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Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have investigated dynamic changes in the resilience of UK wastewater treatment works, revealing that COVID-19 and climate change have increased the likelihood of pollution events.

Now known as Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs), the treatment works were found to be at risk of fault due to advancing climate change, for which they were not designed.

Though engineered to withstand process upsets or disturbances to an extent, systems are now being forced to manage extreme dynamic responses resulting from climate change and modifications to human behaviour caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, published in Water Research in August, has led to a new whitepaper published by the International Water Association. This was also included in a book on the strategic digital transformation of the international water industry.

University of Portsmouth’s School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, Timothy Holloway, said more needs to be done.

“Where we once had resilience in our systems, the below ground network of pipes and pumps was simply not designed for the advancing climate crisis and this resilience has been eroded,” Mr Holloway said.

“It is impossible to dig up entire cities or build enormous water storage facilities when we can see up to one month’s rain in an hour. Therefore, we all have a social obligation to manage water responsibly.”

The IWA whitepaper and book propose using actual WRRF data to help understand and mitigate further disruption to operators of wastewater systems in the UK and globally.

The methods presented in the publications separate stressors (climate change and response to COVID-19) present in water company data as the ‘cause’ of an event, and the ‘effect’ on WRRF systems to understand each independently.

Strategic Programmes and Engagement Manager from the International Water Association, Dr Samuela Guida, said the whitepaper provided a pathway to better understand and mitigate against new risks.

“This whitepaper outlines how we can improve the resilience of wastewater infrastructure and, at the same time, protect the aquatic environment through smart use of existing data,” he said.

“The document is part of the IWA Digital Water Programme whitepaper series which aims at helping utilities, water professionals and all those interested in water management and stewardship issues to better understand the opportunities of digital technologies.”

The Digital Water Book, titled A Strategic Digital Transformation for the Water Industry, is an insightful collection of whitepapers covering best practices. They are designed to help utilities, water professionals and all those interested in water management and stewardship issues to better understand the opportunities of digital technologies.

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