University of Portsmouth research used in White Paper to improve wastewater facilities

Aerial view of a wastewater treatment works

Research carried out by experts will help guide water companies on how to increase and monitor the resilience of their wastewater systems

  • 20 September 2022
  • 8 min read

Earlier this year, a team from the University of Portsmouth examined the dynamic changes in the resilience of UK wastewater treatment works, now known as Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs), and discovered that societal and environmental stressors are increasing the potential for pollution events.

The study, published in Water Research in August, has led to a new White Paper published by the International Water Association. This was also included in a book on the strategic digital transformation of the international water industry.

WRRFs play a vital role in our day-to-day lives by producing clean water, removing nutrients, generating renewable energy, and extracting other valuable bio-based materials from wastewaters.

These systems have been engineered to withstand process upsets or disturbances to an extent, but are now being forced to manage extreme dynamic responses resulting from climate change and modifications to human behaviour caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Where we once had resilience in our systems, the below ground network of pipes and pumps was simply not designed for the advancing climate crisis and this resilience has been eroded

Timothy Holloway, University of Portsmouth’s School of Civil Engineering and Surveying

Timothy Holloway from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Civil Engineering and Surveying said more needs to be done: “Where we once had resilience in our systems, the below ground network of pipes and pumps was simply not designed for the advancing climate crisis and this resilience has been eroded. 

“It is impossible to dig up entire cities or build enormous water storage facilities when we can see up to one month's rain in an hour. Therefore, we all have a social obligation to manage water responsibly.”

The IWA White Paper and book propose using actual WRRF data to help understand and mitigate further disruption to operators of wastewater systems in the UK and globally.

The methods presented in the publications separate stressors (climate change and response to COVID-19) present in water company data as the ‘cause’ of an event, and the ‘effect’ on WRRF systems to understand each independently.

Dr Samuela Guida, Strategic Programmes and Engagement Manager from the International Water Association, added: “This White Paper outlines how we can improve the resilience of wastewater infrastructure and, at the same time, protect the aquatic environment through smart use of existing data. 

The document is part of the IWA Digital Water Programme White paper series which aims at helping utilities, water professionals and all those interested in water management and stewardship issues to better understand the opportunities of digital technologies.”

The Digital Water Book, titled ‘A Strategic Digital Transformation for the Water Industry’, is an insightful collection of White Papers covering best practices. They are designed to help utilities, water professionals and all those interested in water management and stewardship issues to better understand the opportunities of digital technologies.