When Wayne’s water world went digital

Wayne toasts the local water provided by the moors above his house.

Water infrastructure from the Victorian age has met with 21st century digital technology to build resilience for a community high on the moors of West Yorkshire.

Wayne Morrison has a day job advising factories in northern England about their choice of sensors from German technology company SICK, but he also has a voluntary role running a community water company. On the hill that rises steeply above Wayne’s house, a water storage tank known locally as The Lodge, holds water collected from the marshy moorland via a network of perforated pipes.

“This was going to be no ordinary project ... there is no power or wi-fi half a kilometre up a Yorkshire moor.”

Wayne Morrison, SICK

Alongside other community-minded volunteers, he helps manage the historic Henshaw Water storage facility, which supplies 165 properties in the village of Walsden, near Todmorden, with clean, treated and delicious-tasting water - collected from the hills right above their homes.

One of England’s largest private domestic water supplies, Henshaw Water is still run on the non-profit membership model that harks back to the area’s roots at the heart of the England's cooperative workers’ movement. The local Bridge End Co-operative took over the management of the supply in 1907 until responsibility was handed over to the community in 1964.

The cotton mills of Todmorden sprang up to take advantage of the River Calder, which is nestled in the cradle of the industrial revolution. The Lodge is a stone-lined tank measuring 25 x 5 x 3 metres, constructed by industrialists in the late 19th century to serve the local cooperative and surrounding mills. Later it provided clean water for the mill workers and their managers too.

View from the moor above the village of Walsden in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.

The Lodge can store up to 300,000 litres of water, and it must have been hard toil to drag the hulking stone slabs up the hillside to line the tank and create its stone roof. The job was done well though, and for as long as anyone can remember, the storage tank has never run out of water … until now.

Like many places around the world, the historic facility is coming under stress from climate change and increasing demand from householders.

Water stress

“The tank only has a capacity to supply the community for about five days, and even though there is plenty of rain in the area, it is coming under increased stress,” explains Morrison. “In the late Spring of 2022, we came close to running out of water for the first time.

"The area’s public water utility, Yorkshire Water had to step in to install a temporary pipe spur so that the local houses did not run dry.

At Henshaw Water, everything is managed, operated and paid for by the members. Volunteers manage the day-to-day maintenance of the supply, communication with customers and look after the finances, so it was going to be down to us to find a solution to the problem.”

Charlie Walker checks the control box.

Yorkshire Water installed a permanent connection with a one-way valve that can be activated in the event of a shortage of supply. It was completed just in time for the hot, dry days of June 2022, when it was very much needed.

The question was, how could the volunteers predict when the level of the tank would drop too low, so the emergency supply could be enabled?

Once the Yorkshire Water connection was completed, the tank levels would need to be monitored continuously. Fortunately, having worked for SICK for 20 years, Morrison knew a thing or two about sensors - and the potential to collect digital data to help the volunteers monitor the water levels remotely.

“This was going to be no ordinary project like the factory automation systems that I am used to," Morrison explained. "There is no power or wi-fi half a kilometre up a Yorkshire moor.”

Maintaining supply

So, the sales consultant enlisted his colleague Charlie Walker, SICK’s UK digital product manager, to make sure a continuous water supply to residents could be maintained. The solution took not just 21st century digital know-how, but plenty of 19th-century-style hard graft.

Charlie and Wayne installed a level sensor in the tank and flow meters to monitor water feeding into the outlet pipe to the village. Water from the tank is fed by the natural pull of gravity, down the 0.5km pipe to a treatment plant on Henshaw Road.

The solar panel situated on the roof of the Henshaw Water storage tank powers the digital data collector.

Walker installed a digital sensor to provide additional data and help the volunteers manage the water facility. A solar-powered data collector controls the system and transmits data to the cloud via a control unit on top of the tank, but a wind turbine was also needed to provide sufficient power for the system.

“We had to transport a tonne of concrete in a precarious journey by pick-up truck, up the steep hill, before laying the base by hand. It certainly gave us some idea of how hard it must have been for those pioneers to install the tank 100 years ago," Walker reflected.

The solar and wind power generation has a combined capacity to pull up to 3 amps, and 150m of cabling also had to be installed.

“The system uses SICK Dynamic Data Displays to monitor information, including the temperature of the water, temperature of the sensor, signal quality, sensor heartbeat data, as well as the level,” Walker explains. “Data collected from the flow meters can also be used with the level measurement to calculate any water loss in the system.

"None of this additional data would be available without a digital system, or even just installing a single sensor with an on-device display.”

Thanks to a continuous monitoring solution, and a true collaborative effort, a 19th century facility is truly future-proofed to continue supplying water well into the 21st century, and beyond.

Wayne Morrison with the wind turbine that ensures there is sufficient power for the digital system.