Water research theme


This programme area includes research into both the demand for water and the supply of water, with the concept of the supply/demand balance driving much of the work. Subject areas include headroom, demand management/water efficiency research. Water quality forms a large component of this research area, including epidemiology and microbiological studies, cryptosporidium, metals and algal toxins. Research also includes asset location, distribution operation and maintenance strategies (DOMS) and pipeline innovation, with leakage projects taking a high priority to help water companies reduce leakage to their economic levels.

Much of this research has been in collaboration with the regulators so that basic methods and frameworks can be agreed and applied.

Programme Lead(S)

Jeremy Heath

SES Water

John A Haley

Drinking Water Quality & Health

John Haley

Drinking Water Quality & Health
Yorkshire Water Limited

Paul Merchant

Water Resources
South West Water Limited






BQ - Achieving 100% compliance with drinking water standards at point of use by 2050? - Phase 2 - Intensifying Natural Processes

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.


BQ - Achieving 100% compliance with drinking water standards at point of use by 2050? Taste and Odour: Methods of Detection

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.


BQ How do we achieve 100% compliance with drinking water standards by 2050? Better understanding of the chemistry of the control of lead

Project Status Project Completed

This project will address key issues in order to meet the outcome “Ownership and responsibility for water quality is clear and all part their part in its protection”. The project will improve our understanding of the complex chemistry which underlies the control of lead solubility.  Recent developments in analytical instrumentation open up a number of avenues to enhance the industry's understanding of the surface chemistry which facilitates compliance or causes failure.


Real time monitoring of bacteria downstream of WTWs

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.


Understanding DBP formation: Interpretation of laboratory experiments to operational conditions

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.


BQ04 DWSTDS - Protecting water quality in the home (domestic fixs and fits)

Project Status Project Completed

This is the initial phase of a follow-on larger project - Protecting water quality in the home (domestic fixtures & fittings).

The key objective of Protecting water quality in the home is to understand the potential contribution from customers’ pipework, fixtures and fittings to the risk of elevated concentrations of lead, nickel, chromium and copper in water throughout properties.

While the main project will include surveys and sampling within customer properties, this initial project is designed to define the location, number and frequency of that sampling work, sufficient to represent a ‘statistically sound’ data set.


Cryptosporidium - enhancing industry's capability to respond

Project Status Project Completed

There is an increasing trend for water testing laboratories, and water supply companies, to send all microscope slides on which Cryptosporidium oocysts have been seen to the Cryptosporidium Reference Unit, Swansea, for genotyping (identification of species). An internal audit of results at the CRU has shown that there is a positive relationship between typeability and the number of oocysts seen on the slides. However, most slides received had just one oocyst, and these are only very rarely typeable to the required level by current methods. This is largely due to the small amount of Cryptosporidium DNA present.

The methodology employed currently for Cryptosporidium slide genotyping uses optimised, validated methods for removal of Cryptosporidium oocysts from slides and optimised DNA extraction and purification from low numbers of oocysts; these were developed and validated as part of WRF project 4099. The PCRs developed and validated at the CRU for the UK water industry have been shown to be sensitive and specific for the detection and differentiation of all Cryptosporidium species and specifically C. parvum and C. hominis. For slides containing greater numbers of oocysts, the current strategy for unravelling mixed populations of Cryptosporidium spp. on a slide – by means of multiple PCRs each using small volumes of DNA samples - is successful, with a high rate of typeability and more than one species frequently detected. However, more recently there has been a trend for more slides with small numbers of oocysts to be submitted, and where there is a low amount of target DNA in the sample (from <5 oocysts), the strategy is less successful and a single, large volume assay may be more appropriate. The challenge is to design an assay that provides the required level of typing, and to introduce as much target DNA as possible in to the PCR mix without compromising the chemistry of the assay.

Due to the high demand the increased submission of slides with small numbers of oocysts places on laboratory resources, generating little in return by way of genotyping results, and following consultation with stakeholders, the CRU intends to temporarily withdraw the slide genotyping service for slides with <5 oocysts seen where these are not part of an outbreak or public health investigation of a water quality incident. This will allow staff to undertake the research and development work described below to improve typeability and sensitivity, while retaining specificity, for the future. This approach has been discussed with DWI and the Industry and accepted as a proportionate approach, facilitating the delivery of an improved methodology and service for the future.


Asbestos Cement water mains deterioration and failure prediction models

Project Status Project Completed

In the UK, there is approximately 50,000km of Asbestos Cement (AC) water mains, 60% of which have been in service for over 50 years, the majority (approximately 66%) being small diameter, 100mm or less. With time, it has been noted that the failure rate of AC mains is increasing, demanding the need of replacement which can cost around £5 billion.

