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Water infrastructure and innovation

Watch Professor Steve Ormerod and Professor Tony Harrington discuss water security from a water industry perspective.
I’m here this week with Professor Tony Harrington, who’s the Director of Environment for Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. Tony, could you say a little bit about your role in Welsh Water? Well, as you said, I’m Director of Environment. So I cover all environment issues for the business, whether that’s our carbon footprint, dealing with water quality in the marine environment, terrestrial environment, the environmental aspects of the recycling we do in terms of biosolids, going back to land, looking after climate change, sustainability. And I’m also effectively chief scientist, so I also cover all of the innovation and science we do and all the research portfolio.
Could you tell me what water security means for you as Director of Environment for Dwr Cymru Welsh Water? I probably divide that into two. So water security on the drinking water side, and water security on the wastewater side. On the drinking water side– every five years, although we actually do it annually, but formally we publish every five years our water source management plan. And that takes accounts of climate change projections, and all the changes in demand and water usage and so on and so forth. And we’re able to predict how much water our customers are going to need five, 10, 15, 25, even 50 years away. Over 50 years, there might be a deficit. In other words demand exceeds supply.
And so we have some– in those particular cases– quite simple engineering to do. In one case, there’s another– a new abstraction, some pumping made, and we’re going to change a pump. So the infrastructure then follows. As time goes on, we’re looking at much more natural solutions, though. So we’re starting to look both in the urban setting for sustainable urban drainage. And in rural settings at this type of environment, where we’re looking at forestation, different ways of managing the land. So on the wastewater side, we’re now developing methodologies and modelling approaches, and so on, to look at the effects of climate change on our sewer systems.
And we’re also working very actively with customer groups and manufacturers of the sort of plastics unfortunately, that we get in our sewers. So there’s a package of work on the wastewater side that really looks at security from a resilience perspective. So we’re trying to make wastewater assets every bit as resilient as we already have on the drinking water side of the business. So in fact, in the round, what we’re discussing here is water security being about linking the needs of people, the needs of the environment, and very much the needs of future generations, also, in the way you think about water security. We’re much better, if I’m honest, at managing concrete infrastructure then we have at the environment.
I think in five years’ time, we will have moved from a business which is pretty much entirely focused, when it comes to water security, at concrete type assets– dams, water treatment works, pipes, pumps, all that all that kind of stuff– into one where the environment is looked at in exactly the same light. So we look at the environment as a treatment asset. To treat the water before it comes in our reservoir, before it gets to us to treat and supply to customers. And it might well be that there’s a– there’s not– it would definitely be better for the environment, more sustainable. It might actually be cheaper.
We hope that by treating the catchments in that way, and working with partners, we can obviously improve biodiversity, we can include ecology, improve fisheries in our rivers and the marine environment [INAUDIBLE].. But I also hope that there’s a sweet spot between working in catchments and working in hard infrastructure that actually represents the most cost effective way of providing the various services, both on the drinking water and the wastewater side, to our customers. So again, there is a dimension where thinking about future generations, intergenerational equity, is also a key part– Yeah, absolutely. Of the way we monitor water security. I mean, we’re standing on a reservoir today, which was built just after the Victorians were around. And it’s still here.
And the average life of some of our assets is many– it’s going to be many hundreds of years at the current rate of replacement. So we have got to think way ahead into the future. And new technology might come along, people might, I don’t know, treat water produced– treat waste in their homes, for instance. That might be a reality within 25 years. But right now it isn’t the reality. And by far the cheapest way of treating water and waste is with large economies of scale. So at the moment we’re still very much focused on dealing with stuff at a nationwide type of approach. Tony thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and your insights with us.
I think the people using our course will find that extremely interesting. OK, my pleasure. OK. [INAUDIBLE]

In this video, we’ll hear from Professor Steve Ormerod and Professor Tony Harrington, Director of Environment at Dwr Cymru Welsh Water.

They’ll be discussing water security from a water industry perspective. They’ll talk about ways to sustain water resources, while meeting the need of the population, in the future.

Over to you

  • In your opinion, what should be the role of water companies in ensuring water security?

Let us know in the comments.

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The Challenge of Global Water Security

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