Imagine a world where the streets are never dug up, there is no traffic disruption resulting from engineering work, your water is never turned off and you never have cause to complain to your local water company. Impossible?
Well, if you live in Yorkshire it could become reality by 2010.
Yorkshire Water's roject Clearwater aims to reduce disruptions to customers to zero by 2010, which goes beyond the expectations of regulators such as Ofwat and the Environment Agency. But the water company is also convinced that by developing new techniques to maintain, upgrade and repair infrastructure, it will also save money.
At the centre of the project is a programme of preventative and active maintenance. 'Currently we rely on customers telling us there is a problem but that is shutting the door after the horse has bolted. What we really want is for the customer to not have to make that call, ' explains optimal service network manager Mark Worsfold.
To mitigate reactive repair the company has risk graded all its water mains so it knows which are most likely to fail and can employ strategic pressure management across the network to minimise the risk of bursts in the older, less robust mains.
In addition, the firm is currently working towards automating its entire network so that it is all monitored and controlled from a central office.
'This would remove reactive visits so if an asset fails another kicks in. For example, if a pump fails on a treatment works we can ramp up another one because we have automated pump rotation, ' explains automations and maintenance manager Andrew Ward.
All of these changes are part of creating what the company describes as a '21st century service'. 'There has been a change to how assets are operated. We would never build a water tower now, we would pump the water, but they didn't have pump control when the towers were built. So we are asking ourselves if we can we rationalise this asset base, '' says distribution rationalisation manager Peter Coddington.
This rationalisation has led to the closure of 13 water treatment works as better leakage management and supply control measures have enabled the firm to identify that it only really needs 66 of its 86 water works.
So far the company is making good progress in its zero tolerance crackdown. Supply interruptions are down from 700,000 in 2004/05 to fewer than 300,000 in 2006/07.
According to the Consumer Council for Water, Yorkshire Water is unique in its approach, turning around a poor performance record in the 1990s to become a market leader. 'It is probably one of only two or three that can afford to even think about doing something this ambitious. It will be amazing if they pull it off, ' says a CCW spokesman.
'By setting seemingly impossible targets and engaging our people it is really enforcing innovation, ' says zero supply interruptions manager Steve Herndlehofer. But what about the seemingly impossible target of receiving zero customer complaints? 'It's a target. We'd also like more letters of praise, ' admits Herndlehofer.