Sustainability research theme

Sustainability

UKWIR has collaborated closely with the Meteorological Office as well as the Environment Agency on the inputs into this programme area. This ensures climate change scenarios are provided in a format that the industry can easily assimilate. Research has looked into climate change impacts on the water company functions including the asset management planning process, the hydraulic design of sewerage systems and on river flows and groundwater recharge.

New areas being explored include, circular economy, natural capital and reducing carbon footprint.


Programme Lead(S)

Mark Williams

Climate Change
Scottish Water

 

Sub-categories



 

Projects


 

Carbon, Sustainability, circular economy, natural capital, net positive....where are we and where should we be?

Project Status Project Completed

The UK Water Industry has always been spirited to promote sutainability and create a significant positive contribution to society. It has been continually discussing and working in areas to achieve it but there is no study which captures this achievement, positive impacts and ultimately the net contribution of the sector.

The Water industry has added expectations of government, regulators, NGOs and customers for a long term sustainable approach that will support society across the challenges of the coming decades. In particular, circular economy and natural capital are the latest areas that customer investment fora are increasingly seeking information on.

Thus this project will provide the evidence that the Water industry as a sector is socially, environmentally and financially responsible and help to map out the current position and further improvement that can be done.



 

Quantifying and reducing direct greenhouse gas emissions from waste and water treatment processes.

Project Status Project Completed

The water industry is committed to reducing its carbon emissions and one of the ‘Big Questions’ posed by UKWIR to help inform the strategic programme of research is: How do we become carbon neutral by 2050? To achieve this, we must develop a better understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions that are specific to our treatment and disposal processes.

Greenhouse gas emissions from our treatment processes are the second highest driver of our industry carbon footprint after energy. As other elements of the industry footprint are reduced, the process emissions become more important. Currently, we are doing little to reduce this component of our footprint, because the science behind our understanding of these emissions and how to reduce them is poor.

Overall, industry Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are falling. Much of the reduction seen is as a result of lower emissions linked to grid electricity. This is partly because the UK grid mix is using less fossil fuels and partly because water companies are generating or procuring renewable energy directly. Historically around 70% of industry emissions have been linked to the use of grid electricity. As this becomes a lesser part of the total, the other elements of the industry footprint become more significant.



 

Climate change adaptation - a common framework

Project Status Project Completed

The water sector needs a common position on climate change risk and the measures it will take to adapt.

 

Context

We know that disruption from climate change has far reaching effects across the environment, the economy and society. Changing rainfall patterns and temperature, as well as more frequent weather extremes mean that our water systems are at the front line for resilience to climate change. The need to adapt touches on all areas of our work, for example: customers service resilience expectations; the capacity and condition of physical assets; regulation (quality and economic alike), planning and investment; all aspects of our water and wastewater services; and the resilience of energy supplies and the wider supply chain.

 

A number of wider factors point to the need for a step change in our approach:

  • the UK hosting the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) places the spotlight more firmly on climate change risk, as well as decarbonisation, in the UK.
  • the National Infrastructure Commission's call for government to set resilience standards, for industry to apply stress tests; and for regulators to support investment
  • investors aligning themselves with the Task Force on Climate Related Disclosures which expects consistency in how organisations understand and adapt to climate-related risks.
  • the Public Accounts Committee's recent report highlighting very serious water supply risks, and concern about investment planning involving regulators, DEFRA and companies.
  • Defra stating in the second National Adaptation Program that it will strengthen the WRMP guidance to improve consistency in how water companies consider climate change

 

What have and what we need

 

Previous UKWIIR research has put us in a good position in terms of underpinning evidence and technical tools to assist adaptation work e.g. water resource planning, rainfall intensity for drainage planning. This has included the incorporation of UK climate projections (most recently UKCP18) to reinforce modelling etc.

 

However, we do not have a common, overarching framework for adaptation work by the water sector that responds to the international, national and sectoral drivers outlined above and also enables climate adaptation issue to be considered consistently across the Big Questions. Such as framework could include:

  • a common high level goal for galvanising adaptation action - akin to a Big Question
  • a common view of what resilience means to us; how we will measure success;
  • a consistent position on the climate scenarios are we using i.e. what future states are we planning for?
  • explanation of how we can invest in long term adaptation within regulatory periods.
  • evidence that adaptation is integrated into our asset, service and investment planning framework.

In essence, we have good science, tools and understanding within the sector; but common goals, methods and metrics would help make a better case for investment in climate resilience.

Research needs

Much of what is described above involves gathering existing work and knowledge together. However there are some specific knowledge gaps which would benefit from joint research. Namely:

  • what climate scenarios should we be working to, for planning and investment purposes? What is the view of our regulators and the wider climate adaptation community on this?
  • linked to this, would we need to act differently to be resilient with 4 deg C warming (possible), compared with 2 deg C warming (very likely)
  • what climate resilience standards to utilities elsewhere in the world work to?
  • what methods of public engagement should we use to build understanding and support


 

Workbook for estimating operational GHG emissions – CAW v16

Project Status Project Commenced

In the absence of the workbook companies would need to undertake their own work to update and produce accounting tools, which would risk divergent and inconsistent reporting in the industry.

Equally, a workbook that is not up to date would give a misleading picture of companies' carbon footprints.



 

Implementing ecosystem service and natural and social capital accounting approaches - testing & evaluation case study test of the tool

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.



