Meeting the challenges in the UK wastewater industry

05 Oct 2017

To meet the challenges of climate change and a growing population, the wastewater industry needs to continue to make the most of its capital and operational investment. 

James Hale, Technical Director, discusses the future of the UK’s sewer networks.

The wastewater industry is currently facing a number of significant challenges from a technical, customer and regulatory perspective. As our climate changes and populations increase, our sewerage systems are coming under increasing pressure to accommodate greater and more intense flow volumes, whilst dealing with an ever-aging network of pipes and pumping stations that require continual maintenance or replacement.

The UK Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, is driving the industry to deliver increased customer engagement, as well as increasing levels of efficiency. Add to this the need to balance TOTEX (total expenditure) investment plans and delivering long term catchment strategy - whilst planning for proactive network management - and the pressure can be felt. Particularly when considering that this all needs to happen within the backdrop of changing legislation and regulation as Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union.

Change is therefore needed to tackle these challenges and bring our networks and service up to date, but how?

In short, the answer lies in innovation, confidence in data and processes and engagement with stakeholders and customers.

RPS’ recent conference looked at innovation in the wastewater sector and the challenges facing water companies. We engaged senior wastewater managers from across the industry and representatives from UK water companies for an open discussion on the future of the UK’s sewer networks.

Delegates were unanimous in the view that if we are to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth, then we need to continue to invest in improving the understanding of network performance through a balance of modelling, asset management and intelligently targeted monitoring technology. This will enable us to intervene in sewerage failures before flooding and pollution and occurs.

Delegates also called for a more integrated approach to delivery from water companies, regulators, councils and highway authorities. The need for industry wide consistency in standards, performance measures and risk assessment is vital for successful change; as is the need for broader cultural change to drive collaboration, partnership and customer / community engagement.

In addition to this, an ever increasing amount of data is produced in the wastewater industry; however this data is not consistently being used to inform decisions. One theme that emerged was that we are ‘data rich but information poor’ and there was a consensus that we should make better use of the data we have and share it better, particularly with customers. This will also need to include live data from an increasing monitoring network in AMP7.

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