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With a growing population and the impacts of climate change, demands on our water supply are growing. Locating sites for new water infrastructure, while tackling water pollution is vital to ensuring we have enough water for a range of national priorities, ranging from new housing developments to securing domestic food supplies. The Government’s commitments in these areas are outlined in the Plan for Water (2023) and the Environmental Act (2021). 

To help balance these competing demands, we need to understand many aspects of water supply and demand spatially. To help map out these issues, and understand how the latest spatial modelling techniques could help, we held a series of discussions with officials from Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), alongside Ofwat, the Environmental Agency, and academics who are working on modelling tools to better assist local and national policy decisions.

Data sharing and collaborative water planning

During wide ranging conversations, we covered a diverse set of issues, including flooding, stormwater and sewage discharge, and water security. Officials generally agreed that multifunctional water management tools, that could help develop a shared picture of our water system across the various public agencies and companies which manage our water system, could help understand interdependencies and reduce the risks of unintended consequences emerging down the line. 

Some examples of integrated land use modelling tools already being used or developed by public bodies were also highlighted, such as the Land Use Choice Tool (LUTC) prototype and the National Simulating Systems Model (NSSM).


Aerial view of a water treatment works

Integrated models and virtual environments for support decision making

Subsequent conversations with academic experts revealed even more sophisticated integrated modelling projects outside government, such as the OpenCLIM framework, the VENTURA project and CAFlood system. These could be used to further augment government work, and help coordinate water planning and environmental decisions in the context of socio-economic and climate changes. 

Academic work has also highlighted the importance of model flexibility and scenario testing to ensure that models can be tailored to policy requirements, while also needing to be computationally efficient. Experts we spoke to  emphasised the importance of good meta-data, the reporting of assumptions, and spatiotemporal scale alignment between models to ensure reliable outputs. 

Finally, we talked about where the current generation of models could be further improved. Areas highlighted included:

  • The integration of catchment information to provide an assessment of the impacts of each catchment water resources, pollution, and management on one another.
  • The inclusion of more sectors and parameters to provide a more holistic analysis for policy makers, for example health, transport and infrastructure. 
  • Consideration of more socio-economic and climate change scenarios and hazards.
  • Sharing of data between the water companies, public bodies and academics to further improve local and national scale modelling.
Land zoning

Next steps

The Geospatial Commission will publish their ‘Finding Common Ground’ report in May, which will outline the key findings from the National Land Use Data Programme. Check back later in May to read the report!