 

BQ How do we achieve 100% compliance with drinking water standards by 2050? Risk assessment of CIP data with respect to implications for drinking water sources

Project Status Project Completed

To determine whether any emerging contaminants, measured through the Chemical Investigation Programme, pose a potential risk to the quality of drinking water supplies.

Problem

The Chemical Investigation Programme (CIP) Phase 1 &2 has monitored a large number of chemicals that may be entering the aquatic environment from our wastewater treatment processes.  This data, however, has not been looked at in terms of the potential impacts on drinking water quality.

Impact

We currently do not know the impact that these chemicals have on raw water quality for sources located downstream of a waste water treatment works.

Project

This project is an enabler for future work to meet the outcome “An appropriate balance of risk with regards to substances of concern, their public health impact, and mitigation”. It is the first project in a series that will allow the Industry to demonstrate to its customers and other stakeholders, including regulators, that it keeps the upstream risks it faces under review as data becomes available.  Subsequent projects will look in more detail on issues such as treatability i.e. determine if the disinfection process for water containing these chemicals give rise to unwanted by-products of health concern or cause taste and odour issues.



 

The National CIP - Logistical Support and Co-ordination of the delivery phase of CIP 2020-2021

Project Status Project Commenced


 

The National CIP 2020-2021 Chem 3, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

Project Status Project Completed

The Chemical Investigations Programme (CIP) is an ongoing research programme that addresses the likely implications of environmental legislation for the UK water industry. It is intended as a means of gaining a better understanding of the occurrence, behaviour and management of trace contaminants in the wastewater treatment process and in effluents and sludge. It is a monitoring programme of unprecedented scale and complexity and has been undertaken as a collaborative programme by water companies in England, Wales and Scotland and the respective national regulators.
As part of the third phase of CIP, this project will carry out a substantial programme of investigations into presence and changes in abundance of AMR genes through wastewater and sludge treatment processes.
The programme requires that sampling must be started no later than 1 April 2020 and completed by 31 March 2021, data reported by 31 May 2021 and the specialist contractor’s final report delivered and approved by 30 September 2021.



 

The National CIP 2020-2021 Chem 5, Microplastics

Project Status Project Completed

Microplastics are plastic particles or fibres which are smaller than 5 mm and are categorised as either primary or secondary depending on whether they were specifically produced at that size or are produced from the abrasion or fragmentation of larger plastic items.
This microplastics investigation acknowledges that this is an area of cutting-edge research and is looking to build on the findings from the current UKWIR study EQ01A Sink to River – River to Tap – A review of potential risks from nanoparticles and microplastics (https://ukwir.org/view/$NvDnwfm!). The scope is therefore subject to the results of this study, as well as advances in the field of microplastics.
This study will require a specialist contractor to develop robust sampling and analysis methodologies, to collect samples from various media and consider sample volumes, blanks and the need for composite sampling. The contractor will also need the analytical capacity to cover the programme across the water companies involved.



 

The National CIP 2020-2021 Chem 7, Sludge chemical analysis

Project Status Project Commenced

The Chemical Investigations Programme (CIP) is an ongoing research programme that addresses the likely implications of environmental legislation for the UK water industry. It is intended as a means of gaining a better understanding of the occurrence, behaviour and management of trace contaminants in the wastewater treatment process and in effluents and sludge. It is a monitoring programme of unprecedented scale and complexity and has been undertaken as a collaborative programme by water companies in England, Wales and Scotland and the respective national regulators.



 

The National CIP 2020-2021 Chem12, Mechanisms of removal

Project Status Project Completed

The Chemical Investigations Programme (CIP) is an ongoing research programme that addresses the likely implications of environmental legislation for the UK water industry. It is intended as a means of gaining a better understanding of the occurrence, behaviour and management of trace contaminants in the wastewater treatment process and in effluents and sludge. It is a monitoring programme of unprecedented scale and complexity and has been undertaken as a collaborative programme by water companies in England, Wales and Scotland and the respective national regulators.
A series of technology trials were carried out during the second phase of CIP, i.e. feasibility trials, (C2a), pilot trials (C2b), phosphorus removal processes (P1a), and phosphorus removal through chemical dosing optimisation trials (P1b). A number of P1 trials also had a chemical driver added, denoted by the suffix (c).
The C2 and P1(c) trials analysed the presence and removal of 74 chemical determinands in the influent and effluent of each process, grouped by; metals, priority substances & specific pollutants, sanitary determinands, steroids, and pharmaceuticals. The mechanisms of chemical removal were not studied at CIP2, leaving a number of unanswered questions, e.g.
· Are chemicals broken down or are they moved into sludge?
• Chemical removal by steel slag media – associated with elevated pH?
• Why do different installations of the same technology, e.g. sand filters, remove chemicals better than others?
• Ambiguities with tri-butyl tin feasibility & pilot plant trials data – can these be explained?
• Understanding of how chemicals are partitioned
• Optimisation of some technologies
As part of the third phase of CIP, this project will carry out a substantial programme of investigations into the removal and mechanism of removal of substances of interest through wastewater and sludge treatment processes. It is expected that this study will implement the guidance developed in UKWIR Project EQ01A232, Basis for a programme of chemical investigations to be carried out by the water industry during the AMP7 period (please click here).
The programme requires that sampling must be started no later than 1 April 2020 and completed by 31 March 2021, data reported by 31 May 2021, draft report by 30 September 2021 and the specialist contractor’s final report delivered and approved by 30 November 2021.



Click the categories on the left hand side of the page to view the sub-categories and related projects