Facing rising floodwaters with advanced hydraulic modeling

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Eric Suesz August 23, 2022 4 min read

It seems that every week, we hear increasingly worse news about flooding:

Simply put, increasing temperatures are making extreme flood events happen more frequently. It’s getting wetter – and it’s past time to get prepared.

Sydney’s rainfall is distressingly off the charts – 150 years of charts. Courtesy of weatherzone.

The good news is that water technologies have been growing and evolving over the past 20 years. Forward thinking utilities have been adopting 2D integrated catchment modeling software that can create robust models of their entire water system, helping them run complex simulations to pinpoint areas that need to be cleaned up, shored up, or broken down and built back up again. This software helps them do everything from regular maintenance to planning for 200-year storm events to protecting populations that live on or near flood plains. 

Meeting the challenges of soil, concrete, and climate 

It’s not just Dallas and St. Louis that are recording the most rainfall ever in one day. The town of Reigate in the UK had the same issue when it experienced half a month’s rainfall in one day, prompting them to hire Atkins to perform a flood alleviation study. Atkins dug in deep to accurately model multiple different soil types from the town square and across the surrounding area to understand exactly where and how the issue could best be solved. 

You can go even deeper into soil analysis to solve flooding problems like suburban Dekalb County did when they hired Jacobs Engineering to move beyond using Real-Time Kinematic method and create a significantly more accurate Ground Infiltration Model that changes with the seasons – when the snow melts and causes problems. That important work now helps them analyze snowmelt possibilities and change their strategies accordingly. 

But big cities, with their reliance on adding more concrete to the landscape to keep up with continuous growth, face perhaps the biggest challenge. It’s imperative that these large population centers start planning ahead – and quickly. 

With varied topography, an immense amount of concrete, and continued growth, Hong Kong faces water challenges, but is taking steps to meet them with flood risk studies.

Hong Kong already has. They enlisted Arcadis for a mighty project, pulling together multiple models of the city’s landscape (in some cases right down to ultra-granular modeled road kerbs and building thresholds) to assess the risk of flooding 200 years into the future. They were able to account for expected climate changes and visually represent where flooding should occur. This kind of knowledge is invaluable guidance for megacities that will keep growing and keep building, especially coastal cities like Hong Kong which face additional weather-related challenges.  

Water technologies can help you predict the future 

In some ways, it feels like water systems software is evolving similarly to the way weather forecasting technologies evolved. Slowly at first, but then quickly and dramatically as we’re able to harness more computer processing power. Weather modeling was once a complex, costly, computer-intensive task available only to a select few. It may have taken days or even weeks to run complex modeling simulations using a room-full of computers. 

But these days you can add complex weather data like this to a water modeling simulation on your laptop and dramatically increase the speed and accuracy of your predictions – even for a model that looks 200 years into the future.

Even more remarkable is the sheer amount of data water industry professionals currently have access to. The more relevant data we add to our model, the more confident we can be when telling our communities that we need a bigger pipe, a better bridge, or a stronger dam. Simply put, including the right data in our models can help us explain our options for confronting the increasing danger of flooding. But first, we need to put these models into the hands of every water industry professional.

We have the technology to better manage today’s water systems and prepare for the changes ahead. By building accurate and holistic models of systems, you can model complex wastewater and stormwater network elements to inform the decisions you make around capacity fluctuations, system expansions, and emergency scenarios. The challenge now may be influencing governing bodies and helping overcome any political headwinds to prioritizing this vital work. 

Taking the first steps 

Is your municipality or region prepared for flooding? Advances in technology have allowed us to adapt and adjust our surroundings to ensure that the impacts of urbanization and extreme weather do not put our environment or communities at risk. 

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Ready to get prepared? We’ve got a new e-book to help you take the first step.

Download our new e-book, Building resilient communities and protecting our environment for a sustainable future, to learn how you can use integrated catchment modeling to plan a better, more sustainable future. 


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Commentary Storm, sewer, flood