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Partial water softening 

Statement – 28th February 2023

Following a consultation in 2021, we’ve been looking at ways to continue partial water softening in the future for your community. However, after a thorough review of the options available to us, we're letting you know that we’ll not be able to reinstate partial softening now or in the future.

What we’ve found out

Since July 2021, our engineers have been looking extensively to source new equipment for the existing plant to reinstate the partial softening. They have discovered that:

  • there’s currently no new equipment available on the market that meets the necessary water quality regulations for the water treatment process
  • the demand for high volume softening for drinking water is low, which is why there are very few suppliers manufacturing this equipment
  • the cost of reinstating partial softening through new equipment or an entirely new plant in the future – if equipment passed the regulations - would be a multi-million pound project.

Our decision

We have to make sure the service we provide is fair and balanced for all customers we supply. If we were to reinstate partial water softening in Saffron Walden, other Affinity Water customers across our area would be subsidising an additional service they don’t receive themselves.

Historically, Saffron Walden residents used to pay an additional 10% charge on their bills to have their water partially softened and we would have needed to reintroduce this charge to help pay for the equipment. However, even with the additional charge in place, this would not be enough to cover the costs of the new equipment over its lifespan.

We also have to make tough choices where our investments are made to ensure we have enough water in the future to provide for a growing population, adapt to a changing climate, leave more water in the environment, and achieve Net Zero carbon from our operations by 2030.

Your water quality

While the water is now ‘harder’ than you were previously used to, it’s still of the same high-quality we’ve always supplied.

Saffron Walden was unique in our supply area to receive partially softened water. The water across southeast England is naturally hard, but the hardness of water is not a reflection on the quality of water. Customers across the region have been safely drinking treated water from the chalk aquifer for well over 100 years.

For more information on how to reduce the hardness in your water, please visit our water hardness page or see further information below.

If you’d like to talk to us

We’re sorry this isn’t the answer many of you wanted to hear. If you have any questions or would like to give feedback on this decision, you can contact us here. If we’re unable to answer any questions you have, these will be recorded, and we’ll respond to you as soon as we can.

Frequently asked questions

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What options did you look at and why are they not possible?

We worked with water treatment specialists, our supply chain and product suppliers to investigate the technical options that could be used to reinstate partial water softening. These included:

  1. Reinstatement of water softening by upgrading the previously used treatment plant and retro fit with reverse osmosis membrane modules.
  2. Complete replacement of previously used treatment plant to achieve partial softening with an ion exchange plant.

At the moment, there’s no equipment available for partial softening that has the necessary water quality regulations approval.

Will water softening be available in the future?

On reviewing the options available to us, the costs of reinstating partial softening in the area would be a multi-million-pound project, and only possible once any new equipment was available after gaining the necessary regulatory approvals.

The costs are far greater than we anticipated. Even if we reintroduced the surcharge – prior to 2015, Saffron Walden residents paid an extra 10% charge on bills to have water partially softened - this would not be enough to cover the costs of the new equipment over its lifespan.

What are the impacts of harder water?

While water is now ‘harder’ than Saffron Walden customers were used to, it’s frequently tested and is still of the same high quality that we‘ve always delivered. The water in the Southeast is naturally hard and this has no effect on health - in fact, the minerals in hard water are beneficial for healthy growth and count towards your daily intake of calcium and magnesium. Saffron Walden was unique in this region to receive water that was partially softened

What is the effect of hard water on heating systems?

The water in your internal heating system is a ‘closed system’, which means the same water circulates continuously, and will only change if maintenance is done. All heating, hot water and medical appliance manufacturers will have specific settings for their appliances to work with hard water. You can ask the manufacturer directly any questions about the hardness of your water for your appliances and they can advise you further.

How can you help me save water and money?

Discover easy ways to save water in your home and protect your local streams, here. You can also take our My Water Footprint quiz to find out how much water you’re really using and order free water-saving devices or book a free home water efficiency check with an Affinity Water technician.

We’d 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 our help to pay page.

Have we been paying more for the water softening treatment through our bills?

No. Since 2015, Affinity Water has not charged Saffron Walden customers to partially soften their water.

Even if we reintroduced the 10% extra charge, this would not be enough to cover the costs of new equipment if and when it became available.

What other investments are you making in the Saffron Walden area?

We are reducing the amount of water we take from our underground chalk aquifers to help take care of the region’s globally rare chalk streams and the unique wildlife they support. We’ve also been making investments to support population growth in Saffron Walden and surrounding areas and making our network more resilient to drought events. You can find out more about our investment commitments on our website.

These investments will ensure we have a sustainable supply of water for a growing population in your area, leave more water in the environment and make your water supply resilient to drought.

How can I soften water in the home?

We recommend that you contact a WaterSafe plumber and seek independent advice to install a domestic water softener at your property.

Get more advice from the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) on softening.

Is Affinity Water in violation of a legal agreement that requires the company to soften the water in Saffron Walden?

No. The Regulation 6(2) of the Lee Valley Water Order 1963 highlights that a charge of 10% of the standard rate should be levied for the supply of partially softened water during ‘the relevant’ period. This period comes to an end when water hardness exceeds 180ppm (parts per million). This is not an obligation to provide softened water, rather a right for the water company to levy an additional charge for partially softened water.

As the equipment used to partially soften the water failed unexpectedly with water hardness then exceeding 180ppm, the company has no right to levy this extra charge and has not been doing so since 2015.

Can I talk to anyone about this?

If you have any questions or would like to give any feedback on this decision, you can contact us here. If we’re unable to answer any questions you may have, these will be recorded, and we’ll respond as soon as we can.

Water hardness in Saffron Walden

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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

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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.

Water hardness scale

Consultation response 2021

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We invited residents to share their questions around this change in water hardness at our online customer events on Tuesday 20th April 2021. The feedback we received at these events and our response is available to view here.

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