Our priorities for ensuring a sustainable water cycle
Our plans for ensuring the longevity of the water sources in our region are set out in our comprehensive 25-year Water Resources Management Plan (WRMPs) and agreed with the water industry regulator.
We are committed to ambitious targets to reduce per capita water consumption in our region, already one of the lowest in the UK, through water efficiency programmes.
We are using a combination of hard work and innovation to tackle leakage. We are constantly monitoring abstraction to reduce detrimental impacts on the environment and ensure that we can continue to access water sources in perpetuity. And, in common with other water utilities in the UK, we are working towards 100% treated effluent compliance and reduced rates of sewage discharge into rivers, with a future aspiration of zero pollution incidents.
Our priorities are:
Reducing the amount of water that's used
Removing less water from the environment
Improving our rivers by preventing pollutions
Reducing the amount of water that’s used
Water is precious. By minimising consumption, we place ourselves as unobtrusively as possible in the natural water cycle; we conserve limited water resources, we ensure river ecosystems and biodiversity are protected, and we reduce the volume of water we need to pump and treat across our network.
To achieve this we focus hard on two things:
- Water efficiency
- Reducing leaks
Our ambitious water efficiency programme has already saved around 25 million litres per day between 2015 and 2020 through water efficiency advice for customers, free and subsidised water-saving products on request, and targeted home water efficiency checks.
We will continue to roll out these successful schemes, aiming to reduce per capita consumption by a further 3.5% by 2025. Our schools programme will reach 500,000 children, educating on the value of water, responsible sewer use and the importance of hydration to health.
We will deliver 35,000 home water efficiency visits, install 400,000 water meters, provide water saving devices in partnership with Save Water Save Money, and help businesses to recycle their grey water.
By 2030, we hope the majority of our customers will have a water meter, and long-term, our goal is to help show communities and businesses, in particular farmers, how building water resilience makes practical sense for them.
Culture change will mean getting everyone on-board, so at government level we are advocating for legislation that will support mandatory water labelling and minimum standards for building and water fitting regulations.
Water that leaks from pipes and other assets before it reaches our customers is wasted – as is the energy that was used to treat it and move it around our network.
So it benefits our business and the environment to reduce leakage as much as possible. Alongside the rest of the water sector in the UK, we have taken a Public Interest Commitment to triple the rate of sector-wide leakage reduction by 2030.
We have a strong track record in reducing leakage from our network, having delivered our leakage target eight out of the past nine years. We’ve now committed to an ambitious goal to reduce leakage by 15% by 2025, and by 50% by 2045 for Severn Trent. For HD we have committed to 12.4% by the end of 2025, and will do this by continuing to invest in recruiting, training and managing our water network technician teams to focus on finding and fixing leaks earlier and faster, ideally before they begin to cause a problem. Our ‘find and fix’ mode of working has benefited from installing 40,000 data loggers in our network, and we are involved in innovation trials to explore use of fibre optic networks to help us identify leaks.
We know that our ambitions to control leaks will require continued innovation, so we have helped to convene the World Water Innovation Fund. This is a group of leading water companies from countries including the USA, Australia, Singapore, Brazil and Spain, who have come together to explore new technologies and best practice, and be part of a global effort to preserve water resources. The scheme now covers 60 million customers and has seven live trials, with many more planned
By 2030, we hope the majority of our customers will have a water meter
Removing less water from the environment
Healthy rivers need consistent and plentiful flows of water in order to function as a habitat for plants and animals, and to support the well-being of local people.
That means we need to ensure that our abstraction of water – the rate at which we pump water from rivers and aquifers – is at a sustainable level, minimising impacts on water flow or quality.
We have committed to manage our abstraction to ensure it is sustainable, and we will work on this in three important ways:
- Actively managing existing impacts
- Moving abstraction to less vulnerable areas
- Balancing water resource needs across catchments
Improving our rivers by preventing pollutions
After abstracting water to be used by households and businesses, we complete the water cycle by returning clean, treated water to the environment. We measure the quality of the treated water effluent through treatment works compliance, which is assessed by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, and aim for 100% compliance. However, in common with other UK water companies we face a key challenge to protecting our region’s watercourses, in the form of unintentional releases of polluting matter like silt or sewage from our network, known as ‘pollutions’. Pollutions can occur for a number of reasons, such as a failure in our sewer network or at our treatment works, or as a result of a burst water main.
Most of the pollutions linked to our assets are the result of sewage escaping before it is properly treated. This is typically caused by asset failure, sewers being overwhelmed during heavy rainfall, or customers putting the wrong things down the toilet or sink, which blocks up the sewers.
Pollution incidents are a systemic issue, and need tackling from all sides. We are focused heavily on understanding the root causes, maintaining our assets, training our people, and trialling innovation so that we can identify and assess the risk of an incident and respond proactively. This is an on-going process - for example, we are exploring, along with the wider sector, how increased monitoring and enhanced systems could facilitate more reporting on the operation of overflows. We also continue to work to educate customers to prevent anything that might cause blockages from entering into our systems.
