Systems Water Management Framework for Catchment Scale Processes (CASYWat)

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


The recently released 25 Year Environment Plan recognises the need to put the environment at the heart of planning and development to create better places for people to live and work. Its supporting evidence highlights the need for taking a more systems based approach to water environment management, and the need for better understanding of complexity across water systems, including their interaction with land management and use. Within the 25YEP, the Cumbria Catchment Pioneer led by the Environment Agency (EA) is aimed at testing new governance models for the environmental management of river catchments as a whole, which is assumed to be a key enabler for the successful implementation of the natural capital accounting. The key challenges within the Cumbria Catchment Pioneer include complex interactions between water availability, quality and flood risk management, land management, visitor and rural economy and habitat decline. Therefore, significant progress will only be made by recognising wider water environment uses and priorities, and working more coherently across stakeholders and their interests.

In collaboration with the EA and their wide range of stakeholders, this project will apply systems thinking and systemic approaches to understanding, structuring and measuring the catchment water system complexity of the Cumbria Pioneer. It will develop a novel Systems Water Management framework for Catchment Scale Processes (CASYWat) that will guide and support practical interpretation and demonstration of the key concepts underpinning the 25YEP. The framework will define the components of the system, relationships between these components, and a shared meta-model that integrates these elements. This will enable the complexity to be communicated to, and understood by the stakeholders, so that they can develop a shared purpose and collective strategy for integrated catchment management in the Cumbrian context, and engage in effective decision-making.

The work is proposed as a 12-months placement with Dr Mijic working 80% of time as part of the EA. The work programme consists of three stages (S), namely: (S1) How to approach complexity in a catchment water management system? This stage will put catchment water management into systems thinking context, map individual concerns of key stakeholders involved in the Cumbria Pioneer water management decisions and develop individual perceptual models of the catchment water management system; (S2) How to integrate the components to describe a catchment water management system? This stage will develop a shared meta-model of the system and a prototype version of the CASYWat framework; (S3) How to use the developed framework to analyse the system and assess its performance? This stage will test the applicability of the CASYWat framework using the Cumbia Pioneer case studies defined in S1, and map systems and other assessment tools (including environmental modelling, system dynamics and natural capital assessment) that can be used to quantify Measures of Success defined in S2.

The project will build strongly upon earlier work of the applicant. Dr Mijic has a strong track record of process understanding, advanced modelling and analysis of complex water systems. The outcomes from her NERC funded catchment water management projects (NE/I022485/1 and NE/N01670X/1) will feed directly into the placement. She will also draw upon her expertise in systems approach to urban water management (Climate KIC Blue Green Dream) and the Environmental Risks to Infrastructure projects that were delivered in collaboration with multiple partners, including the EA and the London Borough of Barnet (NE/M008169/1) and Thames Water (NE/M008312/1), respectively. Finally, the work will be strongly linked with the recently awarded NERC RISE programme grant (CAMELLIA), where Dr Mijic is leading the development of the Systems Water Management Framework for Urban Scale Processes (USYWat).


