Farmers could soon be reimbursed for creating water storage ponds or water “batteries” as part of an innovative drought-prevention project that has today received funding from Ofwat’s Innovation Fund. With droughts affecting the UK for much of last summer, the project, from Westcountry Rivers Trust and South West Water, will not only contribute to better hydrated wetlands, woodlands and fields, but can help farms manage water demand through dry weather, as well as boost aquatic biodiversity.
The project is one of 16 solutions being awarded a share of £40 million today in the water regulator’s latest innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge.
The initiative will work with farmers to create stores of water – both in soil “sponges” as well as lakes and ponds – that can be “re-charged” through wet weather, then drawn on through ever-more common dry seasons, to the benefit of either the farmers themselves, or local communities. These water “batteries” could form the basis of a smart water grid, improving the resilience of the water supply in the wake of climate change – in the same way solar batteries in homes store excess electricity that can be sold back to the National Grid.
The competition is also recognising a solution that adapts ground-stability monitoring technology to tackle leakage across England and Wales – a challenge which currently equates to the loss of over three billion litres of water a day. The project will use the existing network of fibre-optic cables (like those that host broadband) to report on minute changes in vibration patterns. This process, which is already used to monitor ground stability as part of the rail network, can also indicate even the smallest loss of water to catch leaks early. This technique is cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than current monitoring practices.
The winners also include the creation of the UK’s first ever, full-scale, carbon-neutral wastewater works. This state-of-the-art experiment from Severn Trent will bring together cutting-edge carbon-reduction technology for wastewater and test it at scale, pushing the limits to prove how the sector can slash its environmental impact – one of the core goals of this pocket of Ofwat’s funding. The project will integrate several promising retrofittable technologies in an existing urban wastewater treatment plant and create a data copy of all processes (‘digital twin’) to monitor impact.
The Water Breakthrough Challenge aimed to encourage initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society.
Previous rounds of the competition have already seen numerous innovative projects win funding for their potential to benefit customers, society and the environment through solutions that introduce rainwater storage systems to local communities and minimise water demand in new building projects.
Dr. Laurence Couldrick, CEO, Westcountry Rivers Trust said:
“Restoring natural sponges such as healthy soils, woodlands and wetlands can make a huge difference to agricultural water availability during dry seasons, but the creation of additional on-demand storage has even more potential. Just like we might use a battery to capture solar power, and either use it ourselves or sell it back into the grid as needed, trapping and maintaining additional supplies of water on farms truly has potential to combat the effects of drought on an essential British industry – creating a smart water grid that can help farmers and the local communities.”
David Black, CEO, Ofwat said:
“The water sector has faced mounting pressure over systemic challenges related to the environment and society, while the climate around us continues to drastically change shape. That’s why we’re funding ground-breaking innovations with potential to help us save and reuse water and wastewater products, while supporting wider society.”
The Water Breakthrough Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat, run by Challenge Works with Arup and Isle Utilities, designed to drive innovation and collaboration in the sector to benefit individuals, society and the environment.
More information about the winners of the Water Breakthrough Challenge can be found here: https://waterinnovation.challenges.org/winners/.