London, UK,

Urban Water Resilience – Progress through partnership

Sandra Ryan, Principal Consultant

Over four billion of us now live in cities and with the combined impact of global population growth and urbanisation that number is set to rise rapidly. Whilst the city is a place of prosperity for some, for too many others inadequate water infrastructure and services plunge people into water related poverty. Urban demand for water supply and sanitation can have devastating impacts on surrounding and distant watersheds, whilst both areas are often blamed for causing flooding. A changing climate, the rise of the mega cities, and globalisation of water demand mean that now more than ever we need to reshape how we manage the water environment that sustains us.

Unfortunately, it is easy to manage water badly. Fragmented management leads to inertia, sub-optimal actions, or worse - actions that lead to perverse, unintended consequences. The key to Urban Water Resilience is Integrated Water Management (IWM). The concept of IWM has been around for decades, yet we still struggle to articulate what it means in practice: organisations sharing responsibility via partnerships to sensitively manage urban activity and rural watersheds, making joined-up decisions in the context of the whole system to enhance benefits and to minimise trade-offs.

Progress is only possible by developing real partnerships between traditional water authorities and the new generation of water ‘managers’ that are alert to the risks they face, and the control they intend to take. Cities around the world are committing to resilience programmes, such as the Compact of Mayors and Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities programme, seeking to take control of their water risks. Industrial companies are pursuing Water Stewardship programmes to take control of their water risks. We build collaborative partnerships with cities, industries, and water utilities developing there resilience. IWM means being bold, potentially relinquishing controls that are hardwired into the fabric of traditional water management, and working to new integrated objectives reflecting different sectors’ priorities and abilities to deliver outcomes.

Embedding Integrated Water Management means embracing and contributing to the SMART city and the technology that is available to us to reimagine how we understand water and people. ‘Water managers’ need to step outside of their comfort zones to work differently, to work with different people, to share data, to generate better data, to challenge the status quo, and to be prepared to be challenged. We need to adjust quickly because by 2045 more than six billion city dwellers will be relying on us.


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Meet the blogger

Sandra RyanSandra is a Principal Consultant and has been a water resource planner for 15 years, investigating the best ways to make best use out of limited water resources, a fascination triggered by the reality of major water resource investment and its impact on people and the environment. She now uses her experience to challenge traditional thinking in the context of evolving problems, new players, and changing priorities.

Sandra is a member of the International Water Association, the CIWEM Water Resources Panel, and holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Physical Geography (Water Resources) from the University of Hull, UK, via a scholarship at the University of Istanbul through Rotary International. Based in Bristol in the UK she tweets her own views about all things watery @NoNewWater.