Be bold to cut pollutions, water companies urged

UK water companies must be “bold and brave” if they are to achieve ambitious pollution targets and meet the high expectations of regulators over the next five years. The comment comes from Karyn Georges, head of consulting at global innovation and technology consultancy Isle, ahead of the company’s Zero Pollutions Conference on 14 September 2020.

With the industry regulator Ofwat instructing companies in England and Wales to reduce pollutions to surface waters by almost a third before 2025 and the Environment Agency expecting companies in England to “sprint” to zero pollutions, more effective risk forecasting and mitigation measures will be necessary. Adding to the challenge is another Ofwat requirement – no increases in customer bills in the 2020-2025 investment period – which further builds the case for cost-effective, data-led solutions, smart analytics and innovative technologies.

Karyn Georges, head of consulting at global innovation and technology consultancy Isle

Georges said, “Zero pollutions is achievable, if water companies, regulators and customers work together. There is new technology out there that can have a significant impact on water companies’ pollution performance, but it does require them to be bold and brave. 

“Meeting the targets won’t be easy for water companies and not being able to increase bills makes it even harder but they have to be inventive in what they do and go for it.”

Making the transition to real-time networks will be one of the topics explored at the virtual conference.

Georges said, “Having sensors and real-time tools that allow control rooms to see what is going on in their network before problems occur is a key element of what is a complex solution. That is why it remains the biggest area of innovation and interest. 

“There are definitely some real leaders among UK water companies who are moving forward with these solutions and seeing fantastic results. We now need the whole sector to understand how to effectively implement and work with this technology. 

“Of course, this is a relatively new area and some water companies are still learning how best to interpret and respond to the incoming data, which might be slowing progress, but we are finding a real willingness to take things forward.”

Customer behavioural change and education also continues to have a major role in achieving zero pollutions and will be another talking point at the conference. 

Georges said, “Customers need to be engaged and willing to play their part by not causing blockages by putting the wrong things down sinks and toilets.  This is an area that some water companies have done quite well with but, as we saw with the increase in sewer blockages during the coronavirus lockdown period in March and April, it is clear that some customers have not yet engaged with the subject. 

“I think a more joined-up approach from the industry is needed if all customers are to understand the impact they are having. If the whole sector could work together and come up with one cohesive message, we could see a real difference now.”

Collaborating and sharing knowledge and experience is “critical” to tackle pollutions, both on the customer side and operationally, Georges said. 

“The water industry has to take huge steps quite quickly but there is a feeling now that we’re all in this together and there is a way forward. Collaborating is essential if the industry is to greater achieve its pollution targets and deliver the service that customers and regulators expect.”

Isle’s Zero Pollutions Conference takes place virtually on Monday 14 September 2020.