Resilience of UK water and wastewater systems: why we need to get wise before we get smart

  • Brendan McAndrew Stantec, UK


Resilience of critical water and wastewater infrastructure has been given particular impetus in the UK by the work of the National Infrastructure Commission and the water industry regulator Ofwat, which has a statutory duty to promote resilience.

Ofwat advocates the adoption of a systems-based approach and a holistic concept of resilience ‘in the round’. However, translating this into effective planning tools and processes is challenging.

At the same time, many water companies are turning to ICT based ‘smart’ solutions, as a low-cost way to extend the life of ageing infrastructure systems which are too expensive to replace or fundamentally re-engineer. This means that complexity and dependency on third-party systems will increase. The infrastructure providing the service to the customer will become an increasingly complex system-of-systems transcending organisational boundaries and creating new and unpredictable vulnerabilities for the services provided.

In the face of this emerging complexity, the trend has been to try to simplify and breakdown the planning process into discrete and independent ‘bite-sized’ pieces, constrained by budgets, organisational capacity and technical capability. This carries the risk of creating a false sense of assurance that ‘we have addressed resilience as best we can’ when in reality we need a paradigm shift in thinking, to raise expectations and accelerate developments in modelling and understanding the challenge. We also need to facilitate collaboration, beyond organisational boundaries, to develop the most effective solutions.

This presentation will explore how far the UK water sector has come in tackling the challenge of critical infrastructure resilience, drawing on the presenter’s own experience and other published case studies and set out a potential roadmap to ensure that our planning processes and capability keep pace with the accelerating pace of change in a complex world.


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