By Martin Osborne, Technical Director - Water, WSP
We tend to take drainage and wastewater management for granted - except when we are affected by flooding - but for our water companies, regulators, and for housebuilders who want to connect to systems, it is an evolving issue. They must take into account newly emerging guidance to prepare for the future. We call this being ‘Future Ready’.
Population growth, climate change, digital automation, and smart technologies will all have a bearing on how each company prepares, not only to respond to change, but to be as far ahead of it as possible.
In our role as water industry consultants, we share our clients’ current and future challenges. We seek out opportunities to do things differently, applying ideas from the water sector and beyond. We work closely with industry, government, and our clients to manage the pressing issues that society faces when it comes to water management.
Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans (DWMPs)
Drainage planning is a familiar concept in the water industry that needs little introduction. But the process of asset management and planning is changing and a new approach has been developed, by and for the industry: Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans (DWMPs). Rather than being the sole responsibility of water companies, DWMPs require communities and other stakeholders to be deeply engaged and committed to how plans are implemented. With systems under pressure from growth and climate change, and budgets constrained, integrated solutions will provide the best overall outcomes.
The new framework for DWMPs in England and Wales builds on previous approaches to long-term planning, but places greater emphasis on public consultation and the wider water environment. It requires companies to consider the long-term future of the sewerage system, wastewater treatment works, and the management of our shared water environment – rivers, streams, the sea – in fact, anywhere that may be affected by the discharge of drainage and wastewater.
Like the industry’s ‘Water Resources Management Plans’, new DWMPs must cover a 25-year timeframe. Given that the future effects of population growth, economic development and climate change will be highly variable, there are almost endless permutations of priorities for future investment – and these priorities will change as the years go by. Flexibility and adaptability will an essential element of the new DWMPs. We call it being future-ready.
Finding a way through
Navigating the new guidelines is not easy, and we are advising water companies on interpretations that fit their individual circumstances. Our advice is helping them to achieve a balance between developing DWMPs that are consistent with other UK water companies - and therefore in line with the new framework - yet targeted to the needs of their own businesses and customers.
Only a consultative and collaborative approach to elicit and evaluate the whole range of drainage issues will deliver strong DWMPs, so we are advising clients on how best to engage with local communities and environmental groups, local interest groups, local authorities and environmental regulators, and colleagues across the water industry. Our experience tells us that insights obtained through engagement, and our understanding of them, will yield the most robust priorities for the next 25 years. Maintaining a high level of engagement will be key to adapting DWMPs to changing circumstances in the future.
Approaching the new DWMP guidelines with a future-ready mindset will undoubtedly make it easier for water companies to absorb and adapt to more formal rules that may emerge as the government examines how England and Wales can make its water infrastructure more resilient. If any single issue will shape the industry in the mid-2000s, it is the uncertainty of the impact of climate change.
Our teams around the world – we have more than 1,000 water industry experts working on every continent – are already becoming involved in developing the automation and smart technologies that may help manage changes in practice. Automated cleaning programmes can be targeted at potential sewer blockages before they become a problem, reducing risks, for example.
In terms of investment plans, we are developing adaptive pathway methods to assist in designing the long-term future investment path when there is considerable uncertainty. These are complex models that examine the balance between step-wise investment as conditions change, and up-front investment to deal with potential worst-case scenarios.
If and when new rules seem likely, we will have them on our radar. Water business is our business, and the 25-year horizon of DWMPs accords well with our future-ready mindset. Whatever the future may bring, we will be working with our clients to be ready for it.