Water resource planning for the UK: making sure the taps don't run dry

New methods for water resources planning are being developed that don't rely on historical records of past hydrological events. Here, we outline one new method: probabilistic modelling.

A water tower in Essex: How do we plan now that historical records are no longer a reliable predictor of future weather?
A water tower in Essex: How do we plan now that historical records are no longer a reliable predictor of future weather?

The extreme events of recent years reinforces the view that relying on past hydrological records is no longer appropriate for long-term planning. For instance, 2012 was characterised by extreme drought and then unprecedented floods.

These extreme events have exposed the need for the development and use of innovative new modelling tools and data. One example is the use of stochastic hydrology - the statistical branch of hydrology that deals with the probabilistic modelling of those hydrological processes which have random components associated with them.

Applying the new modelling techniques in the water industry

Since publication of the most recent round of water resource management plans (WRMPs) in 2014 some water companies (notably in the south and east of England), together with bodies representing the water industry (Water UK and UKWIR), have developed practical modelling and decision-making methodologies that use the latest academic research combined with hands-on expert knowledge of regulatory water resource planning.

Some water companies are beginning to use the new methodologies incorporating stochastic modelling for their statutory WRMPs and drought plans.

It is only by using the latest risk-based water resource planning methodologies for decision-making that the risks of the taps running dry can be properly evaluated. This will then enable appropriate demand-management options and infrastructure to be designed, taken through the planning process, constructed and commissioned.

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