Leak detection and water storage technologies win funding

image by Sharon Pittaway

In the near future, farmers could be reimbursed for constructing water storage ponds as part of a creative drought-prevention project that has just gained financing from the water regulator Ofwat's Innovation Fund.

The project, from Westcountry Rivers Trust and South West Water, will not only help to better hydrate wetlands, forests, and fields during dry weather, but it will also assist farms in managing water demand during dry weather and increase aquatic biodiversity.

The project will work with farmers to develop water reserves in lakes, ponds, and soil "sponges" that may be "recharged" during rainy weather and then used during increasingly frequent dry seasons, either for the benefit of the farmers or the local community.

Rechargeable water storage will help farmers keep reserves for times of drought

Similar to how solar batteries in houses store excess power that can be sold back to the National Grid, these water "batteries" could serve as the foundation of a smart water grid, boosting the resilience of the water supply in the wake of climate change.

"Trapping and maintaining additional supplies of water on farms truly has the potential to combat the effects of drought on an essential British industry."

Laurence Couldrick, Westcountry Rivers Trust

The initiative is one of 16 proposals receiving a share of £40 million as part of the Water Breakthrough Challenge, most recent innovation competition from the regulator for England & Wales.

A solution that adapts ground-stability monitoring technology to address leakage in has also been recognised by the competition.

At present, leakage results in a daily water loss of more than three billion litres of water in England & Wales. The project will use the existing network of fibre-optic cables - like those that host broadband - to report on minute changes in vibration patterns.

Fibre optic cables will be used to tackle leakage thanks to Ofwat cash injection

This process, which is already used as part of the rail network to monitor ground stability, can also detect even the slightest loss of water to locate breaches early. Compared to current monitoring methods, this method is more environmentally friendly and less expensive.

Winners also include the UK’s first ever, full-scale, carbon-neutral wastewater works. This initiative from water company Severn Trent will bring together cutting-edge carbon-reduction technologies for wastewater and test them at scale, pushing the limits on how the sector can slash its environmental impact.

The UK’s first ever, full-scale, carbon-neutral wastewater works.

The project will integrate several technologies in an existing urban wastewater treatment plant and create a digital twin, which is a virtual representation of the treatment plant. It is a real-time, data-driven model that can be used to monitor, analyse, and improve the performance of the plant.

Why is innovation important in the water sector?

There are a number of reasons why innovation is needed in the water sector, including:

  • Increasing demand: The global population is growing, and with it, the demand for water. This is putting a strain on water resources, and innovation is needed to find new ways to meet the growing demand
  • Climate change: More extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods are being caused by climate change. This is disrupting water supplies and making it more difficult to provide reliable water services. Innovation is needed to develop new ways to adapt to climate change and its impact on water resources.
  • Water pollution: Pollution from agriculture, industry, and urban runoff is contaminating water supplies and making them unsafe to drink or more costly to process. Innovation is needed to develop new ways to clean up polluted water and protect water quality.
  • Water scarcity: In some parts of the world, water resources are already over-exploited, and there is not enough water to meet the needs of the population. Innovation is needed to develop new ways to conserve water and make it more efficient to use.

Innovation in the water sector can help to address these challenges and ensure that everyone has access to safe, clean water. There are a number of innovative technologies that are being developed to improve water management.

“The water sector has faced mounting pressure over systemic challenges related to the environment and society, while the climate around us continues to drastically change shape."

David Black, Ofwat.

Ofwat established a £200 million Innovation Fund in a bid to help support the UK water sector’s capacity to innovate, enabling it to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society, and the environment. The fund aims to encourage new ways of working that go beyond business-as-usual innovation practices in the water industry, in particular, increasing and improving collaboration and building partnerships from within and outside the water sector.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to encourage initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society. Previous rounds of the competition have already seen numerous innovative projects win funding for their potential to benefit customers, society and the environment through solutions that introduce rainwater storage systems to local communities and minimise water demand in new building projects.