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Saffron Walden

Water softening consultation

We wrote to all customers in the Saffron Walden area in March to let you know that the specialised equipment we used to partially soften your water had come to the end of its life. This means that you’ve been receiving water which is at the natural level of hardness that is common to your area.

We invited residents to share their questions around this change in water hardness at our online customer events on Tuesday 20th April.  The feedback we received at these events and our response is available to view here.

Following the customer events, we promised to conduct a short consultation in May to gain a wider view on water hardness in your area and to let you know about the different methods of how water can be partially softened.

There is more information at the bottom of the page.

 

Have your say

The consultation will close on 18th June and we'll publish our response on this page at the end of July.


 

Stay up to date

To help ensure you have the support and information you need, we’ve set up a dedicated team to keep you updated on our progress - you can reach them on saffronwaldenteam@affinitywater.co.uk

We’ll also be publishing monthly updates on this page, so if you’d like to keep up to date with the consultation or if you’d like to be involved, please let us know by subscribing below.

 

Further Information

    • What is hardness?

      The type of water that we supply is classed as 'hard' or ‘very hard’ water. This hardness occurs naturally and does not vary much over time.

      Rainwater is soft water. After it falls on the ground, it passes through the underlying rocks. Small amounts of naturally occurring minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, dissolve into it. This is then what is known as ‘hard’ water.

      Most of our water supplies are from groundwater, taken directly from the part of the rock known as an aquifer.

      The water that we produce from our treatment works always meets the highest standards set by legislation. In fact, the water we supply has to meet higher standards than those required for bottled water. The water produced at Debden Road has always been of a high standard, within water quality regulations and is absolutely safe to drink and use as normal.

      The calcium and magnesium found in hard water are beneficial for healthy growth and are found in many types of foods. Drinking tap water in a hard water area can contribute towards your daily intake.

      When you heat water, hard water produces a small amount of limescale and so hot water systems, kettles, electric irons and domestic appliances are particularly prone to ‘scaling up’.

      When you heat water, hard water produces a small amount of limescale and so hot water systems, kettles, electric irons and domestic appliances are particularly prone to ‘scaling up’.

      We’ve provided advice on how to reduce the build-up of limescale in your water here.

    • Water hardness in Saffron Walden

      General information on the area and water hardness levels

      The partially softened water was only supplied to customers within the area shown here, which has approximately 8,200 properties and 19,000 people.

      The area includes customers in the following postcodes; CB10 1, CB10 2, CB11 3, CB11 4.

      Postcode Area

      (Debden Road Supply Area (the shaded area is the supply area)

      The target maximum hardness of the water with partial softening was 180mg/l as calcium carbonate, and 72mg/l as calcium. This means the water was classified as ‘hard’.

      The natural hardness of the water in this area is now 300-350mg/l as calcium carbonate, and 120-140mg/l as calcium, which means your water is classified as 'very hard'.

      Full information can be found by entering your postcode on our website

      There are varying levels of water hardness in the country and the water across most of Southeast England is naturally hard. For comparison, here are some other local water hardness levels within our supply area:

      Location Average hardness as mg/l of calcium carbonate
      Thaxted 432
      Hertford, Ware 402
      Harlow 398
      Hempstead 356
      Saffron Walden 352
      Stansted 349
      Bishops Stortford 328
    • Water hardness scale

      Water hardness scale

      The water in the Saffron Walden area is naturally ‘very hard’, which is quite common across Southeast England. The partial softening that was in place between 1963 and 2021 reduced the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water.

      We do not operate additional water softening treatment anywhere else. This additional softening treatment was unique to Saffron Walden.

       

    • Why did this happen?

      We understand that we’ve partially softened the water in your area for a long time. We do not operate additional water softening treatment anywhere else. This additional softening treatment was unique to Saffron Walden.

      From 1963 to 2014, customers paid an additional charge on their bills for partially softened water. Although this charge was removed in 2015, many residents who attended the event told us that they'd be happy to consider paying an additional charge to partially soften the water again.

      The deterioration in the performance of the equipment occurred suddenly and there’s no replacement available to us right now that meets the required high standards of our industry. However, our teams have been busy exploring options to potentially partially soften the water in future and we have outlined these options in our consultation with you.

    • How is water partially softened?

      Reverse Osmosis Membranes

      The Reverse Osmosis (RO) membrane acts as a physical barrier and allows only very small molecules, including water, to pass through with the hardness retained on the rejected side.

      Only part of the abstracted water is treated through the Reverse Osmosis plant and is then blended with other water to achieve the desired level of hardness.

      The water is then treated again to ensure it is of the highest quality before supplying to customers.

      Using Reverse Osmosis to partially soften water results in around 15-20% of the water put into the plant going to waste.

      This is the method we have used to partially soften the water since 2003 until the equipment failed unexpectedly this year.

      Option 1 – Replacement of membranes in existing Reverse Osmosis plant

      Whilst we’re continuing to explore this option, it is important to highlight that this will have to be built from scratch as there are currently no membranes available on the market that fit within our existing Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit and that are approved by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI).

      If we’re able to identify a supplier that could manufacture new membranes for us that fit within the existing RO units and are approved by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, we expect the work would be completed within 18 months once the contract has been awarded.

      Option 2 - Installation of a new Reverse Osmosis plant

      Our teams are also exploring the potential to decommission and remove the existing Reverse Osmosis (RO) plant and replace it with a new RO plant, that will contain membrane modules that are compliant with the strict standards set by our industry.

      The expected timeframe to complete this work will be 12 – 18 months once the contract has been awarded.

      Option 3 – Ion Exchange Plant

      AAn ion exchange plant is a pressure vessel that is filled with specially selected resin. The water that passes through the ion exchange plant is treated when the hardness ions (calcium and magnesium predominantly) attach onto the resin and are replaced with other ions that do not contribute to the hardness.

      Only part of the abstracted water is treated through the ion exchange plant and is then blended with other water to achieve the desired level of hardness.

      The water is then treated again to ensure it is of the highest quality before supplying to customers.

      Using an Ion Exchange Plant to partially soften water results in around 3-5% of the water put into the plant going to waste.

      The expected timeframe to complete this work will be 12 – 18 months once the contract has been awarded.

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