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Ofwat has laid out four themes for PR19 that should be apparent on all wastewater treatment works (WWTW). These themes are not only essential for the benefit of the water company’s customer, but also for the survival of the water companies themselves.
Resilience is a necessity in the water industry. The failure to treat drinking water properly can have catastrophic effects on human life. Meanwhile the failure of wastewater treatment and the sewer network can have a massive impact on human health and the environment.
The problem with such big systems is that resilience can lead to a focus on the big topics only. However, the root cause of failure in the wastewater treatment process can be as small as a blocked pipe or pump in a sewage works. This one small issue can result in flooding and pollution on a scale much larger than the pipe size implies.
So why does resilience at this level get repeatedly neglected?
For sludge screening and tankered waste, systems must be strong and efficient enough to be able to deal with rag and grit, which are tough enough materials to test any machine’s staying power.
When it comes to screening rag, a simple screen design is best so that there is nowhere for the rag to block the system.
However simple shouldn’t mean weak or slow.
Sludge screens should operate at high frequencies so that they break the surface tension on the sludge allowing it to be processed quickly. A screen that is simplistic, robust and efficient will be able to comfortably deal with all kinds of materials in sludge- because we all know that sewage is far from being just liquid.
All too often, companies with a great idea fail at one basic task: asking their customers if their product or service is what their customer needs. Ofwat outlines what they mean by good customer service in their final methodology for PR19. Often the need exists, but the solution needs tailored to the customer’s needs to make it of real and immediate value.
This is compounded within the water industry by each company having its own standards and habits, all of which can make it impossible to satisfy every customer. A strong case exists for more collaboration so that new ideas meet industry expectations.
Affordability is something that Ofwat says water companies need to focus on for PR19, and rightly so.
Many water companies offer financial assistance for those struggling to meet payments, yet these vulnerable people are often left unaware of these opportunities. However, if water companies are to become more affordable, they must also become more efficient and use their resources better.
Affordability doesn’t measure the price of something, it measures its value.
For far too long the water industry has by necessity and stubbornness chosen to reduce the cost of a solution by buying cheaper, when it should buy more cleverly. TOTEX has been a buzz word across AMP6, but it has no power while the industry continues to restrict itself to looking no further than five years into the future, and often confuses fast payback with best practice.
The best solution to a problem may take more than 2 years to pay for itself, but it will continue to pay for itself for another 18 years where the cheaper solution is replaced after 5 years.
Innovation is often the missing link in wastewater operations. The mindset to “do what we’ve always done” is rife, and spending money on innovation is mostly unheard of in water companies.
Our industry still accepts problems first recognised 100 years ago as inevitable, Yet, innovation isn’t an added extra, it’s the key to long term resilience.
According to the Office for National StatisticsGB estimates an increase in our population by 3.6 million (5.5%) over the next 8 years, from an estimated 65.6 million in mid-2016 to 69.2 million in mid-2026. As the population increases, so will demand and water companies will need to invest in new technologies to cope with increasing pressures.
New, better and more affordable solutions require the relentless focus of manufacturing companies to meet the present and future needs of water companies.
However, the water industry must provide a relentless commitment to invest in these technologies. Otherwise innovation will be no more than a buzz word.