The 9th Global Leakage Summit took place in London on 13–14 March 2018 looking at efficiency, resilience and sustainability. Here, Bob Taylor of South West Water answers questions on these leading themes from the Summit.
Question: What do you see as the biggest influence on achieving the three goals of efficiency, resilience and sustainability in water scarce areas and countries with less developed infrastructures?
Bob Taylor: From a strategic perspective, it is vital that key policy and decision makers understand the challenges we are facing globally with climate change, population growth, urbanisation and the scarcity of water resources. In addition, the value of water, its importance to the living environment and the vital role water plays in human and economic development should underpin any strategy to ensure water is used wisely and water loss and wastage is minimised. Once these high-level drivers are understood, the next challenge is for water management senior level practitioners to understand the range of tools and technology available and the experiences gained globally over the last 30 years in the battle to minimise water losses and conserve this valuable but finite resource. Water loss management has been an area of evolving technology and know-how and it is important that people are aware of what is available and what will be appropriate and effective in their local environment.
Q: From a UK water company viewpoint, do you see the regulatory drivers of a 15 per cent reduction in leakage by 2020 – and a standard reporting structure across the UK – as feasible and practicable?
BT: These challenges have emerged as a result of an understanding of customer priorities and a desire from both water companies and regulator to inject new impetus into the British water industry’s long record post-privatisation in reducing leakage. The standardised reporting was initiated by the industry itself in order to make it easier for our customers to make direct performance comparisons and judge how well their own supplier is delivering in this area. Both requirements are challenging in different ways,particularly as they are hitting the industry at the same time – but in both cases, the changes were planned and companies have sufficient time to prepare.
Q: What do you see as the single most important change that could be implemented by UK water companies to drive down their own network leakage – and that of their customers – to such a level? Are more robust demand management measures needed, particularly in water-scarce areas of the UK?
BT: Speaking for my own company, South West Water, which covers a large mainly rural area with wide variations in topography, we are planning to modernise and improve our pressure management infrastructure, which we believe will help us reach the new targets. This is only one part of a multi-faceted strategy. Certainly in resource stretched areas, the combination of demand management measures needs to be as strong and effective as possible, along with education of customers to promote less wastage and more efficient water use.
Q: Large diameter trunk (transmission) mains have always been the ‘bête noire’ of water networks, as some of the most difficult pipes to monitor and manage cost-effectively, and this is another agenda topic at the Summit. Do you see any upcoming technologies or practices that can best address this scenario?
BT: In the UK, high-impact trunk mains failures are becoming more frequent, driven by extremes in climate and asset deterioration. It is therefore even more vital that water companies become more capable at monitoring trunk main leakage performance in order to identify small leaks before they develop into catastrophic bursts. There are some interesting emerging technologies in this area such as satellite imagery, infra-red drones and fibre optics.
Q: Innovation clearly plays a large part in improving efficiency and bringing down the costs of technology. But who should encourage it – the water utility or the supply chain? And where does the funding come from?
BT: Innovation should be driven by business need, particularly in delivering improved outcomes for customers – and the solution can be developed by companies themselves, or the supply chain, or whoever is best placed to do this. In reality, some of the best innovations result from collaborations – companies understanding the need and suppliers developing solutions. The evolution of modern leakage management know-how and technology has followed exactly this path.
Q: Can innovation also be applied to the workforce – to change mind-sets and encourage upskilling? What can both water companies and regulators do to promote and influence a culture of innovation?
BT: Innovation in terms of skills, capability and training is probably an area that has not had enough emphasis historically but with the onset of the digital revolution and the age profile of our industry, this is becoming an increasingly key area. Promoting a culture of innovation implies a wide range of actions but it is important to recognise that innovative products and process often fail. This is not necessarily a bad thing, provided the reasons are understood and different improved approaches emerge as a result. Recognising that failure is part of the process is a key attribute of successful innovators.