Free water butts reduce sewage spills

Image: David Ballew, Unsplash

A scheme to install free water butts and reduce storm overflows in south-east England is expanding after a successful trial.

The initiative by utility Southern Water aims ease pressure on the wastewater network by keeping as much rainwater as possible out of the sewers during storms.

A pilot on the Isle of Wight, which saw installation of more than 1,000 slow-drain water butts, led to a 70% reduction of spills in one location, says the utility. The pilot was launched in the village of Havenstreet, where two-thirds of customers approached took up the offer of a free installation, resulting in a 70% reduction in spills from the nearby storm overflow site.

Research showed that the overflow had previously been activated 27 times a year when it rained more than 5mm - during the six-month trial there was only one spill.

The initiative, which went on to be rolled out across other Isle of Wight towns, is now being replicated in Kent. During the first phase, 300 water butts will be fitted the vicinity of Tankerton Beach, Whitstable.

"By controlling the amount of rainfall hitting the ground, we can slow the flow of surface water into our sewer network – and reduce the need for storm overflows.”

Jonathan Yates, Southern Water
Image: Southern Water

Delivery lead Jonathan Yates, said, “We’re really excited to be offering customers free water butts, which have already proven to be a big success in reducing storm overflow releases. By controlling the amount of rainfall hitting the ground at any one time, we can slow the flow of surface water into our sewer network – and in turn reduce the need for storm overflows.”

Standard garden water butts can hold up to 200 litres of nutrient-rich rainwater at a time, which can then be used to water plant pots and flowerbeds.

Elsewhere in Kent, Southern Water is also trialling smart water butts. These are solar powered and have technology that enables them to drain water automatically in preparation for upcoming rainfall, ensuring there is always water available to use but also sufficient spare capacity to accommodate the next rainstorm.

Householders with their own water butts can help manage stormwater running into sewer networks by emptying their butts manually prior to forecasted storm events, to collect as much as possible during heavy rainfall.