The City as a Water Resource

The City as a Water Resource

Can we close the urban water cycle by integrating stormwater management with water supply management? Focusing on integrated urban water management from a household, to the street through to the catchment level, can incorporating dual function rainwater harvesting and sustainable drainage systems offer a key solution?


Watch out new video talking about our research here


In the UK the status quo for all water applications is to use chlorinated drinking water. However, rainwater (water captured from roofs) and greywater (water recovered from showers and sinks) can be easily captured, treated and re-used. The successful application of these water reuse systems has been shown to reduce mains water demand by approximately 50%. In addition, the re-use of rainwater has been proven to reduce downstream stormwater discharges and thus these systems can be designed to provide multiple benefits within our cities.


By using buildings as collection devices, routing the rainwater through guttering and downpipes and into storage tanks, it should be possible to both reduce the volume of rainwater reaching urban drains, and to save that water for local (re)use.


The City as a Water Resource team will focus on the need for integrated urban water management. The vision involves the installation, use and monitoring of novel water re-use technologies. Installations are planned at households and business premises within the Birmingham Urban Demonstrator site. We have partnered with CIRIA and Severn Trent Water (STW) to undertake an ambitious study which will involve the installation of dual function systems, i.e. those which provide local water supplies and control stormwater discharges.


The research theme therefore aims to improve our understanding of the complexities of water re-use within cities to investigate the following objectives:


  1. Identify practical opportunities for retrofitting dual function Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)/Rainwater harvesting (RWH) technologies within typical urban catchments;
  2. Develop modelling and assessment tools to quantify the benefits associated with implementing these measures at household, street and city/catchment scale in terms of reducing potable water supply, reductions in flood risk, sewer overflows and energy savings for the total water system; and
  3. Gather evidence from the monitoring of a selection of new measures in a live UK Demonstrator catchment. The proposal will utilise and add value to the newly-established STW Birmingham Urban Demonstrator Project, providing a unique test-bed for innovative technologies and (retrofit) implementation strategies. In collaboration with STW, we will implement two ambitious schemes. The current funding request adds value to the STW demonstrator and maximises the potential for synergistic funded follow-on bids.

How can people get involved?

The community and businesses within the Urban Demonstrator site will be actively engaged by the CIRIA project supported by a team of community engagement specialists from the independent specialist firm Arup, however if you are interested in collaborating on this area of research, please contact the Water Innovation Hub on


Theme Four’s Peter Melville-Shreeve, was featured on a local BBC news item demonstrating how smart stormwater control systems can be deployed. South West Water funded the project to engage school children, save water and limit downstream sewer flows. Pete’s team delivered the design and installation of the systems and delivered co-creation workshops, to enable the pupils to design the downpipe features. This output represents one of the UK’s first rainwater tanks that is now emptied before storms to manage sewer flows. Watch the feature:

Rainwater harvesting at St Josephs School Exmouth - courtesy of the BBC


Academic participants in this theme

Professor David Butler

Dr Virginia Stovin

Peter Melville-Schreeve