Conference 2013 Report

The Watef symposium on the 26th March was preceded by a drinks and snacks reception in Oxford, where a number of delegates were able to meet in a casual environment.

The symposium opened with a welcome by Dr Kemi Adeyeye to 32 delegates, from the UK, Japan, Taiwan and the USA. A list of delegates can be viewed on the Watef Conference website.  The keynote lecture on Water efficiency in an era of weather extremes was delivered by Prof David Butler, the Director of the Centre for Water Systems and Professor of Water Engineering at the University of Exeter. He highlighted the advances made for rainwater harvesting schemes combined with water management and the need for reliable ‘Safe and SuRe’ solutions.

In total, 17 papers were accepted for the proceedings.  A diverse selection included authors from Japan, Taiwan, USA, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Spain, Slovakia, and the UK including Northern Ireland.  National and international presentations all stressed the need for a more water efficient society.

The sessions


The first session looked at the latest innovation in water efficiency and included a key presentation from each of the four categories: (1) User behaviour and engagement /Water use; (2) Water, energy and climate change; (3) Water supply and demand, policy and economy; (4) Surface and stormwater management/Alternative water supply and treatment processes.   Water efficiency and the Green deal were explained. A question and answer discussion followed each session.

The second session covered user behaviour and engagement which highlighted the point that it is people that use water so innovation and engagement are needed to encourage water users to be more efficient.

The third session discussed innovation for alternative water supply and treatment, covering greywater and rainwater harvesting, and the incorporation of SUDs for managing surface water.

The fourth session covered water, energy and climate change, as well as water supply and demand, policy and economy. CO2 was covered and new methods that could provide details on carbon credits linked with residential water savings. Accurate, cheap, simple method of monitoring water in buildings will be a real benefit in directing water efficiency strategies. The lack of water efficient incentives in the UK was compared with other countries and the central role that water efficiency could play in balancing future water supply and demand.

The panel discussion


The final joint panel discussion opened with a presentation from Prof Murakawa from Hiroshima University, Japan on the large water and energy savings made in Japanese cities by households with rainwater harvesting systems. The keynote lecture also covered new rainwater harvesting techniques and the benefits of rainwater harvesting.

With technological advancements, in the near future it may be possible to install economical rainwater and greywater systems in households, with safe and simple systems treating water to a high, possibly potable standard. Safety standards will require regulation and it may be feasible for water companies to provide a service for these alternative systems – not by selling the kit or technology, but a service to maintain and manage the system.  A decentralised infrastructure with a centralised management using ICT and remote sensors would enable water quality standards to be met. With no conclusive government framework or new enabling processes, investment by water companies to provide a water recycling service within homes could be an innovative step forward to less mains water usage.  

Despite improved water saving technologies, there can be the perception that the systems are not safe or reliable. Water companies undertaking the responsibility of providing a service for alternative technology could ease these concerns for the water user, builders and installers of these systems. Any transition to different standards of supply needs to be conducted safely and appropriately, also considering the costs e.g. increase of pipework in the house.

Considering the practice-based perspective with descriptions for different water use and the different standards required for the various water uses to ensure it is ‘fit for purpose’ may encourage changes to social and cultural norms to promote long term change towards being more water efficient. Engaging with households and water users will make people more water aware.  Alternative system enables resilience and adaptive capacity during times of water shortages.

The water efficiency message continues to be important for users of alternative systems who may no longer consider the need to still be water efficient in their portable water use. It is also important to note that the ‘message’ of water efficiency does not necessarily deliver water savings, therefore water efficiency messaging needs to follow through to ensure that resultant action takes place.
Red tape can result in delays of many years if new technology does not fit exactly within regulation requirements, and some flexibility in these requirements will allow new technology to reach the market sooner and encourage investment.

There may be factors preventing the use of alternative systems e.g. It is illegal to store water for rainwater harvesting systems in some parts of the world, whereas, in some other countries e.g. Australia and Japan, efficient rainwater harvesting systems are widely used.

The final debate was: “Whose choice is it to be water efficient?” For users to respond positively to water efficiency measures, the message to be efficient needs to be relayed by the right person in the right place at the right time. It is important that the messenger is seen as a person or institution which is competent to make a decision on water efficiency. Water demand is created and distributed through a complex system. Ultimately the user creates the demand, but by providing a service that can save water and save money should encourage user engagement resulting in water savings.

Panellists were asked what one thing would you like to see changed or improved in the near future:
  • A collaborative arrangement across industry and academia allowing access to water consumption and water efficiency research data and results to be available for further research purposes.
  • Also, solid and proven data from tests involving metering and water usage per appliance or device to be made generally available.
  • Water companies should invest more in water efficiency staff and water efficiency programmes to relay the water efficiency message to their users.
  • Water efficiency should be considered in the context of Safe & SuRe to ensure that water systems are safe, sustainable and resilient.
  • The further development and aggressive promotion/marketing of water efficiency case studies in domestic and commercial buildings i.e. what was done, how much was saved, what worked and what didn’t. It is important that the water users’ responses and attitudes to the devices and their behaviour is understood. These findings can be used to make recommendations for other buildings.  
  • An effort needs to be made by all to fundamentally change attitudes to water efficiency.


Rounding up

Delegates enjoyed a sightseeing bus tour of Oxford and on return to the campus, visited the Waterwise display and later attended the gala dinner, which included a talk by the Water Minister, Richard Benyon, on the Government's commitment to water efficiency. Presentations from the Waterwise conference day can be viewed on the Waterwise website.