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Piers Clark

Founder and Chairman, Isle Utilities

Utilities are working to secure enough water for future generations against a backdrop of climate change and population growth. Here are some examples of how the water sector is meeting these challenges through innovation and collaboration.

Leakage reduction

Across the world, utilities are targeting leakage to ensure resilient water supplies. In the UK alone, around 20% of water is lost through leaks.

Severn Trent is exploring fibre optic technology to help meet ambitious leakage reduction targets. Over the last 12 months, it has been carrying out a pioneering trial to install 750 metres of fibre optic cable inside its network. The cable’s continuous line of virtual microphones allows engineers to hear what’s going on in greater detail and spot any changes in vibration and sound. This means they’re able to pinpoint leaks and fix them, before they worsen and cause a burst.

Meanwhile United Utilities in the north-west has been working alongside FIDO TECH Ltd, to develop artificial intelligence to detect and assess the size of underground leaks by the noise they make. Its AI software has been accessing acoustic data from thousands of its underground pipe sensors. FIDO AI differentiates leaks from any other noise and can even prioritise the biggest ones first, helping improve the efficiency of leakage repair work, saving more water quicker.

Wastewater reuse and desalination

As demand for water increases with population and economic growth, desalination and water reuse are increasingly used by utilities to secure water for future generations.

Singapore, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, is internationally recognised as a model city for integrated water management. In June 2020 it opened its fourth desalination plant, the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant to treat both seawater and freshwater (pictured). The plant is the country’s first large-scale, dual-mode desalination plant. During dry weather, it can produce desalinated water and when there is abundant rainfall, it switches to treating water from a nearby reservoir, saving energy.

In the UK alone, around 20% of water is lost through leaks.

In Egypt, the world’s largest water recycling and reuse plant, known as Al Mahsamma, uses the latest processing technologies and advanced digital technology to treat run-off from agricultural land along with sewage and industrial wastewater. Clean water is returned to the land as irrigation water, securing some 28,000 hectares for production. Located by the Suez Canal in the strategically important Sinai region, the plant also helps preserve the natural ecology of the Al Temsah Lake, which had been impacted by wastewater disposal.

Energy generation and stormwater harvesting

Australian water utilities face the challenge of servicing increasing populations with lower rainfall while reducing carbon emissions. Two quite different initiatives in Melbourne demonstrate how the sector is responding to these challenges.

Yarra Valley Water is experimenting with electrolysis at its wastewater treatment plants, producing sustainable hydrogen from renewable energy. Recycled water and the oxygen by-product are used to increase the efficiency of wastewater treatment and lower costs. In the race to reduce emissions, producing low-cost sustainable hydrogen can provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels and help water utilities take more greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere than they put in.

Meanwhile City West Water is leading the way in innovative stormwater harvesting projects to capture, store and treat stormwater run-off. This reduces flood incidents, creates healthy green spaces and lessens demand on the city’s precious drinking water.

They also partner with stakeholders to co-fund and deliver irrigation to public open spaces. Not only does stormwater harvesting help save hundreds of millions of litres of drinking water each year by providing an alternative water supply for irrigation, but it also promotes water sustainability and helps develop thriving green open spaces for the community.

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