Informing best practice and enhancing business performance in the water sector
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Engineering: Environmental Engineering
Economics: Applied Economics
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Exeter Engineering's Centre for Water Systems (CWS) undertakes
internationally leading fundamental and applied research in the $500bn
global water sector. EPSRC-funded research has underpinned impacts with
both reach and significance in the areas of practitioner and
professional services and economic impact. CWS staff have
co-authored authoritative best practice guides with highly respected
practitioner publishers: the Construction Industry Research and
Information Association (CIRIA), the Building Research Establishment (BRE)
and Spon Press. These have been widely used in the water sector, and
construction and built environment sector. CWS software and knowhow have
been used extensively by water service providers (such as Scottish Water)
and their consultants (including SEAMS, originally an Exeter spinout) to
enhance business performance by identifying efficiencies, saving costs and
improving operation. Optimisation software has been made freely available
and has hundreds of users worldwide including consultants and financial
Founded in 1998, the Centre for Water Systems
(http://tinyurl.com/nvgs5uv) is an internationally leading research centre
within Exeter Engineering's Water & Environment Group. It is
co-directed by Professor Dragan Savić FREng (Joined Exeter 1994) and EPSRC
Established Career Fellow Professor David Butler (Joined Exeter 2006) and
addresses current and future challenges in the sustainable management of
water in cities, with particular emphasis on the development and
application of artificial intelligence techniques.
Butler's research has focused on the challenges associated with how more
integrated and sustainable water management can be delivered in urban
developments. As part of the EPSRC-funded WaND Water Cycle Management
for New Developments consortium (2003 - 2008), which he led and
managed, Butler developed the Urban Water Optioneering Tool (UWOT), with
particular application in new developments. This unique software uses
multi-objective optimisation to identify promising alternative and/or
composite water management strategies based on trading-off the objectives
of water use, energy consumption and cost . Systematic analysis allowed
the benefits and drawbacks to be captured and included in best practice
guidance (detailed further in section 4).
From 2008-2012, attention turned to the challenges of
retrofitting existing cities. Building on expertise developed in WaND,
Butler joined the EPSRC Sustainable Regeneration: From Evidence-based
Urban Futures to Implementation consortium as co-investigator [ii].
Plausible socio-economic `futures' were developed together with a new
assessment framework. This was used to evaluate and plan the long-term
performance of a set of water management schemes for an uncertain future
. Insights, advice and recommendations were incorporated into published
good practice guidance. In parallel research (2009-2011) applicable
to new and existing urban areas, Butler led EPSRC's Ashford's
Integrated Alternatives consortium [iii] in close partnership with
the local delivery vehicle Ashford's Future. This work found that more
integrated urban utility service provision (e.g. multi-utility service
companies) could significantly enhance urban sustainability in Ashford
itself and as demonstrated in a series of other cases such as London's
innovative BedZed development . Much of this work has fed into a key
practitioner book (see section 4).
Centre researchers have a strong track record in the development and
application of novel optimisation and decision support (DSS) tools applied
within the water industry . For example, Savić was the principal
investigator of an EPSRC-funded project A Whole-Life Costing Approach
to Distribution Network Management (1999-2001) [iv] which produced a
decision-support methodology that links underground asset costs to
performance. The main CWS contribution was to develop a number of key
performance indicators and deterioration models which were integrated into
the decision support tool WiLCO, to guide water utilities in
developing pipe rehabilitation priorities . This was followed by a
companion EPSRC-funded project, also led by Savić, to extend and further
develop the methodology for sewer systems (2003-2005) [v]. An asset
deterioration modelling tool based on a novel data-mining approach
(Evolutionary Polynomial Regression, EPR) was also developed and shown to
outperform other approaches for developing relationships between
underground asset attributes and probability of failure . The resulting
impact has been considerable as explained in section 4.
CWS researchers were also co-investigators of the multidisciplinary
EPSRC-funded consortium Neptune (2007-2010) [vi]. The project,
co-funded by industrial partners Yorkshire Water, United Utilities and ABB
Ltd, developed and tested new methodologies to support real-time
decision-making for operators of water distribution systems dealing with a
variety of anomalies (pressure and flow) with a primary focus on pipe
bursts. A new prototype DSS was developed by CWS to analyse, process and
present data efficiently, enabling the operator to reach timely and
informed decisions (see Section 4).
