The PhD students at KWR: working on innovative solutions for a sustainable future

KWR works intensively with stakeholders and knowledge institutes in Europe. We participate in a range of large European research projects, with the Water Futures project as a prominent example. This six-year research project is funded by the European Research Council’s (ERC) Synergy Grant, with a budget of € 10 million. In Water Futures, KWR is joining forces with partners from four European countries: Greece, Germany, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. Water Futures is focusing on the development of flexible and future-resilient tools for water distribution networks so that they can continue to adapt to new challenges in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.

Four of our PhD students will be working on the Water Futures project in 2023. They will each concentrate on a different aspect of the water distribution networks: scenarios, quality, design and control. They describe their research areas below and talk about the highlights and challenges for them of the 2023 Water Futures project.

Christos Michalopoulus – scenarios

Christos Michalopoulus has been with KWR and the Water Futures project since 2023. He concentrates primarily on the different future scenarios for water distribution networks, studying the wide-ranging uncertainties that designers must address when designing those networks. Christos is developing techniques using Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) to anticipate future scenarios.

Konstantinos Glynis – quality

Like Michalopoulus, Konstantinos Glynis has been working on the Water Futures project since 2023. He is looking at water quality. His research focuses on developing a model for biofilm in drinking water distribution systems. Above all, that model has to be simple, with few parameters that need calibration. Nevertheless, it must properly simulate biofilm dynamics in different parts of distribution pipelines.

Lydia Tsiami – design

Lydia Tsiami is studying the design of water distribution networks. Her research is on the development of decision-making tools for the strategic planning and long-term design of water distribution networks under deep uncertainty. She deploys adaptive machine-learning techniques for this purpose, particularly reinforcement learning. 

Dennis Zanutto – control

Dennis Zanutto works on managing and controlling water distribution networks. He studies how drinking water distribution systems work, how to manage and control them and, more specifically, how we can use the controllable elements in the short term to design a more robust and flexible infrastructure that can cope with uncertainties in the long term.

Highlights of 2023


The International Computing & Control for the Water Industry Conference (CCWI) in September 2023 discussed the highlights of the latest developments in the water industry. Zanutto presented his work here under the title “Operational considerations for the long-term design of Water Distribution Systems”. Glynis gave a presentation on TUBES, KWR’s controlled test environment for research into drinking water distribution.

For Tsiami, CCWI was extra special. At this conference, she was presented with the “Best Student Paper and Presentation” award for her exploratory study of alternative Machine Learning techniques for optimising water networks. “It was incredibly unexpected for me but a very nice surprise.”

The Battle of Water Networks

A particular highlight for Michalopoulus and Zanutto was the launch of the ‘Battle of Water Networks’ in 2023. This competition was organised to find the best method for predicting water consumption in different urban areas for a city in Italy. Michalopoulus and Zanutto are participating in the competition as members of a team of sixteen experts, along with partners from the other four European countries in the Water Futures project. Their team is working on the design of a Machine Learning Model that can predict hourly water consumption. Zanutto explains: “The great thing here is that we managed to get very different approaches to work together, and the collective result worked better than the individual approaches.” Michalopoulus agrees: “The collaboration between the various experts and areas of expertise in my team taught me a lot. We are looking forward to the results of the competition, which will be announced in July 2024.” In the meantime, the team members have intensive contact with each other.

Challenges in 2023 and for the future

The PhD students in the Water Futures project see the main challenge as the simultaneous development of innovative solutions and approaches to managing the urban distribution networks of the future, and encouraging the water sector to take bold steps in practical application. Tsiami: “KWR’s unique position and collaboration with the water sector creates a bridge between research and practice, with solutions focused on the genuine challenges. By including uncertainty in decision-making and investing in flexible infrastructure, the water sector can adapt better, mitigate risk and establish efficient, sustainable networks.”