Yorkshire Water sets out ambitious two-year leak reduction plan
Yorkshire Water has announced that it will create 300 new jobs to tackle leakage and network inefficiencies

Yorkshire Water has unveiled a multi-million-pound package to transform operational performance in the next two years and become a sector leader in leakage reduction.

As a result of the ambitious action plan, the water and waste water company says sewage escapes causing pollution will fall by 40 per cent, incidents resulting in internal sewer flooding are to be reduced by 70 per cent and the average interruption to water supply will fall by two thirds. These improvements are to be delivered before the start of the next five-year water industry investment period (AMP7) in 2020.

The company has taken the decision to make this substantial investment in new staff, new skills and new technology as a result of customer feedback with a view to becoming a leader in the field by industry regulator Ofwat’s next pricing review in 2019 (PR19).

Pamela Doherty, director of service delivery at Yorkshire Water said: “Over the next two years, this investment and our determination to deliver will put us alongside the best in the industry. Our plans combine intensive use of traditional engineering skills with some innovative applications of new data-led techniques.”

300 new staff

By recruiting an additional 300 staff, both within the water company and its contractors, and installing new monitors across both its water and sewerage network, the company plans to see dramatic reductions in leakage, significantly fewer pollution incidents and to slash the time customers lose supply during planned or unplanned interruptions. It is increasing its successful leakage detection skills such as acoustics as well as investing in new technologies such as drone and satellite imagery.

Responding to customer feedback, 50 new leakage engineers will also help to fulfil a new commitment to repair leaks for free in supply pipes which lie within the boundary of a customer’s property. Until now, the first repair has been for free with any further leaks becoming customers’ own responsibility.

As well as leakage engineers, 30 skilled craftspeople and a range of other technicians, including data scientists and analysts, will be recruited.

More tabs on network

The company is also planning a substantial investment in technology to improve its management of both waste and clean water networks. Around 15,000 monitoring devices will be attached to key locations in the water network, enabling leaks to be identified much more quickly. These will reduce the average detection time for leaks from three days to three hours.

A further 8,000 devices will be installed on the sewer network, providing information on the condition of the pipes and helping to prevent pollution incidents.

Linking these initiatives together will be a data-led ‘Internet of Things’ approach. Data generated by the improved remote telemetry will be analysed by a new team of data scientists. Using data analytics, engineers in the company’s Bradford-based control room will be able to despatch response teams much more quickly to either bursts or equipment failures which might cause pollution. Intelligence on the condition of assets will also be generated, enabling the company to adopt a ‘predict and prevent’ approach to maintenance of its infrastructure.

Open data innovation

In what is believed to be a first in the water industry, Yorkshire Water is considering adopting an ‘open data’ approach, allowing independent data scientists secure access to its data streams. This will enable the company to work closely with the growing Yorkshire community of digital developers to help find new and innovative solutions to pollution and leakage problems.

The company is holding an innovation day on 12 December 2017 at which over 50 companies have been invited to pitch their ideas for more efficient use of data.

Customer feedback

The drive to improve performance and operational efficiency follows an intensive programme of customer engagement.

Pamela Doherty continued: “Although we are performing in line with our current commitments, we know that our customers expect more. What they want from us is simple and clear: They want us to lose less water in leaks, minimise interruptions to their supply and reduce sewage escapes from our system. Above all, they don’t like the idea that a Yorkshire company isn’t currently one of the best in its sector.

The investment plan is linked to an ambitious new long-term strategy for Yorkshire Water which is set to be published in January as part of the company’s continuing dialogue with customers and stakeholders about how it can fundamentally change its service for the future. At the heart of this is a renewed focus on core water and waste water services. Kelda Group (Yorkshire Water’s parent company), has recently begun disposing of its non-regulated activities, including its contract operations in Northern Ireland, and further disposals are expected shortly.