Several studies have identified that the principal failure mechanism of AC water mains is:
- exposure to conveyed water that has an aggressive nature, typically low alkalinity
- exposure to aggressive soils, typically low pH
- failure of the joints, typically due to microbial attack on the natural rubber joint rings

All of the above deterioration mechanisms are directly proportional to time, i.e., the longer the exposure, the greater the level of deterioration. Whilst there may be opportunities to extend the life of such pipes through lining and pressure management, these interventions are unlikely to be a success due to the small diameter and long-term exposure to the aggressive conditions that has already taken place.

If the level of AC main failures (pipe and joints) continue to increase, this will impact on the number of interruptions to supply and levels of leakage.

This project will be a collaborative project with the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).


Impact of Customer-side Leakage Approaches

Project Status Project Commenced

It is estimated that about 25% of the leakage within a water distribution network is located on a customer's property and occurs within the pipe that is not the responsibility of the Water Companies. However, this is still included in the leakage figures that water companies report to regulators.

The customers can be divided into household and non- household. For household customers, water companies offer a range of solutions from providing free advice to free repairs. There is limited understanding of how these different policies ultimately impact on reported leakage levels and overall cost to the business. For non household customers, water companies don't provide free repair services as a part of their standard customer leakage policy. However, with the opening of retail market, communication with non-household customers has become difficult, slowing down the leak repair and increasing the level of leakage.

Water Companies are also increasingly installing smart metering which identify leaks with very low flowrates. This has challenged the industry to find such small leaks, which are not cost effective to repair, and can be difficult to locate.


BQ6. How do we achieve zero uncontrolled discharges from sewers by 2050? – Research gap analysis and barriers to implementation

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.


BQ6. How do we achieve zero uncontrolled discharges from sewers by 2050? - Surface water drainage from new developments

Project Status Project Completed

No Further Information Available.


Best Practice For Trunk Main Flow Monitoring Areas

Project Status Project Completed

A significant number of water companies have started using Trunk Main Flow Monitoring Zones (also known as Water Balance Zones) to locate areas with leakage or unaccounted for water on the trunk mains. Data from these zones help direct leakage detection and consumption recovery efforts.
While some companies are at the maturity stage in their use of Trunk Main Flow Monitoring Zones (FMZs) others are just starting on the journey. There is no best practice or standard for the development or use of FMZs. Creating and maintaining a successful FMZ requires a high amount of effort, investment, time and energy. With future industry’s challenge to reduce leakage and UKWIR’s big question on zero leakage by 2050, it is high time a best practice is developed. The document would build on the UKWIR project: 15/WM/08/55 Leakage Upstream of District Meters, where FMZ’s are mentioned, but details on operational management of them is not.
This would result in an industry consistent approach to monitoring trunk main flow and efficient location of train main leaks.


BQ zero leakage Leakage balance and plumbing losses

Project Status Project Completed


Combination of transient v steady state detection methods

Project Status Project Commenced

No Further Information Available.


Incidence and causes of repeat bursts at old repairs

Project Status Project Completed

Distribution Maintenance staff at water companies know well that many leaks and bursts, once excavated, prove to be at the location of a previous repair, and occur as a result of a failure of the old repair. However it is not known how much data is collected on this, and there is no quantitative evidence of the magnitude or significance of this problem at national level. Nor has there been any study of the reasons for the failures, i.e. whether they are due to deterioration of the clamp or other repair materials over time, or whether they are caused by faulty workmanship at the time of the initial repair.

Many companies do record the types of failure within their records of mains and service bursts. However these descriptions are often very brief (e.g. “pin-hole”), and the fact that the failure was at a previous repair may not be recorded. This project will initially assess the availability of suitable data, in collaboration with participating water companies. The UKWIR National Mains Failure Database may also be a valuable source of data.


Optimisation of sensor location: "Hydrant dynamics for acoustic leak detection"

Project Status Project Commenced

No Further Information Available.


Use of smart meters and smart networks for leakage management

Project Status Project Completed

Modern technology has made it possible to collect much greater quantities of data, and at higher resolution. Leakage analysis methods and leak detection technology have both made many advances in recent years, but data collection and manipulation processes have hardly changed. The basic principle of measuring minimum night flow into a DMA, and then subtracting estimates of household and non-household night use to give leakage, remains unchanged in the past 30 years.

However the recent growth in smart networks, and particularly the use of smart meters for revenue purposes, could offer many new opportunities for better leakage management. It is essential that these opportunities and benefits are identified now, so that water companies can take them into account when making their choices of which smart technologies to invest in.


BQ How do we halve our abstractions by 2050? Research review and gap analysis

Project Status Project Completed

The Big Question of ‘How do we halve our abstractions by 2050?’ is a key strategic research programme for UKWIR. However, at present it is not clear what the research needs are. These needs should take into account what research has been done and what is currently on-going. This project will produce a community-owned list of prioritised research needs in order to halve our abstractions by 2050. This list will support the development of a research programme, form the basis for future planning and identify potential collaborations with other research organisations.


