Battle to protect and maintain water supplies for growing population

A sewer robot searches for water pipe leaks in Newmarket. Picture: Anglian Water

A sewer robot searches for water pipe leaks in Newmarket. Picture: Anglian Water - Credit: Anglian Water

In the continuous battle to protect and maintain water supplies for a growing population, sustained effort is going into hi-tech innovations aimed at reducing wastage and consumption.

Anglian Water's Innovation Shop Window

Anglian Water's Innovation Shop Window - Credit: Anglian Water

From drones to 3D printing, East Anglia's main water supplier is waging war on waste.

In Newmarket, a sewer robot is being trialled to find hard-to-spot water leaks; in rural Norfolk, thermal imaging drones are in the air targeting leaky pipes; across a region of more than six million customers, smart water metres are being introduced to cut consumer wastage. Behind the scenes, 3D models and virtual reality (VR) technology is helping teams across the business to collaborate on large scale engineering schemes.

The overall aim is to reduce individual water consumption from the current 145 litres a day to 80 litres a day – Anglian Water aims to install 86,000 new meters, upgrade another 412,000 and visit 120,000 customers to offer efficiency tips and to install water-saving devices over the next five years – and to cut water pipe leakage from the current 189m litres a day to 172m litres a day by 2020 across a 37,000km pipe network.

The company already has an industry-leading leakage record, but it estimates that, by varying the pressure in its network throughout the day, existing schemes will cut the number of bursts by a quarter, and reduce other leaks by 60pc and in total save a further 1m litres a day – the equivalent of 12,500 baths.

The way forward

The way forward - Credit: Anglian Water

Andy Smith, Anglian Water's water optimisation manager, said: 'We have always worked hard to identify and repair leaks and bursts as quickly as possible. That's good up to a point, but it doesn't prevent them happening in the first place, whereas this approach will.

'Achieving such ambitious targets requires us to take a new approach to managing our water network. Customers have told us reducing leaks and bursts is the most important thing to them, and that is why we're investing £60m waging a war on leakage over the next five years, to drive levels down even further and keep us ahead of the rest of the industry.'

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The company believes innovation is vital to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities facing the business. It says already it has helped reduce costs, environmental impacts and operational risk.

In futuristic – but apparently achievable – goal-setting, Anglian Water has laid down seven objectives within its 'innovation shop window': zero leakage and bursts; 100pc customer satisfaction; water consumption of 80 litres per person per day (currently 314 litres a day); zero pollution and flooding; 100pc compliant and chemical-free drinking water; carbon neutrality; and building a circular economy, eliminating the concept of waste from the man-made water cycle.

Nick Sexton, shop window project manager, said: 'While we may not yet know what our business will look like in 25 years' time, or the context in which it will need to operate, we do know we need to protect our customers, environment and assets.

'Our shop window is a real-world location where we drive innovation through collaboration across our business, supply chain and the entire man-made water cycle. By concentrating innovation in one physical place, we unlock synergies between new technologies and different ways of working.

'This allows us to improve customer service, environmental stewardship and the efficiency of our business at a much faster pace.'

Anglian Water is not new to the desalination process, for example: in 1995-96 a desalination process was set up close to Felixstowe and since then further investigations have been carried out.

Large scale desalination plants operate in the Gulf States, Australia, Israel and even the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, but the costs are far higher than conventional treatment plants as they need more power to force sea water through the processes, and large new water mains would need to be installed to pump the water to the region's homes, also resulting in a higher carbon impact.

'In a future with more neighbours and fewer raindrops, making sure there's enough water to go around, whatever the weather, is essential,' says Anglian Water. 'We want to do everything we can to keep water bills affordable, so desalination is unlikely to be a viable option on a large scale. But it's still important to consider and investigate all innovations for securing water supplies for the future.'


Anglian Water, the region's main supplier, has been staging a week-long exhibition at The Forum in Norwich which closes tomorrow.

H2OMG is a showcase for the company's work in maximising the efficient use of water, an opportunity for the public to see how we can all help to safeguard supplies, and a chance to have a say in how we feel about Anglian Water's service and how it should spend our hard earned bill money in future.

Carolyn Cooksey, head of regulatory customer engagement, said: 'What our customers tell us will have an influence on our long term business plan. And the more people that take part, the surer we can be that our plan deals with the issues our customers care about.

'We face a wide range of challenges. The amount of water available remains the same and may even decline.

'So it's essential we speak to customers to get their opinions to overcome these challenges and protect the environment and keep taps running.'

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