Holistic thinking across the water cycle to comply with regulation, protect reputation, and deliver ROI
Utilities are under increasing pressure from constantly changing laws and regulations with which they must comply. The added pressures of the pandemic have also demanded new approaches. Alexis de Kerchove, water utility market manager, Europe at Xylem looks at the solution to these challenges.
The need for the UK’s water companies to stay abreast of, and comply with, ever-evolving directives grows increasingly complex – with an added question mark over post-Brexit regulations.
Non-compliance not only affects the huge numbers of customers who depend on utilities for clean and safe water at a price they can afford, but breaches can bring sizeable fines as well as damaging the company’s reputation in the eyes of both the market and the customer.
So, what steps can bring utilities closer to guaranteeing regulatory compliance and boosting return on investment?
A new integrated approach – viewing the system as a whole, from clean water treatment to wastewater management – is pivotal, using digital tools to work smarter within the rules. Not only can this holistic view boost performance and resilience, but it can also protect infrastructure and maximise profitability… and mean fewer penalties.
Clean water treatment
Water quality is a key challenge for utilities but viewing the connected water cycle in its entirety can offer new ways to stay compliant: monitoring solutions, for example, can improve the management of resources by informing on water quality across reservoirs to optimise costs of the downstream treatment.
Providing potable water that meets Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) rules means tackling rising operating costs whilst monitoring a growing watchlist of pathogens and micropollutants, including pharmaceutical residuals. A multi-barrier treatment solution can address turbidity, colour, algae, pesticides, taste and odour, pathogens, and other contaminants of emerging concern. Combined with digital measuring equipment for gauging water quality, this can ensure all regulations are met.
The newest UV and ozone treatment developments are of interest here, helping to lower environmental impact with the reduced use of harmful chemicals. Ozone treatment acts 3,000 times faster than chlorine-based products and is 50% stronger as an oxidiser, while UV systems kill 99.99% of harmful microorganisms, importantly with no impact on taste and odour.
Clean water networks
Smart technology has a valuable role to play in assessing the condition of clean water networks and helping to detect leaks – a vital step towards meeting Ofwat’s demands of 15 per cent reduced leakage by 2025.
Customers (themselves called upon not to waste water) are also pressuring utilities to improve service and address leaks from an infrastructure that in many cases has seen better days, but without any interruption to supply and while maintaining network pressure.
Both real and apparent losses can be addressed by optimising metrology in a bid to meet new regulations: by identifying leakages where in- and out-flow readings do not match, and supplying more accurate readings in buildings to correct any commercial losses, resulting in accurate billing of consumers.
Today’s aging wastewater networks also bring the threat of heavy sanctions, particularly if below-par pumping stations and dated equipment are not operating at the stringent standards required by today’s regulators.
Water companies are under greater obligation than ever to meet environmental quality standards, thanks in part to the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) along with the proposed initiative to extend Bathing Water Quality measurements to rivers.
A key concern is that technical failures of the collection system or unforeseen sewer overflows due to extreme flooding can affect surface water quality. The solution? Smart monitoring systems built for continuous learning. These can provide utilities with data insights that drive outcomes to reduce overflow and flooding events by up to 30% a year.
Bringing treatment plants into the 21st century with intelligent equipment can help utilities to reduce their impact on the environment, stay in line with regulations, and safeguard their reputation without headline-hitting breaches.
Better control systems (like online sensors and digital solutions) mean operators can record every decision taken to maintain quality, giving the real-time evidence needed if there is a breach – as well as allowing a faster proactive response to the cause of any discharge. Such an audit trail, even if breaches are unavoidable, can significantly lessen penalties.
This integrated approach brings with it the power of data to enhance processes and create a more reliable, efficient treatment system, reducing energy use and avoiding frequent discharges that can exceed standards.
Smooth sailing brings peace of mind
Smart and certified water solutions and guidance from experts versed in regulatory compliance is key to help minimise infringements and ensure compliance. Alongside this comes a reduced carbon footprint, cost savings and optimised processes at every step.
Digital tools like cloud analytics, powerful data modelling, and the Internet of Things can help to shape the bigger picture and by addressing the whole water cycle, rather than isolating standalone functions, utilities can find multiple benefits – with compliance no longer a headache.
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