Experts predict that climate change will cause extreme events such as floods and droughts to occur more frequently and more severely in the future. Against this background, effective water management will become increasingly important. Water management is currently decentralised, with each water board managing a regional area with its own water bodies and waterways. However, the effects of water management are felt beyond these regional areas borders – even beyond country borders. Effective coordination is vital.
“Coordination is becoming increasingly complex, as more and more players are making the decisions,” says researcher Rudy Negenborn. “In the light of the growing need for effective water control mechanisms, we need to design smarter ways to respond to water extremes.”
The smartest way to do that is to anticipate changes well in advance. Negenborn and his colleagues are studying how intelligent control mechanisms can play a role in this. “Imagine an automated system,” he says, “that detects that snowmelt has started in the Alps. This system interprets these results and passes them on to the countries downstream. Their water pumps and storage facilities are activated automatically, creating extra water storage capacity before the water bulk arrives. That way dike bursts and floods will become much less likely.”
Highlighting the advantages of such an automated system, Negenborn notes that today’s water management is manually controlled and unable to respond quickly to extremes. “The system is too complicated,” he says, “and failures can never be fully avoided. As a result, citizens have to leave their homes and farmers have to deal with excess water on their land. This leads to huge economic losses.”
Negenborn and his colleagues are convinced that automated systems, which coordinate a chain of responses in all water managing entities in a given watershed, will help prevent such losses by making smarter use of existing predictions and using better models to coordinate the actions of multiple players. Moreover, an automated system can take into account the different water management goals of different regions. Some regions benefit from higher water levels than others, for instance, and these requirements may change according to the circumstances. Negenborn: “Automated water management can tailor to these different needs in a way that traditional water management never will.”