Water and wastewater services on all Ministry of Defence sites are being taken over by external service providers. Bernadette Redfern finds out about project Aquatrine.
Mention the British armed forces and most people will think of the present conflict in Iraq or imagine paratroopers landing behind enemy lines, tanks ploughing through muddy battlefields or submarines being tracked by U-boats.
But there is much more to the story than striking news footage and World War Two films.
Sustaining and developing a fit and enthusiastic fighting force also depends on such mundane matters as ensuring decent day to day living conditions back in the UK. That includes a proper sanitation system, and one which will not squeeze the MoD arms and munitions budgets.
In December 2003 BREY Utilities took over responsibility for water and wastewater services for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the Midlands, Wales and south west England, package A to those in the know.
BREY - a consortium of Yorkshire Water, EarthTech and Kellog, Brown & Root (KBR) - is now responsible for all potable and non-potable water supplies, foul drainage, fire fighting systems, shore side water supply to ships and submarines and all surface water drainage across hundreds of MoD facilities.
The timing of this move to privatised supply could not be more appropriate for the MoD as it is facing the loss of crown immunity, which in the past exempted it from the demanding environmental legislation the rest of the water industry in the UK has to adhere to.
Furthermore investment in the MoD's water and wastewater services had been extremely fragmented and poorly managed over the past 50 years. The result is that condition of existing infrastructure varies wildly and there is a lot of work to do to meet European environmental standards.
If this work were to be carried out by the MoD, investment in the infrastructure would compete with other defence priorities and would be done less efficiently than by using experienced outside specialists.
BREY has its main consortium office near Sheffield. Similar contracts have been signed for the rest of the country but the MoD will not transfer responsibility until later this year (see box).
All the contracts will last for 25 years and are worth an estimated £2.3bn in total.
Since the BREY team took over in December it has had to take on around 30 staff that had been working on the MoD sites carrying out operation and maintenance work. This was made easier by the early involvement the BREY team had before the actual 'go live' date last December.
Before this they visited all of the MoD sites, met the staff and addressed their concerns.
Management and upgrading of the assets will be carried out on a rolling three-year capital expenditure plan, which is agreed by both BREY and the MoD. The first stage of this is to carry out a detailed survey of all the MoD's infrastructure and assess exactly where investment would be needed. 'It was actually in a better state than we had previously thought, ' admits BREY managing director Bill Maclean.
One of the most important issues that BREY will have to tackle as soon as possible is the problem of leakage. Under the contract agreement BREY is paid a flat rate, like a standing charge, which will cover 70-80% of the service provider's capital and financing costs. The remainder will be a volumetric rate based on the amount of water the MoD sites actually use. Leakage across the country's defence sites is estimated to be 30% and the further BREY can reduce this the more money it will save.
It is also important that the service provider is using the most economical source for water supply and this too will have to be reviewed.
Where sites have their own wastewater treatment plants and the foul water does not simply flow into the local sewage system, the BREY team will have to ensure that the level of treatment conforms to the Bathing Waters Directive, Shellfish Directive (for coastal sites), the Habitats Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.
Achieving this will involve additional treatment processes at existing wastewater treatment works and possibly the provision of additional storage for stormwater.
MOD s assets*
Water mains 2,817km
Emergency supply reservoirs 1485
Impounding reservoirs 26
Service reservoirs 409
Water pumping stations 191
Water treatment works 105
Sewage pumping stations 847
Sewage treatment works 233
*Taken from MoD water interim report Feb 2003