Cities and water - looking to the future

23 July 2015

NERC expertise has made a key contribution to a new report on how the cities of the future can deal with the challenges around managing water in a changing environment - challenges that include providing clean water, dealing with wastewater and controlling flood risk.

The report, 'Future visions for water and cities: a thought piece' - external link, examines five different visions for how water could be managed in future cities, and explores the research breakthroughs and technological innovations we will need to get to each of them. It is published by the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) and was produced by the UK Water Partnership, a collaboration between the water industry, policymakers and researchers.

Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and head of GO-Science, said:

"The Foresight Future of Cities project is considering the broad range of issues, which have a significant influence on the long-term development of the UK's cities. The impact of water and its sustainable management play a critical role in this future. The UK Water Partnership has made a valuable contribution to the debate by its presentation of a set of interesting alternative visions for the supply and use of water in our cities, for which the expertise created by NERC's investment in environmental science played a vital part."

The report investigates ideas that include growing food in and on buildings to create 'garden cityscapes'; designing buildings on stilts to floodproof cities; using the internet and smart appliances to improve water management; harnessing the deep geology beneath urban areas to deliver drainage, water, heating and cooling; and using utility-run programmes to make communities' water use more sustainable.

This is a highly topical area and one in which NERC is showing thought leadership, working alongside many different stakeholders including government, NGOs and industry. Environmental change is expected to reduce the availability of clean water in many areas, and extreme weather is expected to increase - the cities of the future are likely to face more droughts and greater risk of flooding. To deal with such challenges, innovative thinking will be essential.

Duncan Wingham, chief executive of NERC, said:

"Environmental science will be crucial in enabling cities to meet the challenges they face around water in the coming decades. NERC is pleased to have supported this report, which shows how the researchers we fund are helping lead the debate in this area."

An RCUK event held on 30 June attracted around 200 people from across industry, government and the research community, to discuss challenges for water in cities of the future, focusing on the visions set out in the report. A new video - external link highlights some of the key themes from the event.

Peter Drake, chief executive of the Water Industry Forum, an industry group that supports the UK Water Partnership, said:

"Over recent years the different parts of the UK water sector have tended to operate in isolation, with the biggest gap being around the take up of academic research by the water industry. That's why I applaud the work that NERC has put into initiatives like the UK Water Partnership. NERC is helping to break down barriers, and this ultimately has to benefit UK plc."

Among the report's authors are NERC's Faith Culshaw, coordinator for the UK Water Partnership's Research and Innovation group, Stephanie Bricker of the British Geological Survey and Mike Acreman and Graham Leeks of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Further information

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