- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 02 Aug 2017
The water sector in the UK (and in many other developed countries) is all-too-often taken for granted. Keeping up requires serving more customers, with a better service, and doing more to keep expensive assets maintained and efficient. The future adds huge challenges such as climate change driving increased asset and domestic sewage flooding, less raw water to abstract, how to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, how to increase resource recovery, and how to remove new and difficult chemicals.
All these must demands be met under the pressure of limited affordability. As economies have slowed and inequality increased, customers can no longer afford to pay for water companies to build their way out of trouble. So water organisations' journey to sustainability – continuing to deliver an effective and reliable water and wastewater service despite all these disruptive challenges – is hard, but vital. It requires continuous and dramatic innovation.
 What kind of innovation?
Although new technology is a key part of this, the innovation needed involves much more, for instance:
- New modelling and simulation, for complex urban problems.
- New collaborations between people who have not worked together before, such as farmers, landowners and water utilities.
- New procurement and supply chain business models and behaviour.
- A changed mindset – solving a problem without building anything is equally ‘good engineering’.
The water sector is seen as bad at innovation – slow, because of long-lived assets, and risk averse because of public health responsibilities and exposure to public scrutiny. However, some developments are helping innovation, such as outcomes-based regulation and partnered programme supply chain procurement. Although some brave project teams have translated new ideas into full scale projects – this is usually an exception, done outside the ‘system’.
 The first follower concept
The real innovation failure is in the next step – being much too slow at spreading successful new experience, starting with a ‘first follower’ project. This validates it into something that is then applied much more widely, and becomes embedded in the system, as universal standard practice.
As an example, in 2006, Helsinki implemented a first large scale extraction of heat recovery from sewage effluent; it was publicised in a 2008 article. The authors picked this up and immediately included it in conference presentations. In 2011-12, they got the idea tested as a ‘what-if’ study for the UK situation, in a Masters dissertation; and published. Finally, in early 2016, they read of the first extraction of heat from sewage in the UK.
Must it take 10 years? Can't it be done faster? Engineers look for ‘evidence’, so early, authoritative reporting of first-use ‘demonstrators’ are vital to faster the spreading of new practice. But unlike academics, practitioners have little time and no incentive to publish such accounts. So, much academic material is written about sustainability in many aspects of water, but much less that approaches it from the time-limited, output-driven perspective of the practical engineer/practitioner.
 Crossing the gap
Published in April 2016, Sustainable Water aims to help cross that ‘knowledge gap’. It applies a common set of sustainability principles to water sector practice, and combines this with practical experience and a practical style. Several chapters have been written by authors who are specialists in their respective fields, with a wide range of innovative examples.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Articles by ICE on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Dove Stone Hydropower.
- Groundwater control in urban areas.
- Institution of Civil Engineers ICE.
- Marine energy.
- Natural gas.
- Passive water efficiency measures.
- Sustainable urban drainage systems SUDS.
- Sustainable water management.
- The SUDS manual.
- Types of water.
- Water Act 2014.
- Water conservation.
- Water consumption.
- Water engineering.
- Water framework directive.
- Water transfers and interconnections.
Featured articles and news
Book review – a series of essays about architecture and urbanism in the British Empire.
The complex situation where events occur at the same time.
How can Latin America and the Caribbean unlock the digital potential of their new and existing built environment?
CIOB publish a new code of estimating practice.
These relate to a programme where each activity is allocated a price and interim payments made against completion.
Police testing finds that flat door could only withstand fire for half its designed time.
Have a look at these images from a new photography book of buildings being reclaimed by nature.
What does the phrase 'demised premises' mean? Find out here in our introductory article.
New good practice guidance looks at the best way to deliver multi-functional solar car parks.
Philip Hammond suggests the public finances have reached a turning point.
Support grows for the Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill.