We’re seeing a growing understanding that there’s no distinction between water that’s “good” – water we want to use – and water we might consider “bad” such as excess stormwater, industrial effluent or impacted groundwater. It’s all just water. Decisions about water must take into account its many manifestations, including being a domestic utility, an industrial input, a support for food production, a potential source of risk in case of flooding, and an environmental asset.
This is shown in a US state – Florida – that has developed a Watershed Planning Initiative, operated by the Florida Department of Environmental Management (FDEM), funded through a $26.6 million grant under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), as approved by FDEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The purpose is to create standardized, cost-effective, and easily replicable Watershed Master Plans (WMP) throughout the state of Florida.
This plan considers threats to a watershed’s water supply – including flooding, nutrients in agricultural runoff, and industrial effluent. Key to the program is considering water in a wholistic way.
Initiatives such as Florida’s lead to a growing understanding that all water must be considered a resource to be treasured and maximized.
Technology improvements support better outcomes
Various technology improvements are supporting better water strategy.
Digital twins: We’ll see a continued move towards the use of digital twins – real-time virtual replicas of physical assets - for water and wastewater systems, enabling us to model and simulate a range of variables to help predict outcomes in the real world. In terms of planning for the possible extremes of climate change and record-breaking weather events, or black swans, that’s going to be invaluable. The recent explosion of AI will undoubtably contribute to the application and accuracy of “whole system” digital twins.
Better data analysis and monitoring: Being able to build large-scale models of water infrastructure is helping understand possible scenarios, allowing for the inclusion of greater resiliency in the face of change.
Recharging aquifers: Another novel approach gaining attention in water-stressed areas is to pump recycled water (sewage which has been safely treated) back into the ground. This can help restore aquifers, which are underground rock formations that are able to store water for later use. Particularly in coastal areas, this can help keep out infiltration into the aquifer by seawater. And with sea level rise another worrying consequence of climate change, this represents a cost effective – and crucially low carbon – solution to safeguarding and replenishing groundwater.
Better detection of leaks from pipelines: Better still than recycling treated water, however, is not to lose any potable water in the first place. Up to 30% of drinkable water is leaked from aging water infrastructure long before it gets to our taps (so called non-revenue water). So it’s promising to see emerging technologies ranging from in-line, water powered sensors to the use of satellite imagery.
Holistic Water Management: WSP's Commitment to a Sustainable Future
Every individual and every institution relies on water to some degree. To ensure that they are prepared to face whatever water-related pressures emerge in the coming decades, we have put water services at the heart of WSP’s strategy. Drawing upon the multidisciplinary expertise held across the entire business, our holistic approach to water management enables us to provide a sustainable and comprehensive solution, minimizing the use of this precious resource while maximizing its benefits for communities and the environment.