22nd December 2015

Managing water better, sustainably – where data meets policy


In this blog we have been discussing the latest Geovation Challenge: ‘How can we better manage water in Britain, sustainably?’

Today it is the turn of one of our partners, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to give the perspective of policymakers. Nick Haigh, Lead Analyst for Water and Flood Management outlines the opportunities and challenges.

“We have recently announced #OpenDefra, our open data programme and the Geovation Water Challenge fits perfectly with this. We have data, but we also have problems: too much water, too little water, poor water quality, ageing infrastructure and the need for new water using behaviours. We are supporting Geovation because we hope the data, analytical and business community can take new and existing data sources – particularly those made available by our partner the Environment Agency – and use them to develop ways to solve water problems.

Geovation Water Challenge

“Clearly right at the moment, too much water is at the front of our minds following the devastating impacts of record rainfall in the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland lately. One particular challenge which has been highlighted through developing the Water Challenge has been urban flooding. Flood and water management involves lots of geographic data – how can we harness this to improve the way we plan, build and drain our towns and cities, making the best use of green solutions?

“The threat of having too little water is never too far away in some parts of the country. We have planning in place to manage this, of course, and we are reforming the licensing system for abstracting water, to support economic growth whilst protecting the environment. For some sectors, like farming, managing water availability can be challenging where resources are tight, but in future there could be new opportunities to make better use of the wealth of water data, to improve year-round management of risks of water scarcity.

“The quality of water, in terms of the health of the natural environment and that of people using water for recreational purposes, has been steadily improving over recent years. Legislation and huge investment by the water industry since the 1980s have played their part. But there remain challenges. One we have highlighted for the Geovation Water Challenge is managing wastewater systems and how monitoring data on water quality could be made more useful for users.

“Our water infrastructure has seen massive investment – over £100bn – by water companies since the late 1980s. But it is a huge network, and much of it still dates back to Victorian times and before. It is spread over vast areas and a lot of it is underground and inherently difficult to monitor. A particular challenge we and industry partners are putting out through Geovation is: how can we use data better to understand the network, its performance and problems, including persistent issues like misconnected drains which cause unnecessary pollution.

“A key aspect of sustainable water management is making sure water users have the information they need so water use behaviour works with, rather than against, the things which the water industry and public bodies are doing to improve our water system and environment. Promoting water efficiency awareness and behaviours, and responsible use of the drainage system to prevent real problems for people like sewer flooding, are very important. How can the data we hold help to achieve this?

“The above are some of the key issues which have come out of the collaborative ‘deep dive into water management problems to inform the Water Challenge. These are by no means the only challenges we face, however, and I encourage everyone interested in the Challenge to take a look at the full list of questions from the ‘deep dive’. We look forward to getting great ideas from the Water Challenge which can make a real difference to the way we use and manage water in Britain”.

If this inspires you to think of an idea for the Geovation Challenge, find out more about what we are looking for and the other problem themes and enter your ideas on the Geovation Challenge online by 27 January 2016 (12 noon).

Ideas identified for their potential impact will be invited to a Geovation Weekend Camp from 4-6 March 2016, where you will be asked to work on transforming your idea into a prototype venture. You will also identify how to overcome problems in implementing your idea and learn to pitch your idea ‘pecha kucha’ style to the independent judging panel.  See the timetable Those selected to be invited into a 12 month funded Geovation Programme will be announced at the end of this camp.

We are delighted to be collaborating with Environment Agency, DEFRA (whose release of thousands of open data sets coincides with the Geovation Challenge), Southern Water, and United Utilities on this Geovation Challenge.

Our challenges are open to UK-based organisations and/or UK residents aged 18 or over and we encourage entrepreneurs, developers, geographers, community groups, and innovators to enter