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Josef Hargrave

Global foresight manager

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Digital Tide: envisioning the water industry in 2050

Digital Tide

Envisioning the water industry in 2050

Focus Area

Digital, Water


Digital Environments, Global Research Challenge 2016, Sustainability, Water


Global, UKMEA



The challenges to the water industry in the coming decades are diverse and multi-faceted:

  • The emergence of the competitive market in the UK will present the industry with entirely new commercial, dynamic and infrastructural requirements.
  • Water scarcity in Australia and USA is driving a need to make the best use of water supplied and engage citizens in behaving differently.
  • Limited water resources available to serve an expanding population, coupled with increasing climate-related challenges.
  • Ageing water and waste water infrastructure needs care and attention to ensure future operations.
  • Bills need to remain at affordable levels for all segments of society.
  • Waste water is increasingly being seen as a potential valuable resource to be harvested and managed.
  • A healthy and vibrant environment benefits communities and supports agriculture as well as environmental and societal wellbeing.
  • Diverse stakeholders must come together to ensure a long-term sustainable water cycle, including environmental agencies, local and national government, health agencies, businesses and communities.
  • Different issues exist for urban and rural environments, and for rich and poor communities.
  • The need for integrated, holistic thinking that encompasses catchment-wide considerations is essential.

The rapid and ongoing evolution of digital technologies capable of transforming water services – including sensors, wireless networks, power sources, cloud analytics, mobile computing, powerful data modelling, and the internet of things – offer new ways to address these challenges and opportunities.

This project is funded under Arup’s Global Research Challenge 2016-17.

Key Findings

The research aims to explore and understand the prospects for water provision in 2050, the opportunities digital technology may bring, and the actions that can be taken now to release this value. Learning from industry, academia and customers, we aim to shape this understanding and to focus attention on how digital technology can be applied to address current and future challenges of the water industry to 2050.

Digital Tide is an Arup-led team spanning disciplines and geographies within the firm, supported by sector expertise, digital skills, key clients and academic partners. Arup has established a partnership with the Twenty65 consortium of six research-intensive university water departments, complemented by the University of Bristol, a specialist in digital innovation.

The consortium will produce and disseminate a report ‘Digital Tide: A 2050 Vision of the Water Industry’. This will communicate a much needed coherent vision of the transformative impact of digital disruption in relation to the Earth’s most vital resource, backed by evidence from case studies, modelling and stakeholder engagement.



The Digital Tide 2050 report will be a seminal publication in the water sector, communicating a unique and much needed vision.

The results of this project will provide cutting-edge understanding on the challenges of resilience, including water supply interruption, inferior water quality and unequal access to water supply.

The project findings will enable us to help industry leaders and practitioners to understand the best strategies to harness digital opportunities to provide water supplies in a manner that supports healthy, equitable, sustainable economies.