Professor Vanessa Speight

Department of Civil and Structural Engineering

Professor of Integrated Water Systems

CIV Vanessa Speight
Profile picture of CIV Vanessa Speight
+44 114 222 0259

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Professor Vanessa Speight
Department of Civil and Structural Engineering
Room E103b
Sir Frederick Mappin Building (Broad Lane Building)
Mappin Street
S1 3JD

Global population growth and climate change are threatening the security of water supply and our historical approach to water provision may not remain feasible. My research aims to find water solutions with positive impact for people, society, and the environment by accelerating the uptake of innovation across the water sector.

Vanessa is an internationally recognised expert in drinking water quality with a focus on potable water distribution systems, applications of models and data analytics for decision support, public health risk, and regulatory/policy development.

Her primary interests are understanding and modelling the reactions between hydraulics, microbiological constituents, and chemical contaminants within complex socio-technical urban water systems to design the innovative, sustainable water systems of the future.

Current research involves improving understanding about drinking water quality transformations from source to tap across raw water reactions, treatment processes, treated water storage, and water distribution, with a goal of integrating knowledge across these aspects that are rarely considered holistically.

Vanessa’s approaches include laboratory experiments, field investigations, and data analytics to answer these important questions.

A new but rapidly expanding field of her research relates to intermittent water distribution systems, which are the dominant form of water supply for billions around the world, to better understand the impact of such operations on asset deterioration, water quality and public health.

Ongoing research is investigating how pipes fill and drain under different operating conditions, and what impact those operations have on water quality including biofilm growth, supported by field work in South Africa and Nepal.

Vanessa is Managing Director of TWENTY65, the EPSRC Grand Challenge Centre for Water working with 6 universities and 100+ industrial collaborative partners across the water cycle to develop flexible and synergistic solutions to meet future challenges for water.

This research includes describing the drivers and technologies that might lead to a future with partially decentralised water systems, quantifying city-scale impacts of such transformations, greywater recycling, and water quality impacts of low water use devices.

Vanessa is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health, a Professional Engineer (Virginia, Maryland USA), and an Associate Editor for the journals Public Health in Practice and AWWA Water Science.

She has an extensive history of professional service including conference organisation and scientific committee work for associations including AWWA, ASCE, and IWA.

  • PhD, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • MS, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • BEng, McGill University
Research interests



The EPSRC-funded Grand Challenge Centre for Water, comprising 6 UK universities and 100+ industrial partners working in collaboration to develop the sustainable water solutions of the future and to accelerate innovation uptake across the water sector.

Material Destiny

A collaborative project with 4 UK water companies to better understand the source, fate and transport of materials from source to tap in drinking water systems, with a particular focus on storage reservoirs.

ICASP Catchment Telemetry Integration

Working with the Living with Water Partnership in the Hull (UK) area, this project is evaluating data-driven approaches to extract value from a number of disparate monitoring systems with a goal of better understanding flooding dynamics and developing approaches for early flood warning.


The multidisciplinary Wat-Qual consortium (funded by EU Horizon 2020 Marie Curie RISE) includes participation from 10 countries spanning academic and industrial institutions to advance understanding and share knowledge about the impacts on drinking water quality in distribution systems from flushing, disinfection, and repairs.

Real Time Monitoring Technologies of Bacteria Downstream of Water Treatment Work

Funded jointly by UK Water Industry Research and TWENTY65, this project evaluates the potential applications for incorporating real-time microbiological monitoring into water distribution system management.

Characterizing the Effects of Supply Hours and Pressure of Intermittent Piped Water Supplies on Water Quality

More than one billion people regularly receive water through distribution systems that are operated intermittently, i.e. for fewer than 24 hours per day, with an estimated 17 million waterborne disease cases potentially associated with this practice worldwide each year.

This research is developing a fundamental understanding of the microbial ecology of intermittently operated water distribution systems to inform operational or construction risk reduction strategies. Funded by US NSF and EPSRC, this project is a collaboration between the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Sheffield.

Research group

Potential PhD Offerings

Professional activities and memberships
  • Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health
  • Editorial Board Member, Public Health in Practice
  • Associate Editor, AWWA Water Science
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Dept of Civil Engineering, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  • Professional Engineer (VA and MD, USA)