References to the research
1. Makropoulos, C.K., Natsis, K., Liu, S., Mittas, K.& Butler, D.
(2008). Decision support for sustainable option selection in integrated
urban water management, Environmental Modelling and Software, 23,
12, 1448-1460 **
2. Farmani, R., Butler, D., Hunt, D., Memon, F., Abdelmeguid, H., Ward,
S. & Rogers, C. (2012). Scenario based sustainable water management
and urban regeneration. ICE Engineering Sustainability, 165,
3. Shirley-Smith, C. & Butler, D. (2008). Water management at Bedzed
— Some lessons, ICE Engineering Sustainability, 161, ES2,
113-122. Trevithick Fund award for the best paper on sustainability.
5. Engelhardt, M., Savić, D.A., Skipworth, P., Cashman, A., Saul, A.J.
& Walters, G.A. (2003). Whole life costing: application to water
distribution networks, Water Science and Technology: Water Supply,
3 1-2, 87-93
6. Savić, D.A., Giustolisi, O., Berardi, L., Shepherd, W., Djordjevic, S.
and Saul, A. (2006). Sewers Failure Analysis Using Evolutionary Computing,
ICE Water Management, 159 2, 111-118. **
** Papers that best indicate quality of underpinning research.
Grant support related to this research
i. Butler, D. (PI), Water cycle management for new developments: WaND,
EPSRC GR/S18373/01-02, £2,471,328; Industry, £76,000, April 2003 - March
ii. Butler, D. (CoI) Sustainable regeneration: From evidence-based
urban futures to implementation, EPSRC EP/F007426/01, £3,148,359,
May 2008 - April 2012.
iii. Butler, D. (PI), Ashford's integrated alternatives, EPSRC
EP/F04819X/01, £502,743, April 2009 - March 2011.
iv. Savic, D (PI) A whole-life costing approach to distribution
network management, EPSRC GR/M16115/01, £131,906, January 1999 -
v. Savic, D (PI) A whole-life costing approach to sewerage, EPSRC
GR/R98617/01, £144,581, February 2003 - October 2005.
vi. Savic, D., Butler, D. (CoI) Delivering sustainable water systems
by optimising existing infrastructure via improved knowledge,
understanding and technology — project NEPTUNE, EP/E003192/1, £2,326,981,
March 2007 - Sept 2010.
Details of the impact
Impact on practitioners and professional services
CIRIA's Guidance on Water Cycle Management for New Developments:
The 2010 guide [a] was produced as an outcome of the WaND project
[i]. It summarises and distils extensive research from CWS , to meet
the urgent challenge of how to provide water services for new housing
developments in water-stressed areas. The report was guided by a steering
group with representatives from government bodies (e.g. Environment
Agency), consultants (e.g. Arup) and water companies (e.g. Thames Water).
It is widely used by practitioners in construction and the built
environment, a sector with a gross value added of £89.5bn amounting to
6.7% of the British economy in 2011.
BRE's Designing Resilient Cities. A Guide to Good Practice: The 2012
Guide [b] sets out a framework for implementing robust, future-proofed
solutions for urban regeneration. It was the key outcome of the
industry-guided Urban Futures project [ii] and four of the case studies
included are specifically derived from CWS research . The guide is
unique in supporting city planners, councillors, architects and their
consultants to redesign cities to be sustainable whatever the future
holds. For example, multinational construction and engineering firm CH2M
HILL is using the future scenario framework for "key future projects", and
is influencing the sustainability planning of cities across the world [c].
