i. “Do you think that the culture of compliance promoted by WMO should be applied more extensively to CHy’s Regulatory Material?

    o Yes – Canada does believe a culture of compliance, as promoted by WMO, should be applied, but

    o No it should not be applied extensively across all CHy’s Regulatory Material.

    It is not difficult to agree that the culture of compliance be promoted, but to do so require consideration of how the Regulatory Material is currently structured. What does it mean to be compliant? How will ensuring that member countries are being compliant benefit the hydrological community internationally? Are the current regulations structured such that member countries would be successful in being compliant with the WMO regulations? And once these regulations are changed, questions arise as to how a member country becomes compliant with the regulations or what happens to a member country if they are not compliant? ii. The second element within the first part of the questions would be “Do you think that the prescriptive language …. should be applied more extensively to CHy’s Regulatory Material….?

    o Yes – Canada believes that some prescriptive language could be applied to CHy’s Regulatory Material, but

    o No – it should not be applied extensively throughout the current version of the Technical Regulations.

    Canada believes that to merely change a ‘should’ to a ‘shall’ would create considerable challenges for many member countries, especially for those that are still striving to implement a NHS. There would need to be consideration of what aspects of the current regulatory material would make sense to become more prescriptive thus establishing it as a ‘Standard’ vs maintaining language that continues to promote ‘Best Practices’. Considerable work would be required to review the current Technical Regulations and determine what within the current document should be considered for prescriptive regulations.

    By way of example in the section of the Technical Regulations related to ‘Networks of hydrological observing stations’, there may be elements of this section that could be changed from ‘Should’ to ‘Shall’ but other sections that should not be changed (ie. language remain as ‘should’). Undoubtedly there will be different perspectives on what should be shall and what shall be should.

    The latter part of the question ”…thus moving away from CHy’s historical culture of voluntarism and recommendation of good practices, but helping NHSs delivering consolidated products?” also warrants a two part response. iii. “……thus moving away from CHy’s historical culture of voluntarism and recommendation of good practices ….?”

    CHy should not be moving away from a culture of volunteerism and recommendation of good practice.

    Canada believes that one of the strengths of the WMO is promoting good practices in the field of hydrology. In addition, the culture of volunteerism is what helps to sustain activities such as the Commission on Hydrology. While not specifically the intent of this part of the question to suggest good practices and volunteerism are aspects of international hydrological community that the CHy would want to abandon, it does leave the impression that the choice is between standards/compliance and best-practices/volunteerism. Canada believes there is a need to consider both. Many member countries are at different levels of sophistication with the implementation of their National Hydrological Services and, yes, the CHy should be striving for as much standardization as is reasonable within the international hydrological community, but it needs to also do so in a manner that allows less advanced member countries achieve success as the regulations evolve. iv. For the last portion of question 1 ”… but helping NHSs delivering consolidated products?”

    o Yes – the CHy should do what it can to help NHSs deliver consolidated products

    Canada believes that the challenge here is defining what are those consolidated products? What is it that, by changing language in the Technical Regulations, will allow for better delivery of consolidated products? Answer to Question 2:

    Yes – but Canada believes this can only be done in the context of addressing the elements of question 1 that have raised additional questions. Moreover, there needs to be consideration for application of the “Basic Principles of Hydrology” without necessarily being prescriptive in all details of operational delivery for NHSs. By way of example from the Technical Regulations, the prescriptive principle of hydrology would be to provide and attain a measure of uncertainty. Regulations would not need to specifically prescribe the method by which this uncertainty should be attained, as practices used may depend on context and legacy within any NHS. As such the following:

    [D.1.2.] 3.5

    Uncertainty in the observation of water levels of rivers, estuaries,

    lakes, reservoirs and groundwater should not exceed:

    (a) In general, 10 mm at the 95 per cent confidence level;

    (b) Under difficult conditions, 20 mm at the 95 per cent confidence level. Could be re-written as:

    [D.1.2.] 3.5

    Observation of water levels of rivers, estuaries, lakes, reservoirs

    and groundwater shall include a determination of uncertainty

    and, observations should strive to achieve at least:

    (a) In general, 10 mm at the 95 per cent confidence level;

    (b) Under difficult conditions, 20 mm at the 95 per cent confidence level. Canada believes there are many areas within the Technical Regulations where principles of hydrology could prescribe goals to attain and not necessarily how to attain them. Therefore, and by way of this example, we would have as a minimum a prescriptive expectation that measures of uncertainty would, at the very least, be determined for all observations. As noted previously, Canada does support a culture of voluntarism and believes that WMO should continue to describe best practices related to techniques and methods (e.g. use of current meter with mid-section method) as this sort of documentation is of great help to guide and even sometimes normalize NHS activities. Answer to Question 3:

    Yes – to the extent possible and appropriate following outcomes of decisions that go forth following discussion on the previous questions. Answer to Question 4:

    Yes – this would be a reasonable step, but would suggest that the expectation of having a fully revised Technical Regulation vol. III would be unlikely by 2018. Based on feedback in the first three questions there would be a need to spend more time to develop a detailed plan for updating the material.  
  1. Aurelien TOSSA says:
    Question 1 : Yes for me it is better to do that.

    Question 2 : Yes

    Question 3 : Yes it is good to used a participatory approach.

    Question 4 : Yes Sorry for a bad handling  
  1. John Fenwick says:
    Q1: Yes, some revision of the prescriptive requirements would be beneficial, both in lifting the standards of data collection and in assisting personnel to obtain resources to implement what might be needed. BUT it will be difficult to go as prescriptive as for meteorological activities. The reason is that hydrometry deals with measuring parameters that are much more dynamic and there are many inferences that need to be made because certain measurements may be missing or impossible to make. One only has to think of flood flows in steep channels for various examples.

    Our New Zealand experience in writing National Environmental Monitoring Standards ( is that the more prescriptive we attempt to be, the bigger the document as we have to deal with a lot of exceptions and explanation. And the bigger the document, the harder it is to follow. And maintain. Etc. Q2: Yes, it’s probably about time for a review given the imperatives mentioned. Q3: Yes, needs to be considered. Q4: Yes a Task Team under the AWG seems the best way forward.