World Water Week: investment in drinking water quality drives innovation


Northumbrian Water is investing up to £6m in developing an innovative approach to further improve drinking water quality across its network and drive innovation across the UK.

The investment follows a two-year period in which reports of water discolouration dropped 35% to a record low in 2015 as new processes were put in place. The improvements have been driven by research that has given a new insight into the causes of discolouration in water networks.

Discoloured water can be concerning when it occurs, although it is normally easily resolved by flushing out the water main and is harmless. Northumbrian Water has set itself - and beaten - targets that exceed those required by regulators, to ensure the best possible service is delivered to customers.

Northumbrian Water and other industry partners took part in groundbreaking research, with a world-leading team from Sheffield University, leading to new ways of working and a greater understanding of the potential causes of discoloured water in the system.

The research showed that the root causes of discolouration are predominantly build-ups of oxides inside the water pipes. Understanding this has allowed the Northumbrian Water team to introduce new processes to tackle the issue more successfully than ever before. By making regular adjustments to the flow of water through the pipes, it reduces the build-up of these oxides.

The company, which supplies water to 2.5 million people across its network, is amongst the first to act upon the process that has been developed on such a scale, creating improved service, lower bills, and a potential savings of 90% against the traditional mains water cleaning process.

More than a quarter - 923km – of Northumbrian Water’s major mains water system has already been identified to benefit from this process, known as Pipeline Management (PLM), in the period to 2020. £6m is to be spent on enabling the introduction of automated PLM to 350km of water main by 2018. This will reduce the £170 per metre cleaning cost associated with traditional methods to £17 per metre.

The results have already drawn the attention of other UK water companies, as well as the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and regional governmental departments, and could provide a template for industry best practice.

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water, said: "The research has delivered a new understanding of the root causes of discolouration in water networks that will revolutionise industry procedures.

“Now we can build upon the results of the research, field tests and our own work to go on and make our customers’ experience even better, whilst also significantly reducing costs in the long-term.

“We are on target to beat our 2020 discolouration target by 20% and two years early, delivering best ever performance in a way that is both sustainable and cost-effective. This is fantastic for our customers and also for our team, who are to be applauded for being ahead of the game in adopting these innovations.

“Through the introduction of an industry-leading set of systems and procedures, we have already reduced reports from customers regarding water discolouration to a record low and we have been able to achieve all internal and external targets.

“By adopting a complete source to tap policy, with structured forward planning, we believe we can not only adapt this way of working to boost other key business areas, such as interruptions to supply and leakage, but also provide a template for other companies to make similar improvements to their systems.”

Dr Stewart Husband, Senior Water Researcher University of Sheffield, said: "Northumbrian Water were the first company in our international project to fully perceive the potential benefits from integrating the research findings into daily operation.

"This required significant commitment, yet by understanding the causes and having the ability to predict discolouration, we were able to develop innovative cost-effective and efficient strategies. They are now world leaders and the go-to example for all companies wanting to improve long term water quality and reduce costs.”

For further media information, contact Paul White on 0191 3015325.

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