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Home > WaterR2B > Sectors > Water Utilities

Water Utilities

To operate effectively the water utilities need to understand the quantity and quality of the water resources they have at their disposal, to minimize costs while maintaining assured supplies of high quality water and waste water management at lowest possible cost to customers, and complying with all relevant legislation. The industry is heavily regulated within the UK, with constrains on abstraction and discharges, drinking water quality, leakage rates and foul sewer flooding occurrences, guarantees of supply, drought management plans, contingencies for climate change, public education to reduce consumption, biodiversity conservation, disruptions arising from pipe repair work, and mitigation of climate change – among many other (constraints).

NERC science has supported the development of a wide range of the methods and tools used by the water utilities, including :

 
 
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Sector: Water Utilities
Reservoirs can develop algal growths which are unsightly, a hazard to recreational users and biodiversity, making the water costly to treat before it can be put into the public supplies.
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Sector: Water Utilities
The UK, or more specifically England, has had high incidences of widespread endocrine disruption in wild fish. This has been associated with effluent discharges from domestic sewage treatment plants (STPs).
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Sector: Water Utilities
Across the UK many rivers are eutrophic and have phosphorus levels well above the WFD limits for good ecological status. The challenge is to devise a cost effective strategy for P reductions in rivers in order to meet the WFD standards.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Management of diffuse pollution at a catchment level raises complex technical, economic and social issues, and without the support of stakeholders (including water companies, regulators, farmers, local authorities, industry, and residents) it is unlikely that any catchment management strategy will succeed.
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Sector: Water Utilities
The UK sewer system totals some 300,000 km in length, with an estimated replacement value of £104bn. Maintenance and replacement programmes have focused on ‘critical sewers’ that make up 20% of the network. However, around 25,000 blockages occur each year in smaller diameter sewers that make up the bulk of the network, 13% of which result in internal property flooding.
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Sector: Water Utilities
A large quantity of hidden potable water is stored in semi-natural landscapes such as upland peatlands, lowland grasslands and riparian habitats that are not well-characterised or understood.
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Sector: Water Utilities
On the uplands of Exmoor and Dartmoor, generations of peat-cutting and the creation of drainage ditches has caused the mires to dry out, which reduces the water-holding capacity of the moors. This increases the fluctuation in river flows throughout the year, making flooding more likely and decreasing the reliability of water supply in dry periods. In addition, soil erosion and the associated loss of soil carbon makes river water more expensive to treat.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Build a dam, interrupt the movement of water and, inevitably, the reservoir will fill with sediment brought down feeder rivers during floods. The rate of fill varies with the condition of the water catchment ‘commanded’ by the impounding dam and especially with the amount of vegetation and any changes in landuse.
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Tags : dams, sediment

 
 
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Sector: Water Utilities
The presence of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and their potential to cause adverse effects in the aquatic environment has been the subject of increased scientific and public interest. The great diversity of these substances that are increasingly being found in the environment, their potential to have detrimental impacts even at very low concentrations and the great uncertainties that exist regarding their fate and true impacts warrant concern.
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Sector: Water Utilities
There has been mounting unease about the risk of synthetic chemicals to the environment and human health, particularly with regard to emerging contaminants like pharmaceuticals, personal care products and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). While the occurrence of these contaminants in the water environment is usually very low, there may still be significant and widespread adverse environmental and human health consequences (e.g. cancer risk and adverse reproductive development) at the observed levels due to their potential cocktail and the effects of chronic exposure. There is therefore a need to better understand the fate and behaviour of these compounds in the water environment.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Water management problems are often the realm of complex, dynamic systems consisting of interdependent factors and multiple stressors. There is therefore a need to develop a better understanding of these problems from a more systems-based perspective. Science has historically focused too much on understanding individual disciplines rather than developing an interdisciplinary understanding, while decision making has too often focused on solving individual problems by comparing alternative courses of action, rather than on developing a wider understanding of systems and the complex interrelationships within them.
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Sector: Water Utilities
In order to better prepared for climate change policymakers need to be able to know where flooding is likely to increase, or decrease in intensity. Information is needed at suitably fine resolution and reliability to enable climate adaptations to be targeted in the most appropriate places.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Taking samples of river water using the conventional method of filling bottles by hand can be costly and time consuming. Results obtained from ‘spot’ samples provide, at best, only a snapshot of pollutants that may have been present at the time of sampling, making interpretation of results problematic. Time lags between sampling, analysis and re-sampling also introduce delays that preclude timely response. Improved water quality sampling instrumentation is essential if these multiple problems are to be overcome for regulators and the water industry.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Early detection of contamination from fuels, oils and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is vital in the water sector. Water treatment plants intakes need to be shut before damage is done to expensive equipment. Constant monitoring is needed to prevent contaminated industrial wastewater leaking entering rivers and waterways, thus avoiding fines and clean-up costs. Drinking water also needs to be protected from potential carcinogens such as trihalomethanes (THMs)
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Sector: Water Utilities
Peat washed down into the reservoirs from moorland catchments causes water to be discoloured, meaning that Yorkshire Water has to invest even more in treating the water to ensure it reaches national standards set by the regulator.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Water pipelines benefit from regular cleaning, but conventional methods are often problematic:Flushing tends to use very large volumes of water and can be ineffective for large diameter pipes; Air scouring can cause damage to the pipe structure, has health and safety risks, and is also limited to small to medium diameter pipes; Swabbing (forcing a solid ‘pig’ through the pipe) is highly problematic due to swabs being unable to cope with changes in pipe diameter or direction, and is also very expensive.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Wastewater is high in nitrates and phosphates, which water companies have to remove to avoid pollution of natural water systems. Currently, a number of processes are used in sewage works to treat wastewater and remove these substances, but these are often energy-intensive, difficult to manage, and produce CO2 and other wastes.
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Sector: Water Utilities
There are approximately 200,000 sewer blockages throughout the UK every year. It is estimated around 75% are caused by fats, oils and greases (‘FOG’). Blockages account for 55% of sewer flooding incidents in the UK and more than 3,000 properties are flooded each year as a result.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Managing risk and opportunity for water utilities is central to water safety and security, serviceability, profitability, environmental sustainability and improved water quality. Changes in regulations, increased pressure from customers and financial stakeholders, and the added complexity of long-term risks such as changing climate, demography and infrastructure renewal are all leading to the need for better risk management.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Failures in the water distribution network represent a major cost to any water company. A significant proportion of bursts and leaks are associated with the corrosion of cast-iron pipe systems laid without protection earlier this century. In many places, these are now performing so badly that replacement or repair is a matter of urgency.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Industrial effluents, such as landfill leachate or pharmaceutical wastewater, have high ammonia levels. Many wastewater treatment works are consented by the Environment Agency (EA) at < 5 mg/l NH3-N in treated effluent, and the consequences of nitrification failure can be serious. As one example, Severn Trent Water experienced nitrification issues at its Strongford Wastewater Treatment plant due to a customer illegally discharging toxic industrial effluent into the sewerage network. This ultimately resulted in fish being killed, and an investigation by the EA.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Enabling a transformation in the operation and management of buried water distribution system infrastructure, maximising performance to meet the combined impacts of climate change, increasing societal demands for water quantity and quality.
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Sector: Water Utilities
Over 10 billion litres of sewage are produced each day in the UK. Treating this volume of sewage uses over 2,000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year - almost 1% of total UK electricity consumption, and the equivalent of 5 million tones of CO2 emissions.
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