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20 May 21

Affinity Water puts nature to the test to improve the efficiency and resilience of water supplies

  • Improve the resilience of existing infrastructure for customers
  • The seagrass project will use nature-based solutions
  • Smarter Tanks looks to unlock ‘hidden gems’

At a time when climate change and a growing demand for water are creating urgent challenges for the water sector Ofwat’s Innovation in Water Challenge has provided a timely push for key players in the industry to put their heads together to foster collaboration on a number of fronts.

The Innovation in Water Challenge – run by Nesta Challenges as part of Ofwat’s £200m Innovation Fund – has awarded Affinity Water £249,791 of funding for its ‘Seagrass Seeds of Recovery’ bid and £94,500 for its ‘Smarter Tanks’ project. Affinity Water’s two winning initiatives were produced in collaboration with other water companies, UK Universities and government agencies to improve the efficiency and resilience of its water supplies.

The two entries employ new and novel nature-based solutions to improve the resilience of existing infrastructure.

Seagrass Seeds of Recovery

’Seagrass Seeds of Recovery’ represents an authentic partnership between organisations who are setting out with a genuine aspiration to improve both the condition of the local environment, and also to explore these innovative solutions that will contribute to tackling the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The seagrass project will use nature-based solutions to restore seagrass and improve estuaries and coastal waters by increasing biodiversity and absorbing carbon and nitrogen emissions. The project will also help Affinity Water and other companies in the sector to achieve Net Zero operational carbon emissions by 2030 by providing a new offsetting options for those emissions we can’t eliminate.

There’s a compelling argument for Affinity Water to lead on the Seagrass Seeds of Recovery project at a time when there is more and more focus on how nature itself can be used to create future solutions to the climate crises.

It fulfils a higher social purpose by facilitating the delivery of long-term multiple marine environmental benefits, with significant biodiversity net gain, water quality benefits, nutrient cycling and carbon reduction potential.

Seagrass meadows enhance the stability of coastal zones, locking carbon into the seabed at a rapid rate, improving water quality and creating habitat for hundreds of thousands of small animals - enhancing the resilience of coastal ecosystems.

In Essex and Suffolk, thousands of hectares of seagrass have been lost and restoration of seagrass will help to support the UK Government’s 25-year Environment Plan.

A consortium of ten partner organisations has been created to deliver this project and strong collaboration throughout will be maintained. These are: Anglian Water; Project Seagrass – lead delivery partner; Salix River & Wetland Services; Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science); Environment Agency; Natural England; Department of Zoology and Wadham College, University of Oxford; Swansea University; University of Essex.

Smarter Tanks

Smarter Tanks will develop a ‘business model canvas’ to harness real-time monitoring and control solutions for existing water tanks and towers to improve efficiency when water is needed most such as during dry spells or droughts.

It looks to unlock ‘hidden gems’ by making the most use of existing water storage assets in a new way in order to build network resilience and pave the way for the industry to explore new solutions further.

It will significantly enhance Affinity Water’s aim to improve the efficiency, flexibility and resilience of our water networks for the benefit of our customers in the future while protecting the environment.

Historically, decentralised water tanks, such as feeding tower blocks and rainwater harvesting tanks, are automatically kept full with mains water during peak water usage periods. In extended dry spells, rainwater harvesting systems fail to reduce demand on the potable network when they are most needed.

The trial itself represents a first in the UK for two novel Industry 4.0 (I4) applications using smart demand management for existing drinking water and rainwater storage systems. We have focussed the design of this proposal to target Operational System Resilience and Open Data themes.

Partners include University of Essex and Aqua civils along with a range of experts and consultants.

Creating the future from nature itself

We take great pride in producing these two winners from the Innovation in Water Challenge, from a very wide and worthy field of contenders. Our strategy was to bring broad-based experienced teams together to examine possible solutions to the pressing problems the water industry faces and to come up with solutions that are truly innovative.

Affinity Water will also contribute to the two projects from its own funds: £31,644 for Seagrass, and £10,500 for Smarter Tanks.

As we enter the UN Decade On Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), ‘Nature-based solutions’ (NbS) have become recognised as a key way to address the problems of both a nature crisis, and a climate emergency. Nature-based solutions provide many wide ranging environmental benefits beyond their immediate solution. At Affinity Water we already undertake significant nature-based activities through our long standing catchment management and river restoration programmes. We are already in the process of considering many more nature-based opportunities including planting at least 110k trees by 2030.

As we celebrate International Biodiversity Day 2021 we sincerely hope that with such experienced collaborative teams around us we can together bring Ofwat’s two Innovation in Water Challenge projects successfully to the finishing line in the future.

Aaron Burton, Head of Environmental Strategy and Mumin Islam, Asset Specialist.

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