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PIPE SYSTEM INNOVATION: A CRITICAL STEP TO FUTURE-PROOFING THE UK’S WATER NETWORK

Steven Jones, Managing Director, egeplast UK

By 2050, the UK will need an additional 4.0 billion litres of water per day to meet increasing demand and the pressures created by climate change. Summer rainfall alone is expected to decrease by approximately 15% in England by the 2050s and by up to 22% by the 2080s[i], significantly reducing our water resources. While the population is expected to grow by around 5%[ii] by the middle of 2045.

Against this backdrop, Sir James Beven – Chief Executive of the UK’s Environment Agency – called for an increased focus on water quantity in 2021 and highlighted the importance of taking measures to ensure we avoid the point where water demand outstrips supply.

It’s widely acknowledge that to create a resilient water supply network a twin track approach is required: create an extra 1 to 1.5bn litres of extra capacity per day by building new reservoirs, something which hasn’t been done since the construction of Carsington Water in 1991, and find another 1 to 1.5bn litres per day capacity by reducing the water consumption of consumers and businesses. Educating the consumer to change their habits is a key focus for the water industry and also for the regulator.

Tackling water leakage, however, will also be critical if the UK water network is to be future proofed for generations to come. Water loss from pipe leaks continues to be a major issue for water companies and society as a whole. According to OFWAT’s November 2021 ‘Service Delivery Report’[iii] an incredible 3,112 megalitres of water are still lost every day in the UK because of leaks.

It would be wrong to think that the water industry is not working hard to reduce this figure. Progress is being made towards addressing the issue with industry wide leakage reduced by 11% since 2017-18iv but much still needs to be done.

OFWAT has challenged the sector to reduce leakage by at least 16% in the five year period up to 2025 and by 50% by 2050. Three quarters of water companies are successfully meeting their annual targets in this regard with particularly strong progress made by what OFWAT calls the star performers: Anglian Water, Wessex Water, Bristol Water and Portsmouth Water. Others though are, perhaps understandably, lagging behind.

The problem of water leakage is far from simple to solve as water companies seek to upgrade Victorian pipe networks while having to allocate significant funding and resources to leak management amongst other things. Against this backdrop, technology and the use of automated pipe monitoring systems undoubtedly have a critical role to play.

Historically, water companies first found out about a leak when they were notified of supply issues or they received phone calls about relating flooding. Being reliant on this notification system meant that by the time a leak was discovered a large volume of water had been lost, the leak was probably causing disruption to supplies or at least some issues in the local area, and the problem was already a critical incident which needed to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Then of course, there is the problem of locating the source of the leak. Without a monitoring system, this is far from an easy or quick process.

Today technology can make leak management a much simpler, less disruptive and more cost effective process to manage. At egeplast, we provide pipe systems which include automated continuous monitoring systems so if a leak does occur, the water company is notified immediately and the leak can be located quickly and easily.

Importantly, continuous monitoring systems such as egeplast’s 3L Leak Control system also provide information to water companies instantly, enabling them to minimise damage and resolve any issues, preventing significant outages for customers. Monitored products also stop the need to wait until there is a significant burst or an obvious major leak and this helps protect the environment from any unexpected ‘spillages’ from sewage or other contaminated fluids which are being transported.

So, why aren’t continuous pipe monitoring systems specified more often in new pipe systems? In the short term, they increase the cost of a new pipe system and, in a price sensitive market, this often outweighs the significant cost savings they can deliver in the longer term and the need to minimise disruption for customers. Yet by specifying such systems, we would be able to better protect a precious resource which is likely to become more scarce in the decades to come.

As a leading designer and manufacturer of modern pipe products and related monitoring systems, egeplast invests significantly in R&D, taking the ‘long view’ with regard to the development of innovative products which are future-proofed for the next 40 or 50 years, and not just fit-for-purpose for the next five to 10.

A focus on minimising leakage will only solve our longer-term supply problems if its undertaken in conjunction with other measures such as the creation of new reservoirs. But if we are to protect our water supply and our environment for future generations, we would argue that future-proofing the water pipe network by specifying automated continuous monitoring systems would be a relatively small but very worthwhile step towards reducing pipe leakage and mitigating future supply issues.

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