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Water world

Research

Access to water will be the flashpoint for 21st century wars as demand rises and resources dwindle, experts predict. In parallel, the devastating floods seen in recent years are forecast to become ever more savage.

What is needed, says HR Wallingford chief executive Mike Thorn, is a fully integrated computer model for water resources management - a 'holistic' virtual environment in which the interaction of meteorological data and topography, vegetation and ground conditions can be monitored. Thorn's model would allow for parameters to be endlessly altered, allowing engineers to work on hydraulic solutions for city or countryside, mountains and meadows, northern England, central Africa or south Asia.

'There's already demand for this kind of resource and it'll get greater,' Thorn says. HR Wallingford initially wants the model for study of catchment, flooding, and water resources management in the UK. 'But everybody is going to need this kind of resource. It has fantastic export applications,' Thorn comments.

Creating the model would involve bringing together a huge number of existing hydraulic modelling tools that are currently unable to interact. 'It may require some further physical modelling, but ultimately would be an IT-based simulation requiring a very big computer,' Thorn notes. Nonetheless, he adds, the system could be delivered in between three to five years with good funding. The £1M would get the project a long way.

'The measurable benefit would be reduction of drought, increase in water reliability and reduction of damage due to flooding,' says Thorn. In the UK one of the system's major attractions would be real-time and predictive modelling ofrainfall distribution as weather systems develop. Flood warning systems could be dramatically improved. It would also enable engineers to look at the balance between run-off and replenishment of aquifers.

Richard Wooldridge, HR Wallingford, (01491) 835381

rw@hrwallingford.co.uk

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