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Northumbrian: 'Source to tap' approach reduces water discolouration

In a move to further improve drinking water quality across its network and drive innovation nationwide, Northumbrian Water is investing up to £6M in developing an industry-leading "source to tap" approach.

The company said the investment follows a two-year period in which reports of water discolouration dropped 35% to a record low in 2015 as new processes were put in place. The improvements have been driven by research that has given a new insight into the causes of discolouration in water networks.

The results have already drawn the attention of other UK water companies, Defra, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and regional governmental departments, and could provide a template for industry best practice.

Northumbrian Water has set itself, and claims to have beaten, targets that exceed those required by regulators to ensure the best possible service is delivered to customers.

The company and other industry partners took part in ground-breaking research, with a PODDS (Prediction of Discolouration in Drinking Water Systems) team from Sheffield University, leading to the creation of a new policy, implementation of new, non-traditional procedures and a greater understanding of the potential causes of discoloured water in the system.

The research showed that the root causes of discolouration are predominantly build-ups of iron and manganese oxides interacting with the biofilms on the inside of the water pipes. The upland sources of the raw water found in the North-east are a major contributor to this.

As a result, Northumbrian Water has been able to introduce new processes to tackle the issue more successfully than ever before.

The company, which supplies water to 2.5 million people across its network, is amongst the first to act upon the process that has been developed on such a scale, creating improved service, future customer savings, and a potential 90% capital cost reduction against the traditional mains water cleaning process.

A 31-point strategy has been developed, improving the full breadth of the system, from the water’s source to the customers’ taps, including an innovative Pipeline Management (PLM) approach incorporating new flushing methods.

Flushing distribution mains (<8”) using a modelled unidirectional flushing (UDF) approach, ensures the generation of sufficient changes in pipe wall energy to strip off as much of the material causing discolouration as possible. This is more cost effective as overall flushing frequency can be reduced, whilst also driving a prolonged reduction in contacts from customers over time.

Northumbrian Water utilised Aquadapt network energy optimiser software to automate PLM wherever possible, transforming this system into a true automated network control system managing both quantity and quality of the water supplied to customers. This approach was industry leading, said the company, and allows it to incorporate water quality maintenance into control room operations without compromising the supply/demand balance or energy optimisation. 

More than a quarter - 923km - of Northumbrian Water’s major mains water system has already been identified to benefit from PLM between now and 2020, with £6M to be spent on enabling the introduction of automated PLM to 350km of water main by 2018. This will reduce the £170/m cleaning cost associated with traditional methods to £17/m.

Heidi Mottram, chief executive of Northumbrian Water, said: "The research has delivered a new understanding of the root causes of discolouration in water networks that will revolutionise industry procedures. Now we can build upon the results of the research, field tests and our own work to go on and make our customers’ experience even better, whilst also significantly reducing costs in the long-term.

“By adopting a complete source to tap policy, with structured forward planning, we believe we can not only adapt this way of working to boost other key business areas, such as interruptions to supply and leakage, but also provide a template for other companies to make similar improvements to their systems.”

Dr Stewart Husband, senior water researcher at the University of Sheffield, said: "Northumbrian Water were the first company in our international project to fully perceive the potential benefits from integrating the research findings into daily operation. This required significant commitment, yet by understanding the causes and having the ability to predict discolouration, we were able to develop innovative cost-effective and efficient strategies.”

Author: Maureen Gaines, Editor, WET News Find on Google+
Topic: Drinking water quality
Tags: drinking water , research & development , Northumbrian Water , Pipes

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