12th January 2016

We need innovation to address our poor water quality

Gauri Kangai

The Geovation Challenge is still open until 27 January! The big challenge is: ‘How can we better manage water in Britain, sustainably?’

5 key problem themes the Geovation Water Challenge is calling attention on are: too much water; too little water; poor water quality; aging infrastructure, and water use behaviour. You can find out more detail of the problem cases under each of these themes in our Water Deep Dive and personas.

Today we turn our attention to poor water quality. In our problem persona we highlight the problems experienced by recreational water users, reflecting wider issues in water quality around Britain.

For example, SMALL_poorwater_590x330sewer overflows into open water courses are a common occurrence around the UK, affecting many a water user, such as surfers. There are between 25,000 and 31,000 combined sewer overflows around the UK coast that trigger discharge of raw, untreated or lightly treated human sewage, particularly after periods of heavy rain or during breakdowns in the sewerage system. Surfers have to rely on their own water quality monitoring services – such as the Surfers Against Sewage’ real-time water quality information service, the Safer Seas Service – as data on biological water quality is only publically available for the months of May to September, classed as the ‘bathing season’. This means surfers using the water during peak season throughout October (when the sea is warmest) and the winter, are potentially at greater health risk with lack of knowledge of whether the water is safe. Surfers and recreational users alike would ideally call for full year, shorter-term and in-situ water quality monitoring to be made available and easily accessible on an hourly and daily basis to help reduce health risks. There is a high need and potent market for this, with over 500,000 surfers contributing £1.8 billion to the UK economy, annually. Coastal tourism in England and Wales overall generates more than £7 billion to the economy, attracting 20 million people to the British coast every year.

Other water quality problems the Geovation Water Challenge has taken focus on include pollution from farming, due to water runoff washing through farm operations that can pollute water sources with soil and chemicals. This is a difficult issue to track due to many small point sources of pollution from individual farm owners, yet altogether farming is responsible for contaminating up to 40% of rivers, for example with phosphate from fertiliser. Other pollutants include nitrates, of which the UK water industry spends around £39 million per year removing it from drinking water.

Yet another water quality challenge we face is pollution from plastic. 5.25 trillion plastic particles float on the ocean surface, derived from micro plastics from dumped waste washed into rivers, streams, urban drainage and other pipes. Plastic can be ingested by wildlife and passed through the food chain, risking wildlife and human health, and damaging local and downstream ecology. Such human health impacts include cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects and diabetes.

Read our water quality problem persona and the full Deep Dive of water problems the Geovation Challenge aims to help solve.


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