The sustainability challenge for Anglian Water is to accommodate massive population growth while adapting to the likely effects of climate change.
Anglian Water is facing some of the toughest challenges of any of the UK water companies over the next budgetary period. Much of its region is low-lying and could be susceptible to flooding. At the same time, rainfall is lower than almost anywhere else in the UK, so resources are already scarce, and the population is set to grow dramatically.
"We have a projected growth in property levels second to none, in an area that’s drier than many others and likely to be subject to some of the worst flash floods," says Anglian Water director of asset management, Chris Newsome. T
he company’s response is to put forward a draft business plan for the next regulatory period that has climate change adaptation and housing growth as the main drivers for £2.5bn of investment. In the draft business plan for the period from 2010-2015 Anglian Water has included £40M to protect existing assets that are perceived to be at risk from flooding. This covers options like raising equipment on concrete blocks and constructing bunds around treatment works.
In addition, the company has budgeted to spend £65M on protecting customers from sewer flooding. One of the biggest challenges the company has to face is the high level of population and property growth that is anticipated. One million new homes are to be built within 25 years, up to 135,000 of them in the next five years. In the past, new residential developments built in the region have been much the same as everywhere else - a few hundred houses at most, constructed on the edge of existing towns or villages, or on infill plots.
The new developments planned in the Anglian region are of a different scale altogether: entire new towns of up to 10,000 properties will be built in various locations, demanding a different approach to infrastructure provision - especially when it comes to wastewater.
"When you get new townships being created, the demand on assets is far more significant," explains Newsome. "You have to think about how you cost effectively and sustainably provide linkages to wastewater treatment works; how you provide that treatment; and how you minimise the amount of water that goes to those assets in the first place." This latter issue is to be addressed by extensive use of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS).
Anglian Water is promoting SUDS through the planning and development process, and is willing to take responsibility for their operation - and possibly even ownership - in future. "For 90% of the time they would simply be areas of open grassland," explains Newsome. "But for the remaining 10% they serve the same purpose as a surface water drain."
Planning legislation for these major new developments requires developers to demonstrate that infrastructure is in place before planning permission is granted. As Newsome says, this puts water "centre stage", and Anglian Water is taking a lead by working with the region’s planning authorities, development agencies and the Environment Agency to prepare water cycle strategies that integrate water and development planning. The first to be completed is for Corby, in Northamptonshire, which is set to double in size in the next few years. "Corby was the blueprint," explains Newsome. "It demonstrated how infrastructure can be developed in a phased manner in line with the development aspirations for the region."
Anglian Water proposes spending £646M during the next regulatory period to ensure its water and sewerage infrastructure can handle the anticipated growth, £280M of it on wastewater collection and treatment. "Expect to see some large, strategic sewers being laid during AMP5," says Newsome. When it comes to supplying water to these new townships, Anglian hopes to continue supplying from within the region rather than looking outside.
Since 1990, the region’s population has grown by 15%, but the water company has managed to serve that population without putting any extra water into supply, thanks to a very successful programme of minimising leakage and a concerted effort to encourage take-up of water meters.
The massive developments set to be built in the region undoubtedly present a major challenge for the water company. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are numerous small villages that are not connected to mains sewers. "Looking at our carbon footprint is encouraging us to use natural lagoon processes for treatment in some of these small villages," explains Newsome. The process hardly produces any sludge, and almost all the power needed for aeration can be generated by wind vanes erected on-site.