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Water supply: finding a natural balance between treatment and the environment

Getting the balance correct, or perhaps more importantly, getting the natural balance correct is the challenge now facing the UK water industry, says Grontmij director of water Scott Aitken.

Never before have we seen the complexity involved in a Price Review process as in the discussions for the AMP 5 spending round in England and Wales. The same challenges face the water businesses of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The issues include affordability for the customer, providing services that are safe and secure, funding and returns for shareholders and, fundamentally, starting to plan and act in a way that will make a real difference to the water industry’s carbon emissions.

As engineers and scientists we have a hugely important role to play in ensuring we provide the right answers to set us on the road to achieving the natural balance required between how we utilise our water environment and how we impact on our atmosphere.

Grontmij UK is part of the European and global Grontmij group. In European countries such as the Netherlands water is at the top of the political and social agenda. In the Netherlands they are investing in tertiary treatment technologies to safeguard the quality of the water environment and tackle such issues as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, and pesticide pollutants.

This higher standard of treatment is being achieved with the Dutch water industry retaining a far lower percentage of the Netherlands’ overall carbon footprint than the estimated comparable in the UK.
But investment choices have to be made on strict cost benefit principles including rigorous engineering, scientific and environmental studies, social impacts, and health considerations.

Clearly choices made by another country may not necessarily be the choices we want to make in the UK. It may not be our natural balance. But perhaps there are things to learn given the sheer criticality of water and energy as natural resources and how they must be managed.

Grontmij in the UK is working closely with a number of the UK water companies to firstly reduce and use energy more efficiently and also to develop increased use of renewable technologies. The pace of this type of invest-to-save approach must increase to meet carbon reduction and cost efficiency objectives in the UK. Similarly, reducing leakage levels will also contribute hugely to mitigating against additional treatment capacity requirements and consequent increased energy requirements.

This Price Review gives us an opportunity to set out on the right path for investment over the next 25 years not just the next five years. It is an opportunity to invest in our infrastructure assets to ensure they meet the demands of climate change. But we also have to deal more effectively with water on the surface and in the urban landscape. We have to look closely at the decision making process with regard to development and how new development can affect the water environment and ensure we place water more firmly at the heart of urban planning.

Ofwat hasn’t promoted an early start programme but is promoting good business management to deliver a smoother flow of work into AMP5 and ensure that, where companies are asking for significant expenditure in year one, it is delivered. We know much of what needs to be done. Starting now in certain areas is not necessarily an unacceptable risk to shareholders but a cost benefit given the skills challenge we have in our UK water supply chain and the choices innovative and performing companies and people can make.

I hope you find this Water Report informative and thought provoking. My message would be Đ let all stakeholders in our UK water market move forward together towards achieving that natural balance. And let’s all learn from others where appropriate and utilise the innovative skills that we undoubtedly have to meet these objectives.

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