UDG 2023: Reflections and opportunities in 2024

Built Environment, Energy & Climate Change, Management & Regulation, Natural Environment, Processed Water, Waste & Resources, Water Resources

After another packed Urban Drainage Group Annual Conference at the tail end of 2023, CIWEM's Director of Innovation & Delivery, Paul Shaffer, looks back at the core themes and what comes next for urban drainage management.

Scooping the accolade in the SuDS Special Award Winner category for Outstanding Contribution to SuDS back in 2021, Shaffer is no stranger to urban drainage management, playing a live role in this special division of CIWEM, where innovation and nature blend together to find solutions to complex challenges facing the sector.

The conference is a forum for presenters, showcasing work, ideas, processes and discussion of the latest knowledge, techniques and research. The thought-provoking content was delivered through presentations, roundtables and workshops addressing the critical challenges of:

Storm water discharges - A hot media topic with an urgent need for the community to deliver solutions, the conference discussed Action Plans and the journey to delivery within Asset Management Period 8 and beyond, including resources, training, and innovative blue-green approaches.

Big data - As the volume of information on asset condition and performance increases, our speakers delved into the most critical steps to take right now, and how to translate this into benefits for customers and the environment.

Sewerage planning – With the dust settling on Cycle 1 of the Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans, there was a chance to reflect on the successes, translation to Periodic Review, what is meant ‘Best Value Plan’, and improvements and revisions that built on these reflections in preparation for Cycle 2.

How integrated is Integrated Water Management?

With 307 delegates in attendance over the three days in addition to 24 exhibitors, a mixture of lively roundtables and CIWEM-facilitated Q&A's and networking breakout groups, The Eastside Rooms in Birmingham were alive with debate and learning on 6-8 December 2023.

In comparison to past conferences, Paul Shaffer began by saying: "I’ve been going to the UDG Conference for about 20 years. I’m no doubt biased, but I can’t remember a UDG conference that was so positively charged with connections being made, or strengthened. The exhibition hall was buzzing!"

With a focus on delivering a better environment, managing flood and pollution risks with blue-green infrastructure, Shaffer added: "It was also great to see Integrated Water Management (IWM) get an airing and explored with enthusiasm. With climate change, approaches to IWM need to be discussed… we just need to bottom out how integrated” IWM really is. I hope we can get to the stage where we’re holistically joining up all parts of our water cycle."

CIWEM has regular tackled the subject of IWM, and recently launched a new initiative called Enabling Water Smart Communities, which will aims to rethink whole-life water stewardship.

Speaker roster

Some speaker highlights from our audience survey signalled out the likes of:

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find a collection of speaker highlights right here.

"The conference content was broad, but the individual presentations and associated Q&A sessions provided the opportunity to explore some of the detail around modelling processes, drainage and wastewater planning and an enthusiastic, yet cautionary transition to Nature-Based Solutions," Shaffer continued.

"It was a busy time for the sector. With the Business Plan submissions submitted a couple of months earlier, there were still a number of delegates fielding queries from colleagues back at the office, as they responded to inquiries from the regulators and their clients. With the submission of Drainage and Waste Water Management Plans earlier in the year, together with water companies fast-tracking the delivery of Nature-Based Solutions and partnerships, it seemed like the relevance of the work of CIWEM’s Urban Drainage Group and the value of the conference had never been higher," he added.

A spark of optimism in a challenging time

It’s been a "challenging couple of years" for those organisations involved in water and pollution management, according to Shaffer.

Elaborating, he added: "The people who attended and contributed to the conference has changed significantly in recent years. In terms of diversity and inclusion it’s great to see a more (but not totally) equal gender split. It was also encouraging to see a number of early career professionals and the quality of the Adam Dean award (*which focuses on those starting out in their career, encouraging them to talk with and present to their peers across the industry to share their knowledge and expertise) and presentations from our emerging leaders were really encouraging."

The spirit of resilience and the determination to collaborate and knowledge-share was evident throughout the duration of the conference, which clearly had an effect on the UDG committee and Shaffer himself.

"The passion and energy of those working in urban drainage to deliver better outcomes for the environment, communities and ‘customers’ was clear and strong. I left feeling equal parts inspired and humbled by colleagues in the sector," he concluded.

Sponsors Wavin were equally engaged by the event content, adding: "Urban Drainage Conference 2023 has given us a lot to think about from the opportunity to use big data in water management to the effective use of asset management in sewerage planning.

By partnering across the industry, we aspire to significantly reduce the impact climate change is having on our cities, making them more resilient in the face of environmental changes. We strive to find a fresh perspective on urban water management and explore innovative solutions to transform our cities into greener, healthier, and more sustainable places to live."

On the increasing demand for sustainable solutions, co-sponsor Hydroinformatics concluded: "We believe this will be achieved through implementation of green infrastructure, rather than traditional hard engineering. The environmental impact is at the forefront of all our urban drainage modelling through a pragmatic and collaborative approach."

Spring registration opens for UDG Training Day

UDG Learning Hubs

UDG continues its all-year-round efforts to share best practice and upskill with pop-up training days country-wide this coming spring.

In the intricate world of urban drainage, navigating data management and modelling tools is no mere optional skill; it's a cornerstone. With mounting pressures to manage overflows, network capacity, floods, and river health, enhancing transparency and understanding around the effective use of data and models becomes paramount.

From initial business plans to detailed design, managing data, information, and modelling informs investment decisions throughout a project's lifespan. Whether you're a modeler, designer, asset manager, or compliance expert for water companies, local authorities, regulators, or consultants, mastering these skills unlocks your potential.

The ability to choose and confidently apply appropriate modelling approaches, tailored to their intended purpose, is crucial. As drainage and sewerage planning evolves, embracing big data and transitioning to Nature-Based Solutions makes the need for broader competencies and capacity in urban drainage modelling more evident.

To help you tackle today's challenges and become future-proof in shaping resilient and sustainable urban drainage systems: Register for a UDG Training Day.

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