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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Georgina Wong

Towards sustainable water management in the UK

Georgina Wong

Towards sustainable water management in the UK

Business as usual is not an option for the water infrastructure in the UK.  Incremental investments in optimising the current system are becoming unaffordable and impractical under evolving pressures such as climate change, economic downturn and changing demographics.  Recent news headlines of extensive flooding and drought are clear evidence that our cities simply cannot cope and a new approach to urban water management is required. 
Adopting the concept of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) is increasingly recognised as a more sustainable and resilient approach to urban water management, whilst delivering additional benefits for healthier future cities.  Such an approach requires an integrated systems approach to delivering our key urban services of:
§ Urban Planning for healthy and functional cities
§ Drainage for flood management
§ Wastewater for public health and sanitation
§ Water Supply for potable water security
§ Healthy Waterways for restoring the ecological status of natural water bodies   
Integration across the different institutions requires greater understanding of the complex urban system.  Multiple stakeholders operate at multiple levels of governance and participation, each driven by their own agenda and mostly unaware of the wider impacts that their decisions may have outside their sector.
The objective of this research is therefore to explore the use of system dynamics as a tool to foster systems thinking amongst multiple stakeholders in the transition towards water sensitive cities.  The focus of the research is the management of urban stormwater to align with the recent industry discussions around the Flood Water Management Act 2010 and WSUD guidelines resulting from the major European-funded project, SWITCH.
A content analysis of papers relating to urban stormwater management has been carried out to identify the key variables and relationships. This has formed the basis of a conceptual causal loop model which captures the interrelations between different variables within an urban system.
It is intended that the conceptual model will be used to explore the following:
§ What are the benefits of using system dynamics for urban water management?
§ Can the model be used to better inform decision paths across institutions to deliver solutions with multiple purposes?
§ Coupled with an actor analysis, can the model identify gatekeepers of key decision points to better manage the interfaces between institutions in terms of shared costs, benefits, risks and responsibilities?