Millions of pounds will be saved by the water industry in England and Wales thanks to a new water resources model, Pywr-WREW, developed by a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, ECI.

Dr Anna Murgatroyd, Research Associate, has been awarded £50,000 funding to rebuild the national Water Resources model for England and Wales using open-source software.

The current model, based on the MaRIUS project (Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of drought and water scarcity) and National System Simulation Modelling (NSSM) project, which was co-developed by researchers at the ECI, uses licensed software which means that water regulators OFWAT and the Environment Agency are having to pay to use the model. 

But this new model, Pywr-WREW, is built using software which is free to access by stakeholders including the Environment Agency, OFWAT and Water Companies.

Dr Murgatroyd said: “We have learned a great deal through the MaRIUS and NSSM projects about extreme drought and climate events on our infrastructure systems. We are starting to see more and more spatially connected droughts between regions and the Pywr-WREW model will help us, and water industry stakeholders understand what this means for future water supplies.”

The water model simulates sources of water supplies and pathways of water travelling around our water network over time, using estimates of water demand and water availability in rivers, reservoirs and groundwater. WREW uses data from stakeholders such as actual water usage, and extreme weather projections from climate models to make calculations for future scenarios.

Water resource modelling helps the government and water authorities manage water by showing how different decisions, policies, or environmental factors could affect our river environments and water supply. By testing different scenarios, computer modelling gives scientists objective information. 

Pywr-WREW will simulate the movement of water around England and Wales’ water supply system and will be used to estimate how frequently water shortages might occur in future. The model will also be used to test what infrastructure investments and policies may be needed in order to ensure resilient water supplies.

Dr Murgatroyd added: “In order to improve water provision we need access to data and effectively engage with stakeholders. The Pywr-WREW model will help to establish a two-way dialogue to ensure that what we are presenting through the simulation is what they are experiencing.

The model shows how water moves through the water network to the end user. We can simulate that movement, and see the pathway it takes depending on the different climate and socio-economic systems. The model allows us to measure water system resilience and robustness to certain climate shocks. From deterioration through droughts to increases in demand from growing populations and housing developments.

“This new model is built in open-source code and can therefore be used without a commercial license. We hope it will encourage better stakeholder engagement and will offer a more transparent modelling process than before. Ultimately it will allow regulators to make better decisions about future infrastructure investments surmounting to millions of pounds. Although, the cost of implementing the infrastructure will also cost millions, the avoided costs and social impacts of water use restrictions on the public may be lessened into the future.”

Dr Murgatroyd says the advance in climate learning over the past decade has shown that droughts are affecting larger areas, lasting longer and are becoming more intense. This new model uses that knowledge to help plan for future climate events.

Dr Murgatroyd said: “Through using an open-source library we can test different water supply options. The Environment Agency previously had no modelling capability to simulate the impact of new water infrastructure or review the outputs that the water companies put forward.

“As academics are exempt from the software licensing restrictions, we have been able to do this research and have helped them develop an in-house team in the Environment Agency while we continue to act in an advisory role with them.”

Prof Jim Hall, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks and programme lead for Oxford Programme for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (OPSIS), said:

It is important that water companies, regulators and the government have a strategic overview of water resources at a national scale. The WREW model is the most accurate national model of water supplies in England and Wales. By migrating this model to the DAFNI system we will make it more accessible and adaptable, so it can be used to inform crucial decisions about the resilience of water supplies.”

Dr Murgatroyd is currently in the process of setting up the Pywr-WREW project’s technical advisor group, with representatives from the Environment Agency, OFWAT and Regional water resource planning groups. The latter build simulation models to help inform regional water management plans. But there are difficulties when combining these outputs into a fully representative national picture.

Speaking about the Pywr-WREW project, the Environment Agency’s Water Resources Modelling Lead, Dr Jonny Wilson, said: “The work for re-building WREW using the Pywr python library is a key objective in the Environment Agency’s strategic plan for developing national water resources modelling. A python-based version of WREW will make a major stepwise change in national water resources modelling capabilities.”

The project is one of eight, to be sharing £1.4m funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council as part of the Data & Analytics Facility for National Infrastructures (DAFNI) Centre of Excellence for Resilient Infrastructure Analysis.

Joining Dr Murgatroyd on the project are colleagues Professor Jim Hall, Oxford Programme for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (OPSIS) Lead and Tom Russell, OPSIS Software Support, both from the ECI.

Pywr-WREW will complement the ongoing National System Simulation Modelling (NSSM) project which integrates climate modelling, hydrological modelling and water resources system simulation to inform large-scale strategic water infrastructure planning in England and Wales.