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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 listen to customers.

We had a great response to the consultation and would like to thank the significant number of residents who took the time to send us their views.

 

Our Decision

As you know, we committed to look at ways to provide yourself and your neighbours with partially softened water, something which is unique to your area.

Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to answer our questions or has given any feedback to us since March.

We have listened to the feedback we have received from the consultation and customer events, and we're pleased to let you know that we will be installing a brand-new treatment facility, which will allow us to partially soften your water in the future.

A large majority of people who responded to our consultation told us they would be happy for an additional charge to be re-introduced on their bills to cover the cost of partial softening. We are conscious that not every resident responded to the consultation, so the details on what the additional charge may look like in terms of cost per month is yet to be finalised and we are also working closely with our regulator, Ofwat on the best way forward.

To be clear, no additional charge will be added to your water bill until partial softening has returned. We will be sure to keep you updated on progress and we will give you plenty of notice as to what the additional charge will mean to you.

We would also like to highlight that we have a range of tariffs designed to support customers in vulnerable circumstances who may struggle to pay their bill. If you feel this could benefit you, a close friend or family member please visit www.affinitywater.co.uk/help.

How long will it take?

As a reminder, the original equipment to partially soften your water failed unexpectedly earlier this year and there is no equipment available for a like for like replacement. Once the necessary planning process is finalised, we will need to design, build and install a brand-new water softening plant for your community, which could take between 18 – 24 months to complete.

We know this seems like a long time, but it is necessary to make sure the new softening plant is up to our highest standards to continue to provide you with a high-quality supply of water.

We would like to thank you in advance for your patience and understanding during this time and we will move as quickly as possible to get this up and running for you.

Again, we would like to say sorry about the unexpected change to your water hardness this year and the way this was originally communicated to you. We are committed to listening to our local communities and we realise that on this occasion, we let you down. Thanks to your feedback, we hope you are happy that we have now found a way forward to continue partially softening your water in future.

In recognition that we have not done as well as we could this year, we committed to provide a donation to a cause close to the local community. We are pleased to tell you that the majority of residents that took part in our consultation chose St Clare Hospice to receive this donation from us and we will be in touch with them shortly to arrange this.


 

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.

       

    • What does it mean if I have ‘sand-like’ particles in my water?

      Most customers are unaffected by this, but a few customers in the Saffron Walden area have contacted us to report ‘sand-like’ particles coming through their hot water taps.

      If you do experience this, we’d like to assure you that this is very unlikely to be sand. It’s much more likely this is chalk (sometimes called limescale or calcium carbonate). Water in the Affinity Water area is naturally hard due to chalk. You can't see chalk in cold water but as it’s heated up, the chalk comes out of the water as a white or sandy coloured deposit. This starts to happen between 60-65 degrees centigrade.

      This mostly seems to be affecting customers that have a type of hot water system known as an ‘unvented cylinder’ and in most cases it’s related to the way the system was installed.

      You can read more about our research with this issue and unvented cylinders here.

      What can I do about this?

      We’d recommend that customers don’t heat their water above 60c. This should help to minimise the build-up of calcium carbonate and may also help to bring down your energy bills.

      It’s also important to be aware that heating water above 60c carries the risks of burns and scalds from hot water.

      What is calcium carbonate?

      Calcium carbonate occurs naturally in water and is a measure of how ‘hard’ water is. The water in Saffron Walden and across Southeast England is naturally hard and is perfectly safe to drink and use as normal.

      You can't see chalk in cold water but as it is heated up, the chalk (sometimes called limescale or calcium carbonate) comes out of the water as a white or sandy coloured deposit. We’ve provided advice on how to reduce the build-up of limescale in your home here.

      What if I think it’s sand?

      A simple way to confirm if the substance is calcium carbonate, is to put a sample in a dish and add some normal vinegar – a spoonful or so of each is usually enough. If the substance dissolves or fizzes, then it’s calcium carbonate. If this happens, we recommend that you turn your boiler down to below 60c and consider contacting an approved plumber using www.watersafe.org.uk if you have concerns about the installation of an unvented cylinder. If the substance doesn’t dissolve or fizz, we recommend that customers contact us on 0345 357 2407 so that we can investigate further.

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