Northumbrian Water gets full marks for environmental performance

A recent report by the Environment Agency has called for water companies to clean up their act and reflect on their environmental performance and long-term resilience, whilst criticising them for their unacceptable efforts to protect the environment and prevent damage caused to rivers, beaches and wildlife.

 beaker of clear water

Only 4 out of 9 of the water and sewerage companies are achieving targets for total pollution incidents with a sector average of 31 per 10,000 km2 per water company and a total of 1623 incidents. Only 2 out of 9 water companies met their targets for serious pollution incidents with 2 being significantly worse than target and a total of 48 serious pollution incidents occuring in 2018.

But it's not all bad news! Northumbrian Water was given the highest 4/4 performance star rating for 2018 in the Environment Agency report.

So, what is Northumbrian water doing that is different?

Well Northumbrian Water are definitely looking at innovative ways of solving the issue of surface water, which has a significant impact on water quality. This has been demonstrated in their recent Innovation Festival which involved a Sprint with Wavin and Institution of Civil Engineers to find creative solutions to manage surface water. They have also shown a long-term commitment to sustainable drainage systems and innovation to combat this ever-growing issue.

Commitment to SuDS

Rainwise is Northumbrian Water’s surface water management programme. Northumbrian Water recognise that not only are bigger pipes and traditional engineered solutions to managing rainwater more expensive but managing water closer to where it falls also helps them to avoid wasting money and energy by cleaning rainwater at treatment works. They look to use sustainable drainage solutions (SuDS) wherever possible recognising the additional environmental and social value that they provide.

Rainwise and Community Engagement

Back in 2014, Northumbrian Water took a collaborative approach with SuDS for Schools and Communities, a pilot scheme for a proactive community base initiative to manage surface water which included an engagement strategy, an education programme and installation of sustainable drainage within school grounds to demonstrate their use within the domestic and community environment. To deliver this initiative Northumbrian Water (NW) collaborated with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Environment Agency (EA). Other stakeholders included community representatives and local authorities.

SuDS and Water Quality

The initiative was deemed a success with the SuDS proving to make a significant contribution to flood risk reduction and surface water management as well as well as delivering wider benefits to the environment and local community. The separation of stormwater flows from the combined sewerage system helped to reduce flood risk and the amount of water going to waste water works which also helped to reduce discharges into the environment. In addition a number of SUDs features which include bio retention areas and filter trenches can help to improve water quality by removing sediment and contaminants from runoff either through filtering, settlement or the biological breakdown of pollutants.

Overcoming Barriers

The location of new habitats and bio-diverse features within schools ensured that they were relatively secure from development risks and third-party damage and, also provided many opportunities for learning and enjoyment for the school children. Interestingly the perceived dangers of storing water on the surface have often been used as obstacles to prevent their use. Northumbrian Water’s pilot demonstrated how SUDS features such as ponds can be safely created and managed within a community environment.

As a result of the pilots by Northumbrian water, the schools took ownership of the SuDS and Northumbrian Water started to work with the 13 Lead Local Flood authorities to progress schemes including SuDS as community assets.

You can see Northumbrian Waters Rainwise projects on the NWl community portal here

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