Ground breaking multi-sector approach to long term water resource planning

The Eastern region of England is home to some of the UK’s most beautiful natural sites and most fertile agricultural land. It is also home to three of the UK’s five fastest-growing cities; is the driest region in the UK and one of the most vulnerable to future climate change. So how do we make sure that we can meet the water needs of people and businesses in the east into the future, whilst also supporting a thriving environment? This challenging question is at the heart of the Water Resources East (WRE) initiative, led by Anglian Water, and is a key theme of Blueprint’s campaign on the Price Review 2019 (PR19).

WRE is an innovative multi-sector, collaborative planning approach to developing a long-term water resource strategy for the East.  Instead of the traditional approach, in which water companies look at water resource planning for their respective areas in isolation, WRE brings together all the relevant water companies, along with representatives from the agricultural, power and environmental sector, to co-create the long-term strategy using state of the art modelling technology, visualisation and decision support tools.

There are three key stages in the WRE technical process, which are summarised below. These stages are based on a framework known as Robust Decision Making (RDM) and is the first time this processes has been tested in the UK for water resources planning.

1. How might the current system perform in the future?

The implications of a range of possible but plausible future climate, growth and behavioural scenarios on the water industry, agriculture, power and the environment have been modelled using a powerful regional simulator. In total, over 350 unique future scenarios have been modelled. Each sector has agreed a small number of key metrics that are used to provide an indication of how their interests are impacted in the alternative futures modelled. For example, future performance against an environmental flow regime is one of the key metrics. Other metrics include the reliability of water for supply domestic customers, agriculture or energy. The simulator brings all these future scenarios and the performance metrics together at a regional scale to provide a baseline vulnerability assessment – an assessment of what might the future look like without any investment to improve water resilience.  For non-water company stakeholders, the baseline vulnerability assessment is particularly interesting, as it shines a light on how their particular interests may be affected in the future and highlights the need for action.

2. What interventions could we take to be more resilient in the future?

A range of possible interventions are incorporated into the simulator, such as new reservoirs, water transfers or increased demand management. The simulator then seeks out and identifies portfolios of interventions that perform best into the future against one or more of the metrics. Visualisation tools are used by participants to identify the portfolios that work best for their sector, but also to see what works best for others. At this point discussion around any ‘trade-offs’ can take place to find a small number of preferred portfolios that work best across multiple interests.

Screen shot of one of the visualisation tools used in WRE showing portfolio performance against a selection of metrics.

3. What is the long-term Strategy?

The short list of preferred portfolios is then taken forward to be stress tested in more detail under the future scenarios, to help identify which portfolios perform best in a range of futures and develop the long-term WRE Strategy. The sequencing of interventions is considered and a non-statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment is prepared to inform the selection of the preferred WRE Strategy.

The WRE initiative is currently at Stage two. A two-day workshop in early May started to reveal a number of portfolios that looked promising across multiple sectors, and these will be explored further in a workshop in June. The aim is to have the long-term WRE Strategy developed by autumn 2017, so that it can inform Water Resource Management Plans and Business Plans being prepared by the water industry as part of PR19.

The approach being taken by WRE is ground breaking both in terms of the technology, such as the simulator model and visualisation tools, but perhaps more importantly in the way that it actively involves participation from a range of interested sectors in co-creating the long-term Strategy. The process is raising the understanding of the challenges ahead across sectors on water availability in the east, and is fostering a genuine will to collaborate on solutions that can deliver multi-sector benefits.

Hannah Stanley-Jones (Anglian Water) and Nathan Richardson (RSPB).