Enhancing Urban Resilience: Using Digital Solutions for Smart Water Management

The 9th session of the ISCN Online Advisory programme focussing on Enhancing Urban Resilience: Using Digital Solutions for Smart Water Management provided insights on how to use and supply smart solutions within urban water resilience. Three innovative as well as locally very distinctive projects were presented. The flood control project in the city of Goslar dived deep into the local context in Germany, while the SCOREWater project in the cities of Amersfoort, Barcelona and Gothenburg took a more European perspective. The presentations were completed with a third project focusing on managing water scarcity in Jordan.

Renate Mitterhuber, head of the Division Smart Cities at the German Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Building, opened the event by pointing out the highlights of the ISCN year, such as the visit to the Smart City Expo World Congress in November. We are happy to echo her words and thank the growing ISCN community for their “ambition to shape cities in a sense of sustainability and common good”! Mitterhuber introduced the sessions’ topic by pointing out the importance of digital innovative solutions to better deal with upcoming extreme weather events such as heavy rain and heat waves.  In particular, the concept of the Smart Water City seems to hold groundbreaking advantages in adaptation and mitigation.

In Practice

Dr. Stefan Wittek from the Technical University of Clausthal took the participants on a journey back to 2017, when massive flooding destroyed parts of the city of Goslar, a mid-sized town in central Germany. Located in the Harz mountains, Goslar experienced heavy  rainfall of a high velocity and short distances, making predictions very hard. Therefore, the city trained an AI with historical data to develop a model that can predict both floods and maximum water levels that can be tolerated. The step enabled warning margins to be boosted from  20 minutes to up to four hours.

Pieter de Jong, project manager of SCOREWater, presented the ongoing testing three large-scale demonstrations cases for collecting, computing and presenting various data in Amersfoort, Barcelona and Göteborg. He demonstrated how “information about human behaviour” can be gained from sewage water. By using smart applications to investigate wastewater, the city of Barcelona can retrieve valuable information about water consumption and demand.  Similarly, findings on the activity and well-being of the population for instance reveal antibiotic levels in wastewater and drug residue. While legal mandates for the use of wastewater as a source of information are still a challenge, the information gathered becomes valuable for analysing public health when comparing different districts and associated groups of inhabitants.  

Johannes Stork, who has been working on strengthening the resilience of water utilities in Jordan on behalf of GIZ since 2014, shifted the focus from Europe to the MENA region. There, water resources are scarce, and irrigation is subject to conflicts between various local groups. “Beyond technical solutions, the participation of farmers, customers as well as politicians is essential to make projects like ours happen”, he emphasized. Consequently, improvement and reduction in water consumption can only be achieved through overall commitment and organizational will. To attract local actors to innovative solutions, we need to make them understand the benefits for their immediate neighbourhood and demonstrate implementation that works.

The event’s discussion showed that we must never think or implement technology without the support of political groups and society at large. The importance of the presented projects and their replication are fundamental when it comes to the quality of life of the population.

In his closing remarks, Sebastian Fritz, advisor at the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), summarized key take-aways:

  • Managing water is key to urban resilience.
  • Technology can only be one part of the solution; we also need to bring all the stakeholders concerned to the table.
  • No matter what approach or perspective we take, common ground always emerges. That is why it is important that we continue exchange and cooperation.