23rd December 2015

What keeps Southern Water awake at night? Applying geographic science to water innovation


The current Geovation Challenge aims to stimulate innovation in ‘How can we better manage water use in Britain, sustainably?’

Southern Water, one of our Geovation Water Challenge sponsors, discuss their own water challenges of ‘what keeps them awake at night’ and what Geovation would mean for them…

“Southern Water provides 4.6 million people with water and wastewater services across South East England. We look after more than 13,000km of water mains and nearly 40,000km of sewers (almost the circumference of the earth, if we connected them all together). The South is already an area of water stress and the population is forecast to grow by 20% in the next twenty years. This increased demand coupled with climate change means Southern Water is facing a challenging future.

SW picture

Image courtesy of Southern Water

“Every day we supply 535 million litres of water, in one of the driest regions of the UK. Our customers want a water supply that is drought resilient. Southern Water is an industry leader in drought planning and forecasting, but we need to develop more affordable solutions for our customers.

“We believe innovation is the way forward. This may include helping customers save water, working with other water users in water catchment areas to reduce pollution such as preventing nitrates entering rivers or looking at recycling water rather than discharging it to sea from our wastewater treatment works.

“As with most water companies in the UK, many of our assets are aging and network failures (with sewers especially) are difficult to detect along 53,000km of pipes. Collapses, blockages and small leaks are hard to detect before they cause bigger issues so we need new ways to predict failures before they happen.

“The ageing infrastructure can also be overwhelmed by rain and infiltration of groundwater through damaged pipes which leaves us with a bigger risk of pollution incidents or flooding to homes and gardens.

“Southern Water has the best percentage result of beaches in England passing the new directive of any water company but all of them can be affected by misconnections from houses to the wrong type of pipe –resulting in toilet waste finding its way to sea without the right level of treatment.  We need easy and effective ways of finding these issues.

Ed Robinson, Southern Water: 'One Red Eye'

Image courtesy of Southern Water: ‘One Red Eye’, Ed Robinson.

“At the same time, we’re also faced with more stringent environmental standards, which mean we will have to change the way that we organise ourselves to deal with ever tightening regulation and understand the risks of the entire water environment within which we work and how it responds to rain, drought and climate change trends.

“We want to be able to support and stimulate ideas to find solutions for issues now and in the future. At Southern Water, we’re looking for solutions from inside and outside of the water industry to identify the best ideas to innovate with a focus on bringing together cutting edge ideas from science, technology, engineering, and geography.

“Geography has a massive influence on solutions and issues and Southern Water wants to apply geographic science to the challenges we face in managing a water stressed region with an aging water and wastewater network.

“Southern Water supports the Geovation challenge and look forward to collaborating and developing new ideas and solutions to the challenges we face.”

If this inspires you to think of an idea for the Geovation Challenge, find out more about what we are looking for and the other problem themes and enter your ideas on the Geovation Challenge online by 27 January 2016 (12 noon).

Ideas identified for their potential impact will be invited to a Geovation Weekend Camp from 4-6 March 2016, where you will be asked to work on transforming your idea into a prototype venture. You will also identify how to overcome problems in implementing your idea and learn to pitch your idea ‘pecha kucha’ style to the independent judging panel.  See the timetable Those selected to be invited into a 12 month funded Geovation Programme will be announced at the end of this camp.

We are delighted to be collaborating with Environment Agency, DEFRA (whose release of thousands of open data sets coincides with the Geovation Challenge), Southern Water, and United Utilities on this Geovation Challenge.

Our challenges are open to UK-based organisations and/or UK residents aged 18 or over and we encourage entrepreneurs, developers, geographers, community groups, and innovators to enter