Is flow control in a space-constrained drainage network effective? A performance assessment for combined sewer overflow reduction

Wenqi Wang, João P. Leitão, Omar Wani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recurring combined sewer overflows (CSOs) can have a significant impact on the ecological condition of receiving water bodies. There are several structural measures, like adding retention basins and switching to low impact development solutions, that have been proposed to reduce the number of sewage overflows. Besides, several flow control strategies have been discussed in scientific literature that take advantage of the space within urban drainage networks, which is assumed to be adequate, for temporary storage. The adequacy of such storage space, however, is not a universally valid assumption as a large fraction of drainage networks frequently operate close to their design discharge. In this paper, we investigate the efficacy of flow control for a space-constrained drainage network. We employ a low-cost, heuristic real time control strategy with the use of flow control devices (FCDs) and available in-sewer space to reduce the magnitude of CSOs. We consider the performance of the proposed control strategy and discuss the effect of FCD location on CSO reduction. Our results, based on over 300 rainfall-event simulations, show that the flow control strategy using limited sewer capacity is more efficient during relatively small rainfall events, where the CSO is large enough to enable reduction using the chosen control rules. The CSO is reduced, to varying degrees, for around 80% of rainfall events with peak intensity between 10 and 20 mm h−1. For larger rainfall events, the flow control is more unstable in response to abrupt water release during control operation, which seems to be unavoidable because of the water accumulation effect and the transition to pressurized pipe flow in space-constrained networks. We also found that the flow control performance is highly sensitive to the FCD location – as it depends on the interplay of the peak rainfall intensity and the water level condition immediately upstream of the FCD. The efficacy of a location for flow control is determined by the unfilled capacity (i.e., effective in-sewer storage potential) in the pipe upstream of the FCD during the rainfall peak; furthermore, the location also has to be resistant to the water accumulation effect. Using our analysis, we substantiate two anticipated caveats to flow control strategies when the storage space is limited in a drainage network: diminished performance in CSO reduction and the appearance of additional control-related challenges, which are otherwise mitigated in more spacious networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111688
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Combined sewer overflow
  • Flow control device
  • In-sewer storage
  • Real time control
  • Urban drainage network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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