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  • Innovation

    It is essential that we are able to adopt new ways of working and technologies that help improve the services we provide, reduce costs and manage risk.

    Our environmental investigations programme aims to gather knowledge and data from locations potentially experiencing environmental stress in order to better understand the scale of the issue.

    One project, in the Bristol Avon catchment, involves a novel approach to regulating effluent discharges. We have agreed with the Environment Agency a mandatory reduction of 46 tonnes of phosphorus from a group of 24 sites at a cost of £20m less than the traditional approach; each of these in turn has a discretionary stretch target.

    This is a more flexible approach than usual, which will allow optimisation of existing treatment and the use of novel processes or additional treatment that has not been over-sized.

    Our Eureka programme rewards staff who have proposed projects that save money, improve service to customers, reduce risk and improve the ways we work. In 2016, there were 91 suggestions overall, of which 16 were rewarded and five were suitable for wider roll-out.

    In addition, we have introduced directors' challenges where a defined issue it put to the entire company for ideas. The first two, which concerned protection of drinking water quality once it is in the distribution network and options to reduce fly nuisance at sewage treatment works, received positive responses.

    We carry out regular trials of new products and technology developed by other companies and in 2016-17 these included:

    • a hydrogen sulphide resistant product that deals with corrosion in pipes and tunnels
    • an epoxy lining system that can be used for sewers more than 300mm in diameter
    • a mobile unit that analyses the phosphate content of river water.

    We continue to develop better ways to tackle our most pressing environmental and social concerns. One of these, launched this year, is EnTrade, an innovative, market-based method for improving the water environment.

    EnTrade involves an online platform by which farmers bid for payment to carry out measures such as planting crop covers that reduce the amount of nitrogen that leaches from soil into groundwater. This approach is much more cost-effective than conventional engineered solutions and the first two auctions were comfortably oversubscribed.

    The first part of our joint research programme with the University of Bath concluded in 2016-17.

    The main themes were:

    • low energy nutrient recovery from sewage
    • methods for increasing biogas from sewage sludge digesters
    • emerging pollutants in waste water
    • improved techniques for understanding and comparing the whole life costs of water management.

    Meanwhile the university's Water Innovation Research Centre, formed with our assistance in 2014-15, continues to develop. The last 12 months saw the formation of an advisory board that brings together individuals from industry, regulators and academia, plus the hosting of its first water science and engineering conference and the UK International Water Association's Young Water Professionals event.

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