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Using Data to Reduce Flooding and Harvest Rain

25 May 2020

3 minutes to read

Using Data to Reduce Flooding and Harvest Rain

The Project

Climate change is putting our water supplies under increasing pressure. Extreme weather events are becoming ever more common, and water conservation measures such as hose pipe bans are not nearly responsive enough to combat this short-term variation.

Via the Impact Lab, OTA Water has had access to a range of academic expertise for a pioneering project, using clever technology that harvests rain water but only releases it when the weather forecast says so. It changes the way that rain water is dealt with by adapting and controlling its reuse, and consequently alleviating the prospect of flooding.

The Approach

The Met Office is providing access to rainfall forecast data, the University of Exeter is enabling system control and decision-making, Plymouth College of Art is contributing component design and prototyping and Rothamsted Research is conducting a test installation and use of water for agricultural purpose.

Ralph Ledbetter, from the University of Exeter, explains the project: “Buildings create run-off water, which contributes to flooding. To combat this, many buildings and developments have underground water tanks to ease the flow of water into the drainage network. However, these systems are often very basic.

“OTA Water has introduced a control valve on the outlet to enable the capture of water for various uses including flushing toilets and use on farms. You can also control when it’s released into the environment and therefore improve resilience to flooding. You can capture it when it’s raining and release it when it’s not.”

It’s also more sustainable, he added, because you’re reducing water consumption by reusing rainfall.

Theo McCaie from the Met Office said: “We are pulling out historical weather forecasts, observations and running historic simulations of OTA Water’s smart systems to determine the best source of forecasting and the best algorithms, or how to react to that forecast.

“The Idea is that OTA Water will have an improved weather forecasting model, and that rainwater tanks will become more intelligent and know when to empty and when not to empty. So we’ll have a higher level of re-use, know when to store and when not to and also lessen the impact of downstream runoff water.”

Rothamsted Research has expertise in soil, water runoff and water requirements of crops and will be contributing their expertise in water capture and measurements to understand how a farm might reuse water for agriculture purposes.

“A smart system could use the forecast data to determine the real time water flow and monitor the opening and closure of the control valve”, according to Dr Khalid Mahmood, Innovation and Business Engagement Manager at Rothamsted Research
“This system will allow farmers to prepare themselves to the changing climate conditions to better manage water on the farm,” he said.

The FabLab at Plymouth College of Art has been collaborating with OTA to develop hardware components used within the smart system, the prototypes that have been 3D printed and will be tested at Rothamsted Research.

A demonstration stand is also being developed at the FabLab to communicate the potential of the smart system at trade shows.

Ben Mundy, Knowledge Exchange Coordinator at Plymouth College of Art said: “Being able to develop the hardware components of this innovation will allow OTA Water to fully test all aspects of the system prior to manufacture.

The Results

The project is still ongoing, but there is great potential to utilise smart water technology across various sectors. As Peter Melville-Shreeve, CEO of OTA Water explained water companies get fined when there’s a sewage overflow.

“This technology could help prevent that from happening. The benefit to the consumer is reduced water consumption and therefore cost, as well as the benefits to society of reduced sewer flooding.

“Access to powerful computing and Met Office data is something that OTA Water wouldn’t have been able to get without the Impact Lab, and their modelling and expertise in data analysis has been exceptional.”

The team have explored the use of the system in a domestic and agricultural settings, but there is also immense opportunity in applying its capabilities to industrial locations, he added.

The Team

OTA Water:

Pete Melville-Shreeve, CEO
Hossein Rezaei, CTO

Impact Lab:

Dr Ralph Ledbetter, Industrial Research Fellow, University of Exeter
Theo McCaie, Scientific Systems Manager, Met Office
Kathryn White, Innovation Manager, University of Exeter
Dr Khalid Mahmood, Innovation Manager, Rothamsted Research
Dr Paul Harris, Rothamsted Research
Ben Mundy, Plymouth College of Art

For more information please contact:

Theo McCaie, Scientific Systems Manager

Dr Khalid Mahmood, Innovation & Partnership Manager

Ben Mundy, Innovation Manager

Kathryn White, Innovation Manager


Dr Ralph Ledbetter


OTA Water
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