Sewage Scenarios

The #SewageScandal (in the UK) is both entirely predictable and entirely unavoidable given the status quo. It’s the inevitable conclusion of the current scenario we are moving toward. Let me explain: A couple of years ago I was hired to empirically create long-term scenarios for water management in Southeast England, paid for by Southern Water plc. These were evidence-based exploratory scenarios created in tandem with land-use and hydrological modelling.

I was asked to make them anthropological rather than just ecological or water focussed, so they took into consideration economic and political evidence of future possibilities. I basically spent 2019/20 analyszing all the evidence and speaking to people across the water sector. Rather than taking the #superforecasting approach, which suffers heavily from being a top-down perspective both in terms of what it forecasts and what it suggests appropriate responses are, I took an orientation approach. This is about defining key orientations that water and its management could move in.

Even based on the limited horizons that employees at Southern Water and other organisations affiliated with Medway Catchment Partnership shared, they showed quite clearly that the very existence of a private water company as an infrastructural institution is deigned to lead to the sewage issues seen of late.  It’s basically a foregone conclusion that what drives such an institution will lead to this kind of outcome. A scientific paper on this research is in progress.

In the meantime I thought I would share these future orientations in the form of two images, so you can see the horizons for water in sotheast England over the coming decade. They are based on a review of the evidence, modelling and expert stakeholder interviews. The first image is a functional description of the processes involved in each orientation. The second is a photomontage of each orientation.

As you can see the bottom-right scenario dubbed ‘Frontier’ reflects where we are going with the #SewageScandal as early indicator. The response to this #SewageScandal has been to either outline massive public investment (‘National Grid’ top-right) or mitigation with nature-based solutions (‘Ethical Consumers’ bottom-left). None of these scenarios are complete pictures of future destinations but potential orientations that we are already moving in. Little awareness or attention seems to be given to a 4th orientation dubbed ‘Clusters’ top-left.

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