Securing resilient water supplies for south-east England

By Anna Whitmore, senior solutions consultant, Moata, Mott MacDonald

A comprehensive exercise to plan water resource management into the 2070s and beyond involved assessing more than 2000 possible interventions, with up to 80 sets of data for each. The scale of the task required an innovative digital solution.

The south-east of England is home to 19M people, and according to the Office for National Statistics, accounts for almost 40% of the UK’s total economic activity. However, over the coming decades it faces the threat of water scarcity. The region has a growing population. Drought and prolonged dry spells are becoming more common as a result of climate change. Meanwhile, it is recognised that the natural environment is water stressed and needs a greater share of available water. To address these three conditions, the region could need to find an extra 1bn-2.8bn litres of water per day by 2075, according to Water Resources South East (WRSE).

WRSE brings together the six water companies operating in the south-east of England: Affinity Water, Portsmouth Water, SES Water, South East Water, Southern Water and Thames Water, managing 37 water resource zones between them. Working together as a region enables a systems approach to water management.

Systems are important: supply and demand challenges are interconnected across the region. WRSE aimed to develop a multi-sector regional resilience plan to inform investment plans for six water companies, informing a proposed £15.6bn investment between 2025 and 2075. We were engaged to support WRSE across a number of key aspects of the programme, including programme management, data management, supporting options appraisal, assessing resilience metrics and assessing environmental and social outcomes.

Our team brought our wide technical domain knowledge from across water engineering, environmental and social capabilities combined with long term experience working across planning, feasibility, design, construction and operational phases of assets and infrastructure to provide maximum benefit to this complex project. When developing new options it is crucial to bring insights from a wide range of perspectives such as planning, construction delivery, stakeholders, operational challenges to ensure that as many potential challenges as possible are addressed early on. Nobody likes late surprises in a delivery programme as they bring significant unexpected costs.

It’s worth noting that as well as the strategic work discussed here, we’re also providing technical and domain expertise for many of the water resource options that are being developed for the south-east of England and which feed into the WRSE plan.

An information management challenge

Developing a detailed water resources plan on this scale was unprecedented. Combining information on very large numbers of possible interventions from the six water companies, spread across 37 water resource zones, under varying climate change and population growth scenarios, created vast volumes of complex data. This was made more complicated by the logistics of managing inputs from multiple stakeholders, including representatives of WRSE and the water companies, government, partners, suppliers and the public.

We used our digital platform Moata to bring people and data together to generate meaningful insights. We started over three years ago with our digital advisory and water planning experts working closely together with WRSE in order to develop a technology agnostic requirements report which outlined solution options and the benefits of different approaches. This helped WRSE make an informed decision on its digital approach, and led to us being engaged to develop a data landing platform (DLP) on Moata. A DLP is a solution that connects to multiple data sources and migrates the data to a centralised, cloud-based location.

The DLP approach allowed users to see how different combinations of infrastructure interventions impacted water outcomes, under different climate and population growth scenarios. Data informed decision making about infrastructure planning and investment. The DLP also provided a complete audit trail for each decision made, so WRSE could trace the data source and provenance.

From data to insight

Across the six water companies, more than 2000 infrastructure interventions are being considered to boost water supply resilience, from new desalination plants and reservoirs to nature-based solutions. To begin, we had to gather essential data (such as cost, carbon footprint, impact on water demand) in one place. We worked with each company to obtain key metrics, presented in a standard format, on all the interventions they were considering. These were uploaded to a common SharePoint site – then the data was automatically pulled into the DLP.

A large amount of work at this stage involved checking that data was in consistent formats so that different datasets could be usefully integrated and analysed. Metadata records the authors of all data, ensuring accountability and traceability if any information needs to be updated.

The DLP was built to include five key elements:

  1. User-friendly data capture: We developed data functions to facilitate the automatic integration of information from the water companies and external stakeholders. Use of SharePoint provided a familiar, intuitive interface for users.
  2. Central data environment: This database stores data on more than 2000 possible interventions. Option information includes up to 80 metrics (for example, construction duration, operational costs, and biodiversity net gain), with the ability to add new metrics as the methodology develops. WRSE used simulation models to develop supply and demand data according to varying projections for climate change and population growth which was also added to the database.
  3. Third-party interoperability: We worked with WRSE suppliers to integrate the DLP with external investment optimisation and risk models. This required mapping between our source data and the model schemas, with secure application programming interfaces (APIs) to support this integration. The DLP also captures model inputs and results to provide an auditable record of data-driven decisions.
  4. Visual insights: Model optimisation results are surfaced through Moata and an external website to support analysis and option selection. Graphical visualisations of scenario forecasts increase stakeholders’ understanding of the holistic water system. Different dashboards have been created for different stakeholders to ensure confidential information is only shared with those who have the relevant permissions.
  5. External reporting: The DLP allows easy, consistent, auditable and repeatable reporting of the outcomes of the analysis both to WRSE and regulatory stakeholders by mapping the DLP data to set regulatory tables that have been publicly published by each of the water companies.

Supporting water security

The DLP enables analysis of thousands of combinations of scenarios and options; it is user-friendly, flexible and adaptable to future needs. It has resulted in a first-of-its-kind regional water resources strategy that improves resilience to the effects of climate change and population growth up to 2075 – all optimised for cost, social value, natural capital and carbon footprint.

WRSE has since developed a draft regional water resource plan for all six water companies in the south-east, including infrastructure investment options that begin the process of embedding water supply resilience out to 2075. This draft plan is currently out for public consultation, after which it will be updated based on stakeholder feedback (if needed) using the DLP.

The plan enables WRSE to continue the decades-long work of ensuring water supply resilience for the south-east of England, supporting the lives and livelihoods of the region’s burgeoning population. With demographic change and the impacts of the climate crisis affecting all parts of the world, data integration platforms like the DLP have a valuable role to play in helping numerous governments and water authorities with the task of securing long-term water supply resilience for their citizens.

Find out more about the water resource options for south-east England and how our technical expertise has supported their development.

Anna is a chartered process engineer who combines water and digital expertise to deliver innovative smart solutions. Focused on improving environmental and economic outcomes in the water sector through the application of technology, ways of working and data analytics. Anna is currently based in London, working with UK Water companies to drive digital transformation through tactical and strategic projects.

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