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Future-proofing flood modelling: the six biggest challenges (and solutions)

Climate change is ramping up the need for faster, more detailed flood modelling, but six obstacles are slowing our progress. To overcome them, we need a combination of streamlined workflows, empowered talent and purposeful partnerships to integrate hydrological and hydraulic modelling for better results. By Adam Parkes, Technical Director - Hydrology Flood modelling is at an inflection point. Thanks to the impact of climate change, our industry is scaling up the analysis we need to do, both in quantity and quality, as it will help protect communities and infrastructure across the globe. As the requirements on modellers grow, the amount of data produced becomes even more complex. This compounds the problem, meaning we’ll need to look at even more permutations and options, return periods, storm durations, climate change predictions. We’re talking about more extensive data sets and higher pressure on processes, technology and people.

We need more modellers, hydrologists and river engineers to meet the demands of flood risk management as it stands, and that demand is only getting exponentially bigger as climate change ratchets up. We’re also due significant innovation in tools and methods, especially within hydrology, as we’re still using methods broadly unchanged in 20 years. They’ve evolved along the way, but it’s time for a step change.

The question is: how do we move forward to ensure we meet this rising demand with accurate, timely results? In a short answer, we need to fix the disconnect between hydraulics and hydrology and have broader integration across workstreams. We must empower the right people with the right tools to work more efficiently.

The good news? We’ve got brilliant talent and technology dedicated to this challenge. Even better, there’s a solution now available – one that integrates hydrological and hydraulic modelling for the first time to tackle these six obstacles.

The six biggest obstacles to faster, scaled-up modelling:

1. Siloed software.

Key hydrology software has historically been licensed on a “per computer basis”, preventing flexible access to tools across teams. In the world of hybrid working, this stifles efficient working. It also has implications for quality. There's a higher risk of making errors because it is also disjointed, and you are double- or triple-handling the data. Specifically, there's a risk in the crossover between disciplines. For example, if you're a hydrologist and you hand your information over to a hydraulic modeller, a lot can be lost in translation between the two occupations. That results in higher risk and impacts the quality. Solution: Network licences and flexible, affordable access to software.

A cloud licensing lets you share software across an organisation, and it does two things: it ramps up collaboration and productivity, and secondly, it helps to drive quality assurance. It’s a smart move that saves costs and time and empowers the right people. It also minimises human error as there’s less sharing across different formats and spreadsheets.

2. Slow, complicated access to accurate historical data.

This is an industry-wide problem. For example, suppose I need specific river data to understand certain river flows or the rainfall in a particular catchment. In that case, there are several different places I can find it, but it’s a time-consuming, admin-heavy task. You can't just hit a website and download it. You often have to request it from the organisation, which varies depending on the request; with requests often taking days to be processed. Once received, then there's no standardised way of storing and manipulating that data. Bottom line: it results in many inefficiencies.

Solution: Instantaneous access to data in one place. With many key datasets now accessible via APIs, we can access data directly in a consistent way which will save untold time and money. Practitioners can import data directly into their analysis and more effectively visualise the information. It cuts out mucking around with emails, CSV files, and incompatible formats, and it upgrades data gathering and data management for greater reliability, accuracy and ease of use. For hydrologists specifically, a library of recorded data would make analysis much easier and faster. On a related note, use of a common data environment for hydrological information allows direct application of hydrology to models, avoiding the need for more data handling.

3. Lack of data provenance and longevity

Often, you’ll have a hydraulic model, but it won't have hydrology embedded within it. So, for example, I'll know what flows are used to produce my flood outline, but I won't have anything in there that tells me how those flows were derived. Because of that lack of integration, all that embedded knowledge is lost, and you risk unnecessarily repeating studies. Added to this problem is the issue of updating with minor changes.

Solution: Integrated hydrological and hydraulic modelling Hydrological and hydraulic analysis held in the same place, leveraging the hydrological database. This facilitates rapid updates to hydrology and models, reducing abortive / repetitive work and ensuring the model lifecycle is recorded.

4. Complicated workflows.

As a hydrologist, I’ve constantly got to manipulate and handle data in different formats. I start with Excel because it's the most commonly available tool, and then I process it and pass it into separate software to do my analysis. It’s just inefficient and wastes time.

Solution: Streamlined workflows You should be able to take your data straight into a hydrological analysis at the click of a button, and it will remove the need for all those intermediary steps and bring that data closer. You will still have ownership over your analysis, but we’re trying to avoid going outside the software or unnecessarily searching for things.

5. Admin-heavy documentation processes. Our clients often ask for very detailed documents describing the hydrological analysis we’ve done, and these are challenging work to generate. You copy reams of information from different software programs and spreadsheets into a complex document. There's obviously a higher risk there, as there’s a good chance you’ll transpose data incorrectly when copying and pasting it or when manually writing it up. If you need to revise your calculations, you’ll have to go and update everything in that document, with even more added risk.

Solution: Inbuilt automation. It’s a no-brainer. You don’t need to spend your limited time and energy creating reports; you can spend your time applying your knowledge to provide better outcomes, with your proforma automatically populated and held with your project data.

6. Repetitive, time-wasting data-handling tasks. The industry's growing quickly, so there’s an increasing challenge in getting the right skills. However, even outside of hiring and training more people, it’s also a question of resource management; we could be much more efficient in what we’re doing. Our teammates shouldn’t be spending so much time copying and pasting data between software and spreadsheets; they should be applying their knowledge. Early careers colleagues shouldn’t be lumped with boring, repetitive work. We'd rather that they focus on making the analysis better rather than wrangling text files.

Solution: Empowered resource management. Less time on admin and repetitive tasks, and better use of employee resources.

We’re building the future of flood modelling together. The drive to innovate and iterate is being led by our clients’ demands to do more complex, detailed and challenging analysis. The technology in our industry will grow to match that. However, there is one thing that we can rely on to speed up the process: collaboration.

Flood Modeller's Hydrology+ streamlines the integration of hydrological and hydraulic analysis. This not only reduces costs but also ensures a transparent audit trail and synchronisation across the hydrological and hydraulic modelling technical disciplines and workflows.  

Thanks to our exclusive collaboration with Wallingford HydroSolutions (WHS), the integration of WHS’ UK industry-standard WINFAP and ReFH2 hydrological packages with Flood Modeller introduces significantly enhanced flexibility and time-saving benefits for both hydrologists and hydraulic modellers.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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