How Technology Can Mitigate Flooding And Secure Water Infrastructure

The World Economic Forum reports that one in nine – 844 million people – lack access to water. Ten percent of the world’s population lives without safe drinking water. World Health Organization data suggests that 40 million children face high water insecurity levels. The lack of water, and available water being unsafe, is a significant issue worldwide.

The World Bank estimates that up to 25-30% of a utility’s water is lost in the network as non-revenue water on average. In developing countries, about 45 million cubic meters are lost daily through water leakage in the distribution networks, enough to provide close to 200 million people with water.

Technology that can provide flood simulations, detect leakages and give insight into managing water infrastructure has become a growth market. Polaris Research reports that the global smart water management market will grow from $13.73 billion in 2021 to $31.73 billion by 2030.

In 2021, Autodesk acquired Innovyze. The company was focused on building technology that used modeling, simulation, and predictive analysis to create sustainable water distribution networks, water collection systems, water and wastewater treatment plans and flood protection systems.

“Water is a critical resource that can quickly turn catastrophic. It’s easy to overlook the infrastructure required to support water in our daily lives,” said Colby Manwaring, Vice President, Innovyze at Autodesk. “It’s an intricate, expansive system that manages access to clean water, disposal of wastewater, and managing stormwater.”

Manwaring says that flooding has increased in frequency around the world.

“Flooding can have devastating effects on physical communities and cut off access to clean water,” said Manwaring. “In all cases, this technology can help communities prepare and recover from such devastation.”

Manwaring says that the technology is physics and science-based hydraulic modeling in each instance. “Water, soil, pavement, cement, plastic pipes, etc., all have known physical properties. With the right information, a digital model – digital twin if you will – is created to model where water will go,” said Manwaring.

“For a flood model, the digital twin is of the topography, terrain, soil types, and water infrastructure like storm drains to accurately predict where water will end up during a big rainfall event,” said Manwaring. “The technology is accurate to precise distances because the physical properties of the model and how water will react to those physical properties – like water running fast over pavement but slower over grass with the effect of gravity and infiltration – are understood and able to be computed.”

Manwaring says an example of modeling scientific methods of rainfall-runoff to mitigate flooding risk is the city of Reigate in the United Kingdom. For two decades, the town center has regularly flooded due to fluvial flooding, surface water, and foul flooding, which restricts access to homes and the town center.

The engineering team from Autodesk built a catchment model of the river so the engineering team could create a model that could synthesize data about Wallace Brook and its tributary along with nearby ponds and other watercourse structures.

Manwaring says that the team needed to consider the soil to accurately model flooding potential. “Hydraulic conductivity is the rate at which water is likely to infiltrate the soil [..]. The infiltration of rainwater into the soil is an important consideration for modeling the effects of direct rainfall runoff,” said Manwaring. “Understanding the specific characteristics of the soil plays a big part in predicting how it will infiltrate the catchment.”

By using multiple infiltration models to calculate the infiltration in the catchment, the team could investigate the different soil types within the catchment in detail. This allowed the city to predict more accurately what would happen during a rainfall event.

Manwaring says that accurate information is critical when planning and building stormwater infrastructure because the balance between how much infrastructure must be created and what can be absorbed by the natural environment helps cities make more sustainable choices about how to mitigate the impact of floods.

Manwaring adds that sophisticated software with science-based models delivers better information about what happens to the water. “In many cases, it can be used to predict within a few inches of what areas will be impacted by potential flooding.”

“Simulation and management software empowers water utilities and engineers with the insight needed to manage water infrastructure and plan for potential catastrophes,” said Manwaring.

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