In February 2020, Storm Dennis led to widespread flooding across the borough of Wokingham causing damage to property, and transport disruption. Short in duration and high in intensity, the storm was typical of the type of weather event that has become more frequent in the UK as a result of climate change.
Having declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, WBC is committed to mitigating the effects of climate change, including flood risk. The council appointed us as its smart cities consultant to help enable it to make the best use of new technology to build its resilience. Improving highway drainage is an important aspect of this; just under half of all reported floods in the borough are associated with roads.
In collaboration with WBC and highways service provider VolkerHighways, we have formed the Wokingham Highways Alliance (WHA). The alliance is used to foster collaboration and innovation to improve outcomes. One workstream identified by the alliance was to design and implement a ‘smart’ drain trial. The idea is to use sensor technology to generate a constant stream of live data that allows engineers to monitor the level of water in drains. Any blockages can be identified and cleared, enabling WBC to proactively manage storm water.
How the smart drains work
Ultrasonic sensors have been fitted inside gullies that are at the highest risk of flooding. These sensors provide real time data, indicating silt levels and water flow levels. The data (wirelessly) networks with sensor hubs, which sit above the gullies being monitored. All data is forwarded to an Internet of Things dashboard to provide live data feeds; any blockages, or potential blockages, are flagged by the system. The right drains can then be emptied at the right time.
This smart drain system not only mitigates flood risk, it also reduces traffic congestion and traffic incidents by helping to reduce road flood events. By combining artificial intelligence and the IofT, we are enabling WBC to develop an automated and efficient way to more proactively manage highway drainage.
Our smart drain design is being trialled for one year at three high flood risk sites in the borough. The trial will help in assessing the sensor performance, data collection and connection capability prior to the large-scale deployment of the smart drainage system across Wokingham.
The expected benefits include a reduction in cyclic maintenance, improved road safety and an overall better user experience for the public. The trial will also serve to highlight, more broadly, the many benefits that smart technology offers in terms of proactively managing the transport system. Other areas of focus include traffic-level sensors and automated road maintenance machines.
By working in collaboration with WBC, local universities, and many other organisations, WSP is exploring the potential for novel technology to shape a more resilient and future ready transport system for the people of Wokingham.