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Is the UK water industry doing enough to address long-term sustainability?

Is the UK water industry doing enough to address long-term sustainability?  The answer from the industry itself would seem to be a resounding ‘no' – according to the decisive 75% majority who responded to our latest Web4Water online poll.

If we are going to pass on a sustainable water industry to future generations, we are going to need a culture shift.  It's going to take bold reforms to the regulatory framework and an end to the short-termism which favours consumer pricing over long-term environmental benefits or a healthy supply chain.

Real change will be driven by the imperatives of population growth and climate change, but the question is: will sufficient action come soon enough?  My hope is we can take steps now to develop a more sustainable culture, rather than waiting for a future "crunch-time" to prompt far-reaching change.

Take, for example, the imperative to reduce energy costs in wastewater treatment. Energy costs account for 15-30% of the operating budgets of small WWTWs and 30 to 40% of large ones - so any carbon savings are not just socially responsible, they reflect directly on the bottom line.   

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and so the industry is developing ‘out of the box' thinking to reduce power demand.  Just a few weeks ago, at the European Wastewater Management Conference, my colleague Paul Barter gave a paper exploring ultra-fine bubble aeration in activated sludge processes which is a case in point.

It's an elegant technology based on the simple premise that reducing bubble size and increasing floor area can lead to much-improved oxygen transfer in activated sludge aeration.  HiOx® systems increase transfer efficiency by 20% compared to conventional Fine Bubble Diffused Air (FBDA) systems, leading to reduced power demand and increased treatment capacity.  They can be retrofitted to existing treatment facilities, as well as new build.

In energy-hungry processes such as sludge treatment, capital costs are a small fraction of the whole life costs.   Therefore, asset owners need to be encouraged to take an enlightened approach to planning and purchasing, so that new technologies such as HiOx® can be fully embraced.  For example, it's important that the regulators and asset owner incentivises contractors to assess bids on whole-life cost issues, rather than straight capital costs.  It's just one small culture step that can be taken right now to start the sustainable evolution.

What should be top of the OFWAT review's agenda?  Take part in our poll at www.web4water.com.

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