The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #15

“Restrictions and constraints breed innovation” – sewers and nature-based solutions in Colombia

Guest: Juan Pablo Rodríguez Sánchez

July 18th, 2023


“…I’m always hoping to assess and look and use new and alternative data sources because you never know which one is the one that provides you the better understanding…”

Have you ever had a brilliant idea, but with no resources or data you could use to act upon it? Or what does it feel like to make the switch from one passion project to another that could potentially last a lifetime?

My guest today is Juan Pablo Rodríguez Sánchez, an Associate Professor at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá Colombia. Juan Pablo addresses pressing issues around sustainable management of drainage systems and the implementation of nature-based solutions in his home city, reaching upon novel and interesting information sources in light of resource and data constraints.

In today’s show, we discuss how Juan Pablo has made Bogotá his research playground and how he is following his heart in encouraging the widespread adoption of nature-based solutions to adapt the city to future challenges.


Juan Pablo Rodríguez Sánchez is currently Associate Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. He obtained his bachelor degree in Civil Engineering from los Andes and holds a PhD degree in Civil Engineering on sewer asset management from Imperial College, London UK. Juan Pablo’s early research focussed on the use of non-conventional data sources for supporting sewer asset management, in particular, the location of blockages in sewer systems, which account for 75% of sewer incidents worldwide.

Currently, Juan Pablo has been leading different research projects aiming at providing tools for Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), also more recently referred to by the umbrella term nature-based solutions. His focus is on the developing context, in particular, his home city of Bogotá, Colombia, where he applies similar philosophies in working with limited resources and constraints to quantify the wide range of benefits that these systems and their implementation can provide, in terms of amenity, stormwater management and an increasing list of other ecosystem services.

Juan Pablo’s work was nominated to the Novatech Trophies in 2016 (planning strategies category) and was highlighted in a keynote presentation at the 14th IWA Leading Edge Conference on Water and Wastewater Technologies in 2017. Since 2017, he has been a member of the Joint Committee on Urban Drainage of the International Water Association (IWA) and the International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR).

Resources Related to the Episode

(Disclosure: Links on this page to “View on Amazon” are Affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.)

  • We recorded this episode at the Novatech Conference (happens every 3 years in Lyon) – read more about this year’s Novatech
  • More about Colombia
  • Juan Pablo references Rocinante from ‘Don Quijote’ or ‘El Quijoteby Cervantes [View on Amazon]
  • We reference João Paulo Leitão from the first episode of this show! Check out the first episode to hear about João’s journey
  • The International Conference on Urban Drainage (ICUD) is a conference series for urban drainage experts. The 2008 iteration of the conference was held in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • Juan Pablo’s studies on sewer systems and asset management:
    • Rodríguez, J.P., McIntyre, N., Díaz-Granados, M. and Maksimović, Č., 2012. A database and model to support proactive management of sediment-related sewer blockages. Water research46(15), pp.4571-4586. [Link]
    • Rodríguez, J.P., McIntyre, N., Díaz-Granados, M., Quijano, J.P. and Maksimović, Č., 2013. Monitoring and modelling to support wastewater system management in developing mega-cities. Science of the Total Environment445, pp.79-93. [Link]
    • Franz Tscheikner-Gratl, Nicolas Caradot, Frédéric Cherqui, Joao P. Leitão, Mehdi Ahmadi, Jeroen G. Langeveld, Yves Le Gat, Lisa Scholten, Bardia Roghani, Juan Pablo Rodríguez, Mathieu Lepot, Bram Stegeman, Anna Heinrichsen, Ingo Kropp, Karsten Kerres, Maria do Céu Almeida, Peter M. Bach, Matthew Moy de Vitry, Alfeu Sá Marques, Nuno Eduardo Simões, Pascale Rouault, Nathalie Hernandez, Andres Torres, Caty Werey, Bénédicte Rulleau & François Clemens (2019) Sewer asset management – state of the art and research needs, Urban Water Journal, 16:9, 662-675. [Link]
  • Luis Camacho, Juan Pablo’s professor on river water quality modelling
  • We reference Episode 9 with Ana Deletic on getting into manholes to collect data, check out Ana’s episode – I misquoted the number (*facepalm), it’s is actually Episode 9
  • Terminology on nature-based solutions:
    • Fletcher, T.D., Shuster, W., Hunt, W.F., Ashley, R., Butler, D., Arthur, S., Trowsdale, S., Barraud, S., Semadeni-Davies, A., Bertrand-Krajewski, J.L. and Mikkelsen, P.S., 2015. SUDS, LID, BMPs, WSUD and more–The evolution and application of terminology surrounding urban drainage. Urban water journal12(7), pp.525-542. [Link]
    • Ruangpan, L., Vojinovic, Z., Di Sabatino, S., Leo, L.S., Capobianco, V., Oen, A.M., McClain, M.E. and Lopez-Gunn, E., 2020. Nature-based solutions for hydro-meteorological risk reduction: a state-of-the-art review of the research area. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences20(1), pp.243-270. [Link]
    • Matsler, A.M., Meerow, S., Mell, I.C. and Pavao-Zuckerman, M.A., 2021. A ‘green’chameleon: Exploring the many disciplinary definitions, goals, and forms of “green infrastructure”. Landscape and Urban Planning214, p.104145. [Link]
  • Mario Diaz-Granados, another of Juan Pablo’s important colleagues
  • Juan Pablo’s more recent work on nature-based solutions:
    • Jiménez Ariza, S.L., Martínez, J.A., Muñoz, A.F., Quijano, J.P., Rodríguez, J.P., Camacho, L.A. and Díaz-Granados, M., 2019. A multicriteria planning framework to locate and select sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) in consolidated urban areas. Sustainability11(8), p.2312. [Open Access Link]
    • Uribe-Aguado, J., Jiménez-Ariza, S.L., Torres, M.N., Bernal, N.A., Giraldo-González, M.M. and Rodríguez, J.P., 2022. A SUDS Planning Decision Support Tool to Maximize Ecosystem Services. Sustainability14(8), p.4560. [Open Access Link]
    • Ferrans, P., Torres, M.N., Temprano, J. and Sánchez, J.P.R., 2022. Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) modeling supporting decision-making: A systematic quantitative review. Science of the Total Environment806, p.150447. [Link]
  • For more discussions on multi-criteria decision analysis for nature-based solutions planning, you can also check out Episode 3 with Martijn Kuller where we dive deep into the decision sciences
  • Urban Drainage 4th Edition by David Butler, Christopher James Digman, Christos Makropoulos and John W. Davise [View on Amazon]

Connect with Juan Pablo Rodríguez Sánchez