Water certainty in an uncertain future: European group unites in Cyprus

European collaboration seeking to design urban drinking water systems fit for the future are exploring questions to develop water solutions

The €10m European Research Council (ERC) funded project had a six-year update meeting at the KIOS Research and Innovation Center of Excellence (KIOS CoE), University of Cyprus with representatives from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, and Cyprus.

The ‘smart water futures: designing the next generation of urban drinking water systems’ team combines leading experience in water science, systems and control theory, economics and decision science, and machine learning (ML).

By the end of this year, a total of 12 PhD students and 14 postdoctoral researchers will be working on the smart water futures development.

“We are seeking solutions that perform over many unexpected futures, not just optimal plan designs for a single future,” said Prof Dragan Savić, CEO of KWR Water Research Institute.

Smart Water Futures is focusing on four interlinked synergistic themes across water distribution systems. Research is underway on the first theme involving decision-support tools for adaptive staged design, assessment and control of biofilms in networks, as well as the role of control in adaptive design.

A second theme aims to develop the theory and application of monitoring and control in urban water distribution systems.

“As smart water systems are developed, the number of sensors will continue to increase related to hydraulics, water quality and in the future, security,” said Prof Marios Polycarpou, KIOS CoE’s director.

Ongoing research includes interoperable event diagnosis in water distribution networks, smart water networks as cyber-physical-social systems and real time water quality control considering input time delay uncertainty.

“One of our aims is to provide the framework to help automate water systems,” added Prof Polycarpou, “Networks in the future will provide real time recommendations and decisions to operators and policymakers.”

The third theme addresses ML to support decision-making by data-driven technologies.

“One of our aims is to help better detect anomalies in water systems using artificial intelligence (AI),” said Prof Barbara Hammer from Bielefeld University.

Research conducted in the Water-Futures project will lead to the creation of new scientific theories and frameworks for modelling, monitoring, control, planning, investment and policy making for urban water drinking systems.

The European project has five main objectives. They are transitioning of urban water systems; water monitoring and evolvable control; learning for decision making; rationality and eudaimonia and integration and validation.

The fourth theme focuses on the economics and human decision making including behavioural considerations.

Prof Phoebe Koundouri from Athens University of Economics and Business said: “Looking into scenario generation and decision making for the development of urban water systems under conditions of deep uncertainty, we are researching managers’ and consumers’ behavioural preferences to integrate them in the relevant optimisation models.”