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Climate change and population growth could lead to rise in floods

Published August 04,2022
A Canton, Miss., family waits to be rescued, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, after torrential rain caused a creek on Martin Luther King Drive to rise, from the resulting floodwater. (AP File Photo)
Climate change and population growth are putting pressure on wastewater treatment works leading to the possibility of increased flooding and pollution, according to new research.

Monitoring of water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) at Southern Water and Thames Valley water companies has found changes in the environment and population are putting them under "extreme stress."

The study, published in Water Research, carried out with the University of Portsmouth found that incidents of flooding and pollution were believed to be linked to periods of higher rainfall intensity and extended dry periods.

The findings have helped the water companies use instrument data to respond to real-life stressors and respond to extreme weather events.

The report comes as Southern Water is about to impose a hosepipe ban following the recent heatwave and dry period with Thames Valley warning restrictions might also be needed in its area.

Lead author of the paper, Tim Holloway, from the university's school of civil engineering and surveying, said: "Improving asset and infrastructure resilience is a significant challenge for the water industry as operational disruptions caused by stressors become more common and difficult to predict.

"As we face significant political, social and environmental uncertainty, water companies and government agencies are forced to manage complex and dynamic changes in resilience to events outside of their control.

"If we continue on the same path, it is extremely likely that we will experience more severe pollution events due to new and rapidly emerging stressors on wastewater systems.

"This could result in inland flooding, flood and storm damage in coastal areas, and damages to infrastructure."

Dr Gong Yang, process growth lead water quality at Southern Water, said: "This research puts forward a new tool to capitalise the advance of digital and sensing technologies.

"It aims to enable the operator to implement the best strategies in operating a sewer network or a treatment works based on live data so that the customers and environment are better protected from adverse impact of external environment such as climate change."

Dr Ben Martin, lead research scientist at Thames Water, added: "At Thames Water we have reached the point where digital tools can leverage our performance and monitoring datasets to produce unprecedented operational benefits.

"We are now better able to cope with disruptions, predict and take proactive measures before asset failures, and create autonomous systems that ultimately improve the quality of water supplied to our natural environment."