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Description A number of recommendations arose from developing systems maps using the SYWM framework and meta-model. Regional (multiple catchments) water management (RWM) analyses emphasised the need for water planning coordination between sectors such as water and housing. This could be approached from a water neutrality perspective. The role of environmental services, and in particular, surface water quality, is proposed as an indicator that could be used to inform land and infrastructure planning, including coordinating water supply and wastewater infrastructure design and operation. The role of urban water demand management could significantly contribute to optimising overall system performance. Finally, the study recommended using the developed RWM systems map (in current or revised versions) as a starting point for open discussion about the water management system and to communicate key feedbacks that may lead to unintended consequences. This is demonstrated, for example, by interactions between flood management, urbanisation and consumption behaviour, potentially leading to an increase in flood risk if water demand reductions result in decreases in abstractions and increases in environmental flows. A range of relevant stakeholders should be included in these discussions, with beneficiaries (for example, industry sectors) and users (for example, citizens) being an essential part of the water management governance system.
Analysis of the water quality system of the Windermere Lake in Cumbria conceptualised the role of activities resulting from service and industry sectors, and tourism in particular, in defining the water management issues and informing possible measures for water pollution management. Leverage point analysis revealed that most infrastructure and technological solutions, unless implemented across the system as a whole, will be limited in solving the systemic causes of Windermere lake water pollution. However, infrastructure schemes such as wastewater recycling and reuse, as well as providing timely and relevant information about consumption and the state of the local environment to local stakeholders, residents and visitors, could provide significant systems-level water quality benefits. The role of coordination and environmental regulation, in particular linked to a visitor economy, was emphasised as a high leverage point. Beyond the UK, global trends such as the climate emergency and the Green New Deal could potentially fundamentally change how we think about and evaluate complex human-natural water systems.
This work, while covering multiple water management aspects, could potentially be developed and implemented further. In this work, we have limited the analyses by focusing on water and inland ecosystems and selected sectors relevant to water management. However, this scope could easily be expanded in future studies by introducing additional elements within SYWM subsystems. Concepts such as ecology and biodiversity, additional ecosystems such as marine, industry (for example, mining) and service sectors (for example, energy and transport) could be added to the SYWM framework. Finally, we need to refine and expand the high-level maps by working together with stakeholders. We hope that this work will help to promote systems thinking in the context of catchment water management and that the SYWM framework and meta-model will be used as a guide for analysing, modelling and assessing water management systems, thereby creating a range of case studies to validate SYWM thinking.
Exploitation Route Findings are now widely disseminated within DEFRA and the Environment Agency.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Transport

Description The findings are planned to be used for further Environment Agency engagement with their stakeholders and by Royal Academy of Engineering as a system engineering water management application case study. Furthermore, the work has now been taken into transforming the framework into an operational context, for analysing the issue of Combined Sewer Overflows.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Community Water Management for a Liveable London (CAMELLIA)
Amount £4,079,082 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S003495/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2023
Description Input into the Systems approach to combined sewer overflow report 
Organisation Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution In the report, the CASYWat work has been used to provide a theoretical basis for combined sewer overflow (CSO) system mapping.
Collaborator Contribution CIWEM is running the project, they have run a set of workshops from which the data are used to create CSO systems maps. CIWEM is also writing the biggest part of the report.
Impact The report will be published in April 2022
Start Year 2022
Description Operational water systems framework for integrated catchment water management (CASYWat-OP) 
Organisation Environment Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The aim of the project is to demonstrate how the model can facilitate decision-making around Integrated Water Management (IWM) challenges where the collaboration and shared vision between multiple actors is necessary. Thanks to the systems approach, the focus of the research will shift from 'what can be done' to 'how it can be done'. The value of the resulting map can be seen in its ability to: - Map a set of interventions (leverage points) across the system, including technological, social and policy options. - Develop scenarios that we want to simulate a part of the IWM strategy development.
Collaborator Contribution The Environment Agency team is providing advisory role and link with local stakeholders.
Impact A joint Research Digest will be published by the end of 2022.
Start Year 2021
Description Systems workshop for policy and decision making 
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Royal Academy of Engineering is currently preparing a range of policy workshop that will focus on system engineering application. The CASYWat project will be used as one of the case studies, and Dr Mijic will participate in the workshops.
Collaborator Contribution The Royal Academy of Engineering has created links with the Chief Scientific Advisors from all relevant Government Departments and is leading the preparation of workshop material and event organisation.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2020
Description Cumbria stakeholder engagement meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Preliminary results from the CASYWat project were presented and input from the local stakeholders in Cumbria was obtained.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description DEFRA expert workshop to review and consider Defra's evidence with regard to achieving our water environment goals 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A workshop for around 10 expert participants with DEFRA officials and independent external experts to consider the evidence programme in a Three Horizons frame.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Stakeholder engagement event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A systems approach to finding common ground: The environment, partnerships and governance - identifying shared priorities for action informing local and national approaches was organised with the following aim:

Following a National Water Leaders Group meeting in October 2018 where action was agreed to understand and improve the role of partnerships in helping "to leave our environment in a better state within our generation". This is how we are moving into a new era, engaging and improving programmes for flood, stewardship and our environment while preparing for EU Exit. There is a wider desire to improve understanding of the environment system, identifying gaps and shared priorities for action that partnerships can take. This workshop aims to involve people in positive action, share inspiring examples and describing the physical environment and social system.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019