As well as building the ability to respond fast to pollution when it happens, we work across the landscape to slow the flow of water during heavy rains, making overflow much less likely to be triggered in the first place. We are doing this through engineering works such as increased sewer and storage capacity. But we are also decreasing run off rates through tree planting and habitat restoration work across the catchment, and working in urban areas, in partnership with local councils, to install blue-green soft infrastructure like rain gardens, drainage ponds and permeable paving.
We have consistently managed to limit pollutions from our operations to less than the targets set for us by Ofwat - and less than the average of companies in our sector - and we have reduced total pollutions by over 50% and serious pollutions by over 90% since 2011. We are also one of only a handful of companies to regularly achieve the industry’s highest accolade of four-star Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) status from the Environment Agency (EA).
Despite a strong track record, we want to do more to mitigate the impact we have on the natural environment. We’re therefore aiming to halve the number of pollutions over the next five years, and work longer term to reduce them to zero.
We know that improving the environment is strongly supported by our customers. Wastewater discharges represent up to one third of the national contribution to rivers not achieving good ecological status. We are making good progress in tackling these reasons for failure, having completed a large programme of work (underpinned by meeting the objectives of the water framework directive) in AMP6 and with an even larger programme planned in AMP7.
Overall we’re aiming to improve the quality of over 2,100 Km of river. This builds on a legacy of work and significant investment we’ve made over the last decade, removing phosphate from our waste water sites. This will ensure that over 50% of our rivers are protected and improved in terms of nutrient levels.
Storm Overflows Explained
Storm overflows, or Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), are an important part of the sewer system and act as safety valves to prevent properties from flooding. During periods of intense or prolonged rainfall, storm water can overwhelm sewers. The overflows allow the excess water to spill into a watercourse which prevents it backing up and flooding homes and businesses, roads or other open spaces.
If we were designing a sewer network today, we wouldn’t create a combined system, we’d separate the sewer and surface water systems. Our aim is to reduce the use of overflows, but with over 90,000km of sewer pipes, we can’t replace the system overnight, but there’s still lots we can do including:
- Using nature based solutions to keep storm water out of our sewers, including the creation of urban wetlands and new, green basins that will allow water to drain away naturally
- We run the biggest sewer blockages prevention and detection programme – relieving pressure on the sewers, installing thousands of sewer sensors which can alert us to issues
- And we’ll continue to invest hundreds of millions of pounds to upgrade the sewer system - we recently completed a four-year £60m improvement scheme in Newark, protecting many homes from sewer flooding and reducing operation of overflows.
Spotlight: Our Green Recovery package
Our Green Recovery package is all about scale implementation of sustainable interventions to deliver a broad range of benefits. For example, we will show what it takes to get rivers to bathing standard and build understanding of how this type of enhancement could act as a catalyst for achieving the river quality improvements in the 25 year Environment Plan. We’ll trial the creation of two bathing rivers (the River Leam and the River Teme), including reducing harm from storm overflows by reducing spills.
We will also create a catchment scale, innovative, collaborative test bed for tackling 2050 flooding pressure through delivering up to 58,000m3 of blue green infrastructure across Mansfield. We anticipate using up to c15,000 interventions such as rain gardens, planters, permeable paving, detention basis, bioswales, delivered through a partnership approach which includes a securing at least 11% of third party funding.
These are just two of the six exciting new programmes which we will deliver during AMP7.
- £565m new investment to boost the economy and creating c2500 jobs
- Delivering even greater benefits for customers
- Tackling long term problems and sharing the learning
- Continuing to build long-term trust in the water sector.
Spotlight: nature-based solutions
Nature-based solutions involve using the creation of new or restored habitats to address practical environmental problems, like flooding, or pollution, or the need to manage greenhouse gases. There has been is an upsurge in interest in nature-based solutions, because they offer the potential to integrate nature recovery with the delivery of ‘ecosystem services’ or ‘public goods’, which might be paid for by Government or private businesses.
Of course, as a water company, we’ve been working with nature-based solutions by default for generations - the landscapes in our catchments are an invisible infrastructure absorbing, capturing, and filtering our water, especially around reservoirs. But in recent years we have been pioneering their use in an increasing number of ways, as a cost-effective alternative to ‘concrete’ engineering systems, and one which generates both a range of other public and private benefits, and greater opportunities to work with partners.
As we evolve our long-term asset strategy, we expect that longer term nature-based solutions and catchment management will feature prominently both in the rural and urban environment, with an expansion of nature-based water treatment using created wetlands, investment in sustainable urban drainage systems, and a major programme of tree planting - all working with nature to reduce runoff and flooding, filter water, capture carbon, enhance biodiversity and provide public benefit.
Catchment Nutrient Balancing
Phosphate in water is one the biggest nutrient issues we deal with, creating water quality problems that are expensive to treat, requiring high input of chemicals and energy. By working with farmers to install phosphate reducing catchment interventions like buffer strips, hedgerows, and wetlands, and by encouraging regenerative agriculture approaches, we can reduce our reliance on using and upgrading traditional treatment technologies at our wastewater treatment works.
Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) will help modulate flows of water resulting from rainstorms.This helps reduce the risk of sewage systems being overwhelmed, and can help address localised flash flooding. They can also create green oases, or ‘pocket parks’; improving the urban environment both for people and wildlife.