The Value of Open Data in the Water Sector

Amy Jones is an expert in Wastewater Infrastructure

Get in touch Get in touch

For the first 6-8 years that I worked in the water sector, most people were inexplicably uninterested in sewage. Although much of their newfound interest stems from negative press around storm overflows, I’m happy that wastewater is – not literally – finding its way into the open.

With the Environment Act pushing for information to be shared ‘in a way which makes it readily accessible to the public’ and Ofwat advocating for open data, the pressure to share isn’t likely to ease. A recent UK Government consultation indicated that continuous river water quality data collected by water companies will need to be shared in ‘near-real-time … on an England-wide data visualisation platform’. There are obvious and concerning risks and challenges, but embracing data sharing could deliver big benefits to the sector and the wider environment. Some ideas and examples:

  • Nature Markets aren’t new but are arguably gaining momentum. In March 2023, UK government published its intention to ‘grow annual private investment flows to nature to at least £500 million every year by 2027 in England, rising to more than £1 billion by 2030.’ Open water data might demonstrate the impact of some of these investments, providing evidence to accreditation schemes. I recommend the recent webinar by the Rivers Trust outlining their Water Stewardship work with the likes of Amazon Web Services for inspiration on this topic.
  • Efficiency and economy – What could a new app. economy for water look like? Robust open data standards will be vital, but what new insights could we get if water company data were shared in an easy-to-access format to citizens, programmers and experts from other industries? As well as offering an economic boost to startups and established companies, open data could enable smarter water management; it might be used to feed digital twins or reduce time spent on formal regulatory reporting.
  • TrustResearch published by Ofwat in 2023 shows reductions in trust in the water sector, particularly related to environmental performance and financial management: 46% of customers thought that companies took away wastewater and sewage and dealt with it responsibly, and 40% thought that they provide good value for money to customers. Effectively sharing information with the public could improve transparency and therefore trust. It's a chance to more actively engage the public in policy making.
  • Research and innovation – The Oasis Loss Modelling Framework is an open-source catastrophe modelling platform. Founded in 2012 as a not-for-profit company, it is now owned by almost 30 of the world’s leading insurance firms. By sharing models and datasets (some free, some for purchase) in a standardised manner, they have enabled innovative inputs from business, academia and government. QGIS is another successful example of open principles driving innovation and new services.
  • Collaboration – The water sector will need a stepped increase in investment to meet new environmental standards, adapt to climate change, improve service and manage ageing assets, all whilst dealing with challenging skills shortages. Consistently sharing information should enable government agencies, researchers, private companies, citizens and non-profit organisations to see external influences on their work and to more readily work together.

WRc has its own examples of open and collaborative working. STOAT and SimEau are freeware available for modelling wastewater and water treatment plants, and we have developed open modules for PyWR that enable water quality modelling. WRc Portfolio has long supported collaboration between water companies.

Open models aren’t always the best option for companies or their customers, but in the right place and with the right structure they offer huge potential.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Have your say

Head over to the WRc LinkedIn channel to join the conversation and share your thoughts with your network.

React, comment and share
Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Start a conversation

Full name
Email address
Company name
How can we help?

Can we stay in touch?

Your details will be stored within our CRM to allow us to handle your enquiry. We'd love to keep in touch and send you our newsletters and other notifications we think may be of interest to you. Please let us know if we have your permission for this.

Amy Jones

Senior Consultant

Amy is a chartered senior consultant at WRc with over 10 years’ experience in the water industry. She enjoys collaborating internationally with academics, industry partners and citizens on research that aims to reduce the impact of urban drainage on the environment. She has worked on asset management, environmental permit compliance and drainage planning projects. She holds a PhD from the University of Warwick on pollutant mixing and a master’s degree in Civil Engineering with French from the University of Sheffield.

2023-06-06 14:00:00