Achieving regional scale surface water management using synthetic stream networks

Research has revealed for the first time that around 271 million recreational visits are made to marine and coastal environments in England. The research found that the most common activity on these visits is walking. The study also revealed that most people head to these ‘blue’ environments for relaxation and social reasons.


Surface water flooding causes significant damage, disruption and loss of life, both in the UK and globally. Surface water flooding is predicted to worsen in response to the emerging pressures of climate change, urban growth and aging drainage infrastructure, and is consequently prioritised as an area for future research in national strategic planning, such as the Climate Change Risk Assessment [1], and academic research [2]. The hazard was recently described as “the biggest risk flood risk of all” by Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the UK Environment Agency [3].

Past flooding management has been achieved through application of conventional drainage interventions, typically developed using site based design standards. Consequently, the design and performance of solutions of this type and at this scale is well understood. However, recent government reviews indicate current implementation of novel strategies is insufficient, despite clear and established legislation available for almost a decade [4]. A significant challenge is developing the current site scale implementation of strategies through to integrated regional surface water management, accommodating a range of measures such as conventional strategies, natural flood management (NFM), sustainable
drainage systems (SuDS) and flood resilience opportunities, to name a few [2].

This research responds to a need for regional scale surface water management through developing a novel surface water catchment database based on a new concept of ‘synthetic stream networks’. These are computationally derived flow patterns which map likely overland runoff to delimit the spatial relationships of surface water catchments. This abstract outlines the key methodological advances, applications and limitations of this approach.

[1] Committee on Climate Change (2017). UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Synthesis Report. [2] Fletcher T. D et al ( 2015). SUDS, LID, BMPs, WSUD and more – The evolution and application of terminology surrounding urban drainage, Urban Water Journal, 12(7), pp. 525–542.
[3] Bevan J (2018). Surface water: The biggest flood risk of
all. Speech at CIWEM SWM conference, London.
[4] DEFRA (2018). Surface Water Management: An Action Plan. 


Read the full article at Open Research Exeter

Surface water flooding on street
Conference paper
Published: 4 September 2019
Webber, J
Kapelan, Z
Fu, G
University of Exeter, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
Published by:
University of Exeter


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