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Can my pipe handle it?

  • Can my pipe handle it?
    Credit: Wavin
  • Wavin’s Water Futures Challenge winner rethinks drainage measurement in urban flood models.

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Wavin is an innovative solution provider for the building and infrastructure industry across multiple continents. Backed up by 60+ years of expertise, we are geared up to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges around.

As part of leading plumbing and drainage manufacturer Wavin’s Water Futures Challenge, run in collaboration with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the next generation of engineers were asked to propose radical solutions to the water challenges facing the UK. From approaches submitted by junior engineers and students across the country, Amrie Singh, a student at the University of Leeds, was chosen as the winner for her proposal ‘Can my pipe handle it?’.

Here, Martin Lambley, Head Judge for the challenge and Stormwater Management Product Manager (North West Europe, UK & Ireland) at Wavin, explores the importance of flash flood preparation, and Water Futures Challenge winner Amrie explains how her proposal seeks to transform urban flood modelling.

Attributed to Martin Lambley, Stormwater Management Product Manager (North West Europe, UK & Ireland) at Wavin

Flooding has already made its mark on our urban environments and there are a number of factors, including climate change, population growth, and increasing urbanisation, which put our towns and cities at increasing risk. The cost of damage caused by floods in the last decade has already run into the millions of pounds in the UK, and flash floods linked to long droughts this summer have brought the danger to urban infrastructure and the considerable risk to human life into sharp focus.

Ultimately, it falls to planners, architects, engineers, local authorities and stakeholders across the built environment to address and prepare for these extreme weather events, ensuring our urban communities remain liveable for future generations.

The Water Futures Challenge gathered forward-thinking solutions from young and aspiring engineers looking to protect the cities they’ll inherit. The four challenges focused on the key pillars of Wavin’s purpose – building healthy, sustainable environments. Making urban spaces which are less vulnerable to flooding is a core component of this aim, but it is not a straightforward one. Identifying the areas most at risk is crucial, and for this reason, flood mitigation and prevention strategies must start with effective, comprehensive modelling.

Amrie’s winning idea dives deep into the urban flood models currently used to determine how at risk an area is of flooding. These models are complex, having to consider a huge number of variables, and rely on data from various sources. One significant factor is the drainage capacity that an area needs to cope with extreme rainfall events, and having an accurate idea of hydraulic capabilities is key to mitigating flooding.

Attributed to Amrie Singh, Winner of Water Futures Challenge 2022

“Urban flood modelling has a huge part to play in understanding flood risk and implementing prevention and mitigation strategies. Advanced modelling tools mean flood events can be simulated more clearly and comprehensively than ever. However, these tools can only work with the data we give them, and if this data is inaccurate, the model will be flawed, no matter how impressive the system.

“When it comes to drainage, researchers and practitioners often face significant challenges obtaining access to drainage infrastructure, meaning they have to take an assumption as to the capacity and performance of drainage systems in models. These assumptions can lead to misrepresentation of key flood management infrastructure. My proposal aims to use dataset produced by the capacity assessment framework (CAF) to better represent the ability of piped networks to disperse water during flood events.

“This newly available data, provided by sewerage undertakers as part of the Drainage and Water Management Plans, is split into 1- or 10-km diameter hexagon aggregates which represent the drainage capacity of that area. Each of these aggregates is classified using a risk level which represents how likely the piped capacity is to be exceeded in a 1-in-1-year or 1-in-2-year rainfall event – an event which becomes all the more conceivable when you consider the effect of climate change on our weather patterns. Six of the ten wettest years across the UK since 1862 have occurred post-1998.

“These insights represent a significant upgrade to the information that we can feed into flood mdoels, reflecting the true drainage capacity of individual areas rather than one uniform value assumed for the whole catchment. As an example of how the data can be used in practice, I conducted a case study of the Holbeck area which is local to me in Leeds, a heavily urbanised catchment which has experienced flooding as recently as February 2022.

The result of the proposal is a first-of-its-kind flood risk map that is truly inclusive of drainage capacity, allowing frank assessment of the drainage infrastructure in urban communities and the effect it has on their vulnerability to flash flooding. With risk modelling based on inaccurate or estimated data, we are fighting urban flooding with one hand behind our back. Leveraging CAF data will allow us to better evaluate risk and target future interventions.”

Attributed to Martin Lambley, Stormwater Management Product Manager (North West Europe, UK & Ireland) at Wavin

Amrie’s proposal illustrates the value of working constantly to update the knowledge base on which we build flood risk models. This can then inform the design of mitigation and prevention strategies, and the benefits of sharing that knowledge across the full range of relevant stakeholders. The ability to clearly visualise existing drainage capacity, and understand flood risk more broadly, means developers can consider existing infrastructure and how their projects will interact with it.

Drainage capacity is just one part of flood risk models which, with all the different parameters needed, require a lot of computing power and take a long time to build. Amrie has, however, addressed this issue in her proposal by securing use of a specialist modelling computer at the University of Leeds to carry out the test case in Holbeck. Computing capacity and time will become more of a challenge as the areas modelled and parameters considered expand, and Amrie’s proposal raises the possibility of collaboration and sharing of resources within industry.

This was one of the principal aims of the Water Futures Challenge for Wavin, introducing new voices to the conversation on urban water management and fostering collaboration between organisations who may not always understand what they can learn from one another. ‘Can my pipe handle it?’ may not be a silver bullet, but it’s an example of the persistent, unglamorous innovation that goes into truly sustainable cities.

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