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Participatory models now Live & open for comments & feedback

Water for Tomorrow’s first set of participatory models is now live! These show an initial shared representation of water use and management across a catchment for four sectors: agriculture, ecology, industry and water companies. These prototype models have been developed by The Rivers Trust, following initial Water for Tomorrow stakeholder workshops and 1-1 interviews with representatives for each sector. As we continue to gather feedback from the sectors through workshops and online, the models will evolve.

The prototype models are currently generic across the three English catchments covered by the Water for Tomorrow project, and the next step will be to identify where adaptations are necessary to more accurately represent the realities of the three individual catchments.

Why participatory modelling?

Catchments are very complex systems. How we use and manage water across them varies enormously depending on who we are and what we are using water for. Not one person can have a complete picture of the hydrological, environmental, political, legal, economic and social processes that are relevant to solving water problems. Participatory models help us to map out how things work in the real world, based on the views of lots of different people.

We want to do this for water in the Cam and Ely Ouse, East Suffolk and Broadland catchments so that we can find the best solutions for sectors to adapt to water shortages.

What do the models tell us so far ?


  • Water stress affects agricultural productivity and profitability. Too little water leads to lower yields. Over time this could drive down profits and force farmers to sell land for other uses.
  • If agricultural land is sold for other uses, less food and resources can be produced locally and more food may need to be imported, displacing the demands on water to another catchment.
  • Water stress can be reduced by improving access to water, and by using water efficiently, for example storing water when it is plentiful for use in dryer periods.


  • Diverse and high-quality habitats support diverse and thriving ecological communities. They are important for biodiversity and carbon storage, and for a healthy water cycle.
  • Habitat can only be present, created or restored where the conditions are right, e.g high groundwater levels. How much becomes established will depend on competition from other land uses or habitat types.
  • Climate change, land use and abstraction can impact on the characteristics of water. If the characteristics no longer match the requirements of particular habitats they may decline and eventually be lost from the catchment.


The industry sector is very broad and uses water in different ways. In general:

  • If there is enough water available production can increase, leading to high levels of revenue. If water is likely to remain available in the long-term businesses may expand and others may move into the catchment.
  • If there is not enough water production and revenue will fall. Over time, businesses may close or relocate out of the catchment. 
  • Changes in production can have knock on impacts on other sectors, e.g. agriculture use some by-products for feed or soil improvements. There could also be impacts for wider society e.g. changes in local employment opportunities.

Water Companies

  • Water companies carefully balance the supply of water to meet the demands of the public.
  • The supply of water is determined by how much water can be abstracted from surface and groundwater sources. These abstractions are carefully regulated to ensure enough water is left for the environment.
  • Losses of water during the treatment processes and leakages from pipes means that not all water abstracted will reach customers.
  • Surplus surface water can be stored in reservoirs. This water can then be used to help meet demand when abstraction is limited.  
  • Water companies can reduce the chance of supply not meeting demand
    through demand management or by investing in options to increase supply. These options take a lot of time, investment and planning.

Next Steps

As we bring the different sector models together into a larger model, we will start to see how decisions made by one sector can affect other sectors in the catchment.

We want to make sure these models are as representative as they can be for each sector so invite anyone who uses water to ‘test’ and feedback on these prototype models. In the first instance, we will privilege feedback from people who work in the sector each model represents but we welcome comments from anyone who uses water in one of the 3 pilot sites for the project. Workshops will also be held throughout 2022 where these models will be presented and developed even further.