Close up of sink plughole with running water. Life Solved logo in corner

Re-thinking our water systems is critical to meeting future challenges in our environment and economy

  • 26 January 2021
  • 2 min read

Professor John Williams speaks about his research in our podcast Life Solved, this week. He explains how the hidden systems beneath our roads or out of sight on sewage treatment plants, have a vital role in more sustainable living.

Engineering healthier environments

Professor Williams is Research Lead for the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying. Combining this with his expertise in environmental technology, he’s teamed up with scientists across the board to design the towns and homes of the future.

From cotton buds that slip through sewer screens to objects that don’t… such as human fingers(!), Professor Williams has observed how the human tendency to flush and forget leads to problems stacking up somewhere else in our water systems.

People switch off on water... in this country. We have a disconnect. In lower-income countries, people have a much greater connection with the environment because they're in contact with it more.

Professor John Williams, Professor of Environmental Technology

He says we take our clean, safe water supply for granted in the UK, but changing that is just one step towards changing for the better of environments.

He also tells us about experiments made with reed beds as natural water-cleaning systems, using the natural behaviour of the plant to break down unwanted substances in wastewater over time. The added benefit is that this sort of solution can look attractive when incorporated with new housing developments and bump up the biodiversity of an area too.

SUDS: a bubble of revolution

In the podcast, John explains how coming up with environmentally-friendly solutions and challenging apathy is part of a bigger sustainable drainage (or SUDs) strategy, but that making this kind of technology attractive and affordable for developers and consumers will make for the biggest difference in changing the systems of the future.

The issues are complex and are economic as well as environmental: if you put in nice vegetated systems and green space in a development to store water or a wetland or a pond, you've actually removed some of the area of that development, which could have houses built on it.

Professor John Williams, Professor of Environmental Technology

Professor Williams is now working to improve sustainable drainage system designs and guidance in the hope that local authorities, planning bodies and developers with different agendas will be able to adapt and integrate better approaches to drainage and water quality in the future.

Listen to the Life Solved podcast

Life Solved shares stories of research taking place in Portsmouth that looks set to change our world. You can listen Professor Williams talk about his work from Tuesday 26th of January. Search for 'Life Solved' on any app or online to listen.

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