Department Urban Water Management

Main focus

The research focus of the department is to build up understanding of water and pollutant flows in urbanized areas to improve urban water management in practice. Research topics encompass precipitation, its accurate measurement and implication on urban drainage systems (1),  hydraulic loading of sewers and surface flooding (2), transport and transformation of anthropogenic substances in sewers (3) and resulting exposure scenarios for receiving waters (4). An additional important research pillar of SWW is the development of the built environment to handle those flows with an emphasis on sewer development (5) and new concepts to deal with wastewater production at the household level (6). In the context of wastewater-based epidemiology the reliable characterization of the sewer system plays an important role (3,7). 

This translates into three main research foci: systems transformation, source typing and tracking and intelligent network operations. The Urban Living Labs serve as experimental test beds for these research foci:

Systems Transformation

Systems Transformation (Tove Larsen, Max Maurer, Joao Leitao, Lauren Cook)
looks at the engineering options and methodologies to lead urban water infrastructure systems into a sustainable and resilient future. This research area is strongly linked with the Eawag strategic program Wings (Water and wastewater Innovations for Non-Grid Solutions). This highly interdisciplinary research focus has three core research thrusts:

(i) Wings-system development aims to develop novel urban water management systems, that provide an alternative to the grid based conventional urban water management,

(ii) Transition planning develops methods to transform an existing network infrastructure into a sustainable future, including the modelling of urban flooding due to torrential rain, and

(iii) Blue-green infrastructure for multi-functionality develops integrated design and planning tools for sustainable and resilient communities that acheive multiple environmental and social objectives in an uncertain future climate.

Source Typing and Tracking

Source typing and tracking (Christoph Ort, Jörg Rieckermann)
The quantification of pollutant loads in wastewater is on the one hand a requirement to study options on the minimization of impact on the environment, on the other hand it also offers unique opportunities to learn about changes of society’s lifestyle (e.g. quantification of (il)licit drugs and also to develop early warning systems (e.g. indication of diseases before outbreak of pandemics). Effective pollutant management in sewers  depends on reliable evidence of occurrence and fate of pollutant loads. Source typing and tracking is interlinked with the research focus ‘Intelligent Network Operations’ and requires the development of new tools to evaluate and monitor pollutant loads.

Intelligent Network Operations

Intelligent Network Operations (Jörg Rieckermann, Joao Leitao)
In the past, engineers mainly designed and built urban water infrastructures. However, current and future challenges rather concern the optimal operation and maintenance of these infrastructures under many diverse objectives such as good public health, reliable wastewater disposal, flood protection and reducing the pollution emitted into our receiving waters. The research focus of the Intelligent Network Operations group therefore aims at (A) developing methods to better observe and understand key inputs and variables of our systems and (B) improving the predictive capabilities of our urban drainage models.

Urban Living Labs

Urban Living Labs (Max Maurer, Jörg Rieckermann)
have been developed as an overarching departmental resource. This is mainly driven by three factors: The danger and difficulty to obtain real world data, the resulting chronic data deficiencies and lack of redundancy and the exciting prospect of applying novel sensors and measurement techniques. We identified an interesting catchment area where we will start implementing measurement equipment such as rain gauges, microwave links, flow meters, turbidity and multispectral measurement probes.

Check out our Beta open-data website for an overview of the network and data.