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AECOMs Katie Pearson helps protect aquatic ecosystems

AECOM's Katie Pearson helps protect aquatic ecosystems

 February 13, 2024

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AECOM's People Spotlight series provides an inside look at the company's technical experts around the world.

Meet AECOM Technical Director from AECOM's Water business in the UK, Katie Pearson.

Katie and her team deliver solutions that protect aquatic ecosystems and help communities reduce flood risks. Learn more about Katie's flood forecasting work with the Environment Agency, and gain an insight into her career inspirations and role with AECOM.

AECOM careers Technical Director, Water

Delivering social value through her work

Katie is the Technical Head of Modelling for AECOM's Water business in the UK and Ireland. She leads a community of modellers who deliver a wide range of hydrological and hydraulic modelling for public and private sector clients.

Katie's role covers quality, training and development, innovation and improvement. She also manages modelling frameworks for the UK’s Environment Agency and Anglian Water, a UK water company that serves the east of England. Katie is passionate about delivering social value through her work and is committed to growing skills in the industry.

Passion for the water environment and sustainable solutions

AECOM water sustainable solutions

Katie explains that her educational background in Environmental Science was a great start to applying science to solve real world problems.

"Through the range of modules I studied at university, I realised that it was the water environment that interested me most. Working in the industry also made me realise that my passion lies in developing sustainable solutions to solve complex problems," says Katie.

"I love the numerical element of water modelling, for example, the statistical analysis that allows us to estimate the probability of flood flows based on extrapolation from recorded river flow data. We can combine that with climate change science to predict how flood probability might change in the future, so that is accounted for in our projects."

Katie and her team build models as tools that can be used to identify areas at risk and then test potential interventions to reduce that risk. As modellers, their challenge is to analyse and present their results to communities and stakeholders, and Katie enjoys working with the teams around how to do that.

Role of Lead Verifier in modelling investigations

Katie really enjoys her role of being the Lead Verifier for AECOM's modelling investigations in the Tame and Trent catchment ares of the UK for the Affinity Water Minworth and Grand Union Canal linked to potential new Strategic Resource Options (SROs).

"These investigations are needed to demonstrate to the regulators and stakeholders that the baseline conditions in the catchment are understood by the project team and that any potential impacts of the SROS have been thoroughly assessed. Regulators need to be assured of this before important projects such as this can pass to the next phase of planning and design," explains Katie.

Applying skills and experience to new problems

Katie and her team are undertaking a range of hydrological and hydraulic modelling. This will inform the evidence base that’s needed to understand the environmental impacts of any change in the rivers’ normal flow regime because of the SROs, for example whether there are longer or shorter periods of low flow conditions and the impacts this might have on life in the river. The modelling can then be used to consider how the projects can be designed to mitigate those impacts.

"There are several different aspects to our modelling strategy including hydrological modelling, 1D and 2D hydraulic modelling and water quality modelling, and as lead verifier, I am responsible for ensuring the quality of our modelling work and making sure we follow an appropriate technical approach that will meet the requirements of our client and the regulators. It’s great to see the interactions between different elements of the modelling and to see our modelling teams applying their skills and experience in ways they haven’t before," explains Katie.

"We have been asked by the regulator to undertake 2D water quality modelling for one reach of the river to assess whether the potential change in flow regime will impact the availability of dissolved oxygen which could affect the aquatic ecology. This is a new kind of modelling not regularly undertaken in the UK and we’re engaging with water quality experts and software developers in Australia to develop and implement an appropriate methodology for this."

Working in sustainable flood risk management

Katie shares that she manages AECOM's delivery of projects on the Environment Agency Mapping and Modelling Framework. Under this framework, Katie and her team have continued to deliver several packages of flood risk modelling and mapping that positively impacts local communities through sustainable flood risk management.

"We’ve recently completed the development and calibration of a new flood forecasting model for a town in Cornwall, England. The new model developed by our team provides increased confidence to Environment Agency Flood Warning duty officers during future flood events which will significantly improve real time flood forecasts for the local community, enabling them to take action to reduce risk and impacts," comments Katie.

Katie's impactful piece of career advice

AECOM Technical Director

When offering career advice to others, Katie says: "if the opportunity isn’t there, create it!"

"Several times in my career, I’ve spotted the potential for a new opportunity for me or for the business that doesn’t quite exist or hasn’t yet been fully framed. When I’ve seen this, I’ve worked with colleagues and leaders to develop the opportunity further and then jumped on it," Katie concludes.

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