Flooding and water management a growing challenge, academics warn policymakers

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Tackling an issue of growing environmental concern – water management and flooding – was the focus of The Forum’s first ever online policy workshop.

Led by Dr Ana Mijic of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an Associate of the Grantham Institute at Imperial, researchers from across the College led discussions with partners from government and other stakeholders to address many of the issues associated with water management and flooding.

Dr Mijic introduced the workshop, outlining how the impact of water on our environment and day-to-day lives is an issue of growing importance. The need to balance the needs of people and nature, on national, regional and local levels raises huge challenges and choices for policymakers.

Ana Mijic
Dr Ana Mijic led the discussion

Influencing policymakers on sustainability

Rob Allen, Policy Manager in the Sustainability team at the think tank Policy Connect, outlined their plans to impact water policy in the new Parliament. Recently, their focus has been on housing, including a simpler planning framework which includes water efficiency. They are developing the concept of a property resilience certificate, which would rate houses on their water efficiency, flood resilience and drainage sustainability. Rob’s other focuses include ensuring the country has clean and plentiful water in accordance with the 25 Year Environment Plan and ending the “postcode lottery” of flood grants.

Water in the circular economy

Sustainable development will be ultimately constrained by the functioning of the natural environment, and environmental evidence will play a crucial role in informing water management solutions and policy integration Dr Ana Mijic Senior Lecturer

Professor Nick Voulvoulis, Professor of Environmental Technology at the Centre for Environmental Policy, outlined the need for ‘closing the loop in water management’. Professor Voulvoulis, who is Co-Chair of his department's Research Committee and an Associate of the Grantham Institute, laid out the climate, operational and political challenges facing water management. Supply is expected to fall by 7% by 2045, while 3 billion litres is leaked every day in England and Wales.

He explained the current linear water cycle which involves two stages of water treatment: drinking water treatment at the beginning, and further wastewater treatment to remove contaminants towards the end. A closed loop system with only one treatment stage, he argued, would be more efficient, as demonstrated in Berlin. Professor Voulvoulis concluded by stressing the importance of changing policymakers’ perception of public opinion in order to deliver the required change in this area.

Improving London’s water and environmental sustainability

Dr Barnaby Dobson from the Department of Civil and Environmental

Understanding the dynamic interactions between humans and the natural environment and the benefits, co-benefits and negative impacts that can exist under changing conditions is central to increasing sustainability and resilience Dr Jimmy O'Keeffe Research Associate

Engineering outlined his work on the Community Water Management for a Liveable London (CAMELLIA) project, primarily as a water resource system modeller. They have produced a simple model which integrates Thames Water’s various urban water systems, considering supply and wastewater together to improve projections of system behaviour and performance.

Dr Jimmy O’Keeffe, from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy and also part of CAMEILLIA, discussed how sustainable urban design enhances natural capital and ecosystem services. He highlighted urban natural capital’s benefits, ranging from flood mitigation to public amenity – especially during the current national lockdown. He argued that stakeholder engagement was vital to ensure the longevity of natural capital projects, and the importance of a modelling approach behind this to incorporate different groups’ interests.

Jimmy O'Keeffe
Dr Jimmy O'Keeffe

Innovation to improve water efficiency

Llyr Williams then presented on the company he co-founded, WASE, which develops decentralised wastewater treatment systems that embrace a circular economy to recover energy, nutrients, and water in wastewater. Given growing concerns over lack of access to sanitation, water shortages and new regulations both in the UK and globally, WASE’s accelerated wastewater treatment technologies are generating interest from a range of industries, including humanitarian organisations, food and beverage manufacturers and engineering consultancies.

The final topic was led by Imperial College Business School students Alessa Schuhmacher, Luca Martoglio, Rodrigo Hernandez Canteli and Shruti Settipalli. They outlined issues facing London’s water system, including 690 million litres of leakage every day and per person usage 10% above the national average. They designed a campaign, via teabags containing messages on the importance of water efficiency, to boost awareness and increase individual sustainable usage.

The attendees included colleagues from the Environment Agency, the National Audit Office, Ofwat, Public Health England, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Anglian Water and the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The Forum: Connecting our researchers with policymakers

The Forum is Imperial College London’s policy engagement programme, connecting Imperial researchers with policy makers to discover new thinking on global challenges. This workshop was part of The Forum’s sustainability series. Please get in touch if you would like more information: the.forum@imperial.ac.uk.


Joe Dharampal-Hornby

Joe Dharampal-Hornby
Communications and Public Affairs

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George Hope

George Hope
Office of the President

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