Urban Simulators for Water

Guest post by Kevin Smith, Science and Technology Facilities Council


Climate change, population growth and rising customer expectations present significant risks and challenges to our water systems. In the developing world water security is a major risk in terms of development impact and is integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

There are many different agencies, businesses and people involved in the planning and provision of different parts of our water systems, and yet huge investment decisions will have to be made in a coordinated way to ensure an adequate water supply and to manage extreme events such as droughts and flooding.

Cities present particular challenges due to the complexity of infrastructure, and urban areas are becoming increasingly important as a result of the global movement of populations from rural areas to rapidly growing cities.

There is currently a lack of a systems approach to cities and a lack of coordination amongst the many agencies involved. Issues tend to be dealt with in isolation and this approach has not always led to the best outcomes. If a way of holistically visualising existing and proposed new infrastructure could be developed that accurately simulated how systems would behave in a range of scenarios, and how people would interact with them, it would provide a powerful tool to enable business, policy and society to work together to deliver benefits to communities and local economies and to avoid potential failures arising from a lack of coordination.

A simulator would need to bring together often disparate disciplines such as, hydrology, engineered networks, water quality, heat balance, economics, population movement, climate change impacts, greenhouse gas footprint and ecosystem benefits, factoring in issues such as groundwater, rainfall, in-city water mass balance, domestic and community-scale water use and re-use. This would enable testing and virtual engineering of innovative concepts, and the building of a picture of whole water-cycle management at domestic, city and catchment scale to enable integrated and more effective water management.

Simulators for water were first identified at a Water and Cities Workshop in February 2014, and were reinforced by the water community at the Water in Future Cities Showcase in June 2015. The UK Water Partnership report Future Visions for Water and Cities – A Thought Piece  highlighted the potentially valuable role that simulators and demonstrators could play in developing, testing and evaluating innovative ideas that could shape water and cities. The need for a workshop focusing on urban simulators for water was agreed by the UKWP Water and Cities Task Force during October 2015, and this took place at the Science and Technology Facilities Council Hartree Centre, Daresbury Laboratory, on 16 and 17 March 2016. The aims of the workshop were to identify the priority issues that urban simulators could address, to develop a vision for urban simulators and water and explore what actions are required to achieve this. The workshop also identified how key stakeholder groups would benefit from developing urban water simulators. The outputs are documented in the workshop report Urban Simulators for Water and its annex.