Spon's Urban Drainage: This book [d] was originally conceived as a
text for students which may also be of use to practitioners. However, it
has also been widely taken up and used by professionals. For example,
unsolicited Amazon customer comments include: "Essential reading for any
drainage engineer (or those aspiring to become one). The best text
for UK drainage design and practice"; "A good value for money book
that should be on the shelf in every consultant's office"; "I have
just bought the book as the office copy is frequently borrowed"
[e]. In the third edition (2011) the chapter, `Towards sustainable
water management' draws on research from completed projects [i], best
practice [a] and CWS's published research findings [1, 3]. The book has
sold 5000+ copies worldwide, considered to be `very good' for a specialist
Economic impact: enhancing business performance by uptake and adoption
of CWS hydroinformatic software
Asset management: The Centre's EPR sewer deterioration model 
has been data validated by an industry funded research project [g] and
subsequently widely used to model water asset deterioration and to develop
infrastructure risk models for the water industry price review process
PR09 (2009 - 2014). Users include Anglian Water, South West Water
(in collaboration with Mouchel), Severn Trent Water (in collaboration with
RPS Water) and Wessex Water. In 2002, the Universities of Exeter and
Sheffield span out the company SEAMS. Today (2013) the company has
an annual turnover of £3.4m and is the industry leader in software and
analytic services for asset investment planning decisions [h], still using
the WiLCO software  developed by the Centre. For example, SEAMS used
WiLCO extensively to support Scottish Water's £1.1bn strategic
infrastructure investment decisions for their PR09 business plan [i].
Benefits were not only the transparency of the decisions made under strict
audit conditions but also that the approach identified significant
efficiencies of up to 15% over the utility's own investment plans.
Infrastructure operation: The Neptune project [vi]
decision-support system developed by CWS improves real-time fault
management of water distribution networks. The system takes advantage of
intelligent computational methods and tools applied to real-time logger
data providing pressures, flows and tank levels at key locations to allow
managers to assess and respond to service provision risk. The prototype
was tested on networks in Yorkshire Water (2009-2010) and was so
successful, it is now (2013) being customised for United Utilities
via a TSB Knowledge Transfer Partnership. This methodology has been
granted a 2009 patent [j] and this was subsequently sold to
project partner ABB Technology.
Optimisation software & studies: The optimisation software
GANetXL  has been developed and perfected by the Centre since 2008
and has over 400 users worldwide including consultants (e.g. Mouchel),
financial institutions (e.g. JP Morgan) and industrial research
organisations (e.g. SCION Research). The software provides easy access to
evolutionary, multi-objective optimisation algorithms for non-specialists.
It has recently (2012) been used by consultants AECOM for South
West Water to optimize successfully sewer rehabilitation planning
considering costs, structural improvements and critical risk of failure.
Cost reductions of almost 50% have been demonstrated compared with
original estimates of £4-5m per annum spend [k].
Sources to corroborate the impact
a. CIRIA best practice guidance document: Butler, D., Memon, F.A,
Makropoulos, C., Southall, A., Clarke, L (2010). WaND. Guidance on
Water Cycle Management for New Developments, Construction Industry
Research & Information Association Rep 610.
b. BRE good practice guidance document: Lombardi, D.R., Leach, J.M.,
Rogers, C.D.F. eds. (2012). Designing Resilient Cities: A Guide to
Good Practice, IHS Building Research Establishment Press. ISBN-10:
1848062532 | ISBN-13: 978-1848062535.
c. How Urban Futures Influenced the Design Decisions of Cities around the
Quote from CH2M Hill European Head of Sustainability (2012):
d. Spon practitioner guide and reference: Butler, D. & Davies, J.W.
(2011). Urban Drainage, 3rd Edition, Spon Press, London. ISBN
e. Amazon reviewer quotes (2013) indicating professional uptake:
f. Corroboration of 2013 sales figures for Urban Drainage by Spon Press
g. UK Water Industry Research Report Deterioration Rates of Sewers
(2006) UKWIR Report Ref No. 06/RG/05/15, www.ukwir.org/web/ukwirlibrary/91085
ISBN:1 84057 411 9.
h. Letter (2013) from the Science Director of SEAMS indicating research
i. News item reporting long term use of WiLCO software by SEAMS. A
Regulatory Framework Case Study; Scottish Water — water and wastewater
Bicik, J. &
Awad, H. (2009). Water Distribution Systems (WO2010061157,
Filing date: 19 May).https://www.google.co.uk/patents/WO2010061157A1
k. Letter (2013) from AECOM Director indicating impact of research (PDF).