The project will enable the following:

Identify the needs and potential outcomes for long-term research;

Facilitate collaboration with academics, research organisations, funding agencies, and other stakeholders;

Minimise the duplication of future research projects and ensure greater alignment.


Drought Vulnerability Framework

Project Status Project Completed


Understanding of current and future household consumption

Project Status Project Completed


Deriving a Best Value Water Resources Management Plan

Project Status Project Completed

The derivation of a ‘best value’ water resources management plan, or its equivalent, is the final stage of the process before a plan is consulted on. The term ‘best value’ distinguishes it from a ‘least cost’ plan and introduces the concept that there are other factors that should equally be taken into consideration such as the impact upon the environment, long term resilience and customer preferences.
Whilst there are some key variables that are considered by all companies when deriving a best value plan, there are a number of differences which might rely on, or refer to, expert judgment and decision making within companies. A common, agreed framework for developing best value plans will be an invaluable tool for water resources planning, particularly when considering solutions that cross company, regional, or national boundaries, and under differing legal and regulatory jurisdictions.


Environmental Assessments for Water Resources Planning

Project Status Project Completed

The preparation of strategic water resource plans[1] requires several supporting environmental assessments to be undertaken alongside plan development. A water company must determine if its plan falls within the scope of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive and/or requires Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). The plan must also be able to demonstrate that implemnation of  it would not cause a deterioration in waterbody classification and/or demonstrate that it would not preclude the delivery of measures to facilitate the improvements needed to attain good status, as required under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).  Drought plans also require consideration under the SEA Directive and Habitats Regulations, although WFD assessments are usually undertaken as part of the ‘shelf-copy’ drought permit/order environmental assessments prepared in support of the drought plan in line with regulatory guidance.

 Relevant UKWIR guidance relating to SEA and HRA of WRMPs and drought plans[2] was last updated in 2012. Since then, there have been several developments in regulator guidance and current best practice (including a revision to Environment Agency drought plan guidance anticipated in late 2019), and several important Habitats Directive rulings with implications for strategic water resource plans in particular, including the 2018 ‘People over Wind’ judgment[3]. The requirement to prepare a stand-alone WFD assessment is an additional requirement since the 2012 UKWIR guidance was published.

 There is an increasing move to use an Ecosystem Services (ESS) approach to environmental valuation. An UKWIR project in 2016[4] reviewed the potential benefits of ESS/Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) approaches and made some recommendations for future implementation, but at time of writing these had not been taken forward.

 Clearly with increased focus on development of water trading and regional transfer schemes, it is crucial that environmental assessments of strategic water resource plans for both regional and company level plans adopt the same methodology, baseline environmental data collation and approach to environmental valuation to allow direct comparison of intra- or inter- company or region water resource options. This applies to all aspects of assessment including SEA, HRA, WFD and ESS/NCA. This would require an update to the current UKWIR SEA and HRA guidance, and development of standard methodology for WFD and NCA/ESS assessments for strategic water resource plans. It is essential that the regulators are fully involved in the project steering group to ensure they are signed up to the approaches and guidance developed at a National level[5]. 

 Drought plans are different to strategic water resource plans in that they do not comprise a preferred plan or programme of water resource options, but rather a basket of measures that will be considered for implementation during a future drought event. The measures selected and the programme will depend on other factors including the timing, duration and spatial extent of the dry weather event experienced. The drought plan SEA Environmental Report is therefore a comparative assessment of the environmental effects of implementing each drought option, which should be used to review the potential environmental impacts of implementing supply side or drought permit/order options should they be progressed in the future. However, although a fundamental requirement of the Directive (and demonstrated by the SEA post-adoption statement) there is a need for better integration of SEA into the decision making process for both drought plan implementation and strategic water resource plan preferred programme selection.   

[1] Including Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs) in England and Wales, Water Resource Plans in Scotland and National Water Resources Plans in Ireland.

[2] UKWIR (2012) Strategic Environmental Assessment and Habitats Regulations Assessment - Guidance for Water Resources Management Plans and Drought Plans. Prepared by Cascade Consulting.

[3] In summary the judgement was that best practice mitigation measures cannot be taken into account when considering screening plans or projects to determine if there is a likely significant effect on a European designated site. This can result in an increased burden of assessment at the ‘Plan’ stage and/or Plans being ruled as non-compliant with the Regulations.

[4] UKWIR (2016) Benefits and Limitations of Integrating Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) and Ecosystems Services Assessment (ESA) into Water Company Activities (2016) Prepared by Cascade Consulting.

[5] Including Environment Agency, NRW, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic England, Historic Scotland, Cadw and others as appropriate.

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