Water engineering

Design and optimisation of technologies relating to water resource management, treatment and distribution systems. This research area encompasses engineering research into the management and treatment of waste water and sewerage, including drainage systems.

Water Engineering research in the global and UK context is becoming increasingly important, with future water security a clear priority across government, the water industry and  UK Research & Innovation (evidence source 1,2,9,10). Specifically, we will work with the community to facilitate multidisciplinary working and to address any research leadership gaps.

By the end of the Delivery Plan period, this area will be characterised by a portfolio of high-quality multidisciplinary work, addressing topics such as:

  • Resilience of anthropogenic and environmental water systems to shocks under changing environments
  • Sustainable, long-term management of the water system, from catchment to treatment to resource
  • Achieving water security
  • Water in the circular economy (Evidence source 3)

The community should seek to focus on concepts highlighted in the Engineering Grand Challenge addressing Sustainable Engineering Solutions to Provide Clean Water for All. It should also continue to undertake collaborative research, working with EPSRC, other UKRI Councils and relevant stakeholders to identify, facilitate and stimulate appropriate research and research funding opportunities, leading to tangible impact.

During the Delivery Plan period, we will explore options to establish greater academic leadership throughout the community, including by continuing to encourage fellowships in the area from across relevant disciplines, and will take action as necessary.

This research area complements investments related to the Cities and Infrastructure agenda. In particular, researchers should work to maximise the impact of the investment in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC), (Evidence source 4,5,6) to capitalise on the potential for this investment to further strengthen UK leadership.

This area is of relevance to Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding streams and has seen significant recent funding in this area. Given the community interest, we will continue to explore ODA-related opportunities.


This research area grew slightly over the last Delivery Plan period. However, targeted interventions (e.g. the Big Pitch in Civil Engineering) have grown activities. These have brought new, creative thinking into the area, provided long-term investments and prompted the community to integrate and engage further with stakeholders (e.g. the UK Water Partnership and UK Water Industry Research Ltd) (Evidence source 7, 10).

This area benefits from a strong training component, with two core Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). Over the last Delivery Plan period, the number of EPSRC-funded students across CDTs, Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE) gradually increased. This broadly aligns with the growing industrial demand and increasing relevance of this area. Despite this being a fellowship priority area, only one fellowship was awarded in the last Delivery Plan period (Evidence source 7).

UK water research has made major contributions nationally and internationally, with regard to society, economy and the built and natural environment. This area has been noted as a key societal challenge (Evidence source 1,2,9,10).

The development of novel smart water management solutions will underpin the future successes of the global smart water market, a sector expected to be worth over US$22 billion by 2020. Continued work with the water industry in this research area and other critical areas is core to success (Evidence source 8).

This area is inherently multidisciplinary, with academics well-connected across research boundaries and with industry. Researchers often also have well-developed links with government departments and/or public agencies (Evidence source 7).

Outputs from the EPSRC Water Workshop in February 2016 emphasised the need for a continued multidisciplinary approach (e.g. incorporating flood risk management with sustainable management of water resource systems by exploiting opportunities offered by digital technologies) (Evidence source 3).

The impact of the UKCRIC investment will be important to monitor in the longer term, especially in relation to maximising use of the Urban Water Infrastructure Facility led by Cranfield University, Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield (Evidence source 4).

This area is strongly linked with Coastal and Waterway Engineering, Infrastructure and Urban Systems and Synthetic Biology, with many cross-linking research challenges. There are overlaps with Sensors & Instrumentation, Process Systems: Components and Integration, Clinical Technologies (excluding imaging) and Built Environment, plus links with the Physical Sciences, Digital Economy and Energy Themes.

This research area is essential to delivering against Resilient, Healthy and Productive Nation Outcomes, and the following Ambitions in particular:

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

This research area is critical in the context of the energy-food-water nexus, through the whole-systems approach to resource management.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Research in this area will support a whole-systems approach to ensuring that UK infrastructure capabilities are resilient and underpin the modern economy.

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

Research in this area will be important in adopting a whole-systems approach to ensure integrated resource (water, food, energy) management. In particular, research on the management of waste water, efficient water purification and desalination is essential to delivering a productive, resilient nation.

R5: Build new tools to adapt to and mitigate climate change

In particular, research looking at whole-systems management of the water cycle will incorporate flood risk management, which is an important consideration in climate change.

H2: Improve prevention and public health

This research area will be critical in improving disease prevention and public health through design/optimisation of innovative water treatment/sanitation processes and systems needed to reduce transmission and development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria and genes.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Water Engineering (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Georgina Freeman
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444465