Drainage planning transformed with advanced asset software

The complexities of delivering a final drainage and wastewater management plan (DWMPs) for the UK Government in 2023 has been made easier for South West Water (SWW) by using advanced asset investment management software for enhancing long-term planning capabilities, according to Andrew Gibson, business development director, ICS Consulting.

Andrew Gibson, business development director, ICS Consulting

In a first for the English water sector, utilities are being asked to produce DWMPs by the UK Government Department for Environment, Farming & Rural Affairs, which includes the Environment Agency.

Final DWMPs are due in spring 2023 with the purpose of developing long-term plans to assess future strains on drainage and wastewater networks from the effects of a changing climate, population growth, and increased urbanisation.

The plans are expected to be public-facing and comparable between companies. They are also, in part, a response to stricter performance targets, changing government legislation, and increased public scrutiny of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) releasing sewage and stormwater into rivers and seas during heavy rainfall.

With a planning horizon of 25 years, DWMPs enable greater understanding of sewer and wastewater network resilience and must demonstrate best value for investment. To facilitate this, adaptive planning needs to be incorporated allowing processes to be iterative, flexible, and continually evolve as new data, parameters, and feedback come to light.

To achieve a best value and adaptive DWMP, SWW has used planning tools which have enabled it to reach the strict submission deadlines. Working in collaboration with specialist asset management consultancy ICS, SWW has deployed the advanced asset management optimiser tool Asset Investment Manager (AIM) from Probit to guide investment decision-making.

Using AIM, SWW has developed a planning framework that produces risk maps of critical assets

Critical assets such as pipes, pumping stations, and treatment works; investigations into the functionality of the drainage and wastewater network; prioritised locations for investment; and preferred intervention strategies are produced.

Interventions vary from grey infrastructure solutions, such as extra storage tanks, culverts, and expanding existing wastewater networks and treatment works, to nature-based sustainable drainage solutions (SuDS), including rain gardens, retention ponds, and wetlands.

AIM image of centralised DWMP dashboard

Ben Ward, head of performance and innovation at SWW, said, “The challenge for its DWMP is to evaluate the benefits of different investment options when improving its drainage and wastewater systems — considering the economic, societal and environment benefits within the long-term delivery strategy business planning processes.”

Challenging questions

SWW has developed its draft DWMP over the course since 2018, when the official DWMP framework was published. Working with the 21st century drainage programme, a cohort of over 40 organisations including government regulators, cross-sector companies, academics, local authorities, and environmental charities, SWW’s DWMP aims to answer questions such as how drainage can be made simpler and more consistent for all stakeholders involved and what the capacity of the drainage network is.

SWW has 653 catchments defined by the geographical area served by each wastewater treatment works. To enable a whole network planning process, those catchments have been grouped into 22 larger catchment areas. ICS worked collaboratively with wastewater asset managers and strategic policy personnel from SWW, using Probit’s AIM software, to create a planning framework across all 22 catchments.

The team collected data for the risks and potential interventions available and used it to generate a series of interventions, alongside associated costs. These scenarios revealed the effect of taking a ‘do nothing’ baseline position and the diminishing risks associated with different investment decisions.

Drainage lifecycle

Using the AIM platform, SWW can model the complete lifecycle of drainage and wastewater assets, anticipating changes, and how they will impact on services. This results in better decision-making for more resilient assets and reduced service disruptions.

AIM can also analyse risk at a granular level, by region and down to an individual asset, allowing SWW to examine factors such as planning constraints and associated risks of not commencing work at specific time horizons.

Tim Watson, technical director at Probit said, “AIM’s greatest strength lies in its ability to respond to the unknown and develop accordingly. It has a high level of adaptability and flexibility when clients are facing new requirements, such as the evolving DWMP process. It can be used to answer bespoke and complicated questions for SWW regarding intervention variables and comparisons, and is optimised to do this rapidly.”

“Planning scenarios can be mapped iteratively to fully understand the outcomes of multiple potential decisions in hours, not days,” said Luke Ferriday, ICS senior consultant.

Robust results

SWW’s draft DWMP was released in September 2022 and the utility now understands the planning scenarios, interventions, and implications for its 22 catchments. This means the planning team can now investigate and revisit the scenarios and constraints within each catchment as new data and feedback come to light for its final DWMP. Constraints include budget, CSO and flood-risk targets, high priority sites at risk of flooding, intervention types, and implementation timescales.

Scenarios are analysed through AIM’s centralised dashboard with configuration tools enabling SWW to report back to internal stakeholders. Bespoke reports can also be generated in AIM which can be used to engage with external stakeholders and customers.

If government legislation, business or performance targets change in the future, SWW has a tool that can readily assess impact on asset health, performance, and cost. The challenge facing SWW, now that planning scenarios are fully understood, is selection of an optimal pathway of potential investment for the final DWMP, which provides customers, communities, and the environment with the greatest benefits for a resilient future.

Future possibilities

Beyond using AIM for the initial planning stage of the draft and final DWMP, which ICS have also used in collaboration with water companies Severn Trent and Northumbrian Water, ICS is looking to use AIM to answer more complex questions as new data becomes available: For example, establishing calculations and analysing what the carbon, environmental, and social benefits are of certain nature-based interventions.

Currently, this is a new field of inquiry for the English water sector, and long-term research and analysis of these variables are only beginning. Nature-based interventions have the potential to deliver a step-change in drainage and wastewater management but, due to weak understanding and a lack of evidence, they often show as the more expensive intervention compared to traditional grey infrastructure solutions.

As seen with the use of AIM, asset management is becoming more robust and advanced than before. The hope is that nature-based interventions can be better understood and further integrated into planning processes now and in the future.