Big question

BQ4 - How do we achieve 100% compliance with drinking water standards (at point of use) by 2050?



We are currently working on the approach to answering this Big Question, and more information will be given here soon.

The areas that this Big Question covers includes:

  • Evaluate if we are contributing harmful plastics to the water cycle
  • Establish their source and effective control measures to remove them

Once we understand where the gaps are, we will produce a route map – this is a plan as to how we will answer our Big Question.

The route map will have a number of key elements. At the top will be our Big Question and then we will look to see what Outcomes we need from the research programme -if we can achieve all these outcomes we can answer the Big Question. This is the stage we are currently at for this Big Question.

The next stage will be to think about the key benefits we want the research projects to deliver to meet these outcomes.

Following this, we will plan the research projects to help deliver the benefits.

UKWIR – the UK and Irish water industry’s research body – has commissioned the first study of its kind in the UK to develop a robust approach to sampling and detection of microplastic particles in the treated water cycle. This included accurately measuring the presence of microplastic particles in potable (drinking) water, treated wastewater and in the solid residues (sludge) produced by both the water and wastewater treatment processes. Please click here to view more information.


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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.


BQ04-A04 Efficient Algae Removal during the water treatment process.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Category - Algal Toxins

The 2011 reports (11/CL/08/2; 3 & 4) assessed the impact of climate change on source water quality & it’s implication for the treatment process.  They provided a framework for assessing potential risks & identified adaption responses.  However, climate change predictions have changed in the last 10 years & it’s effect is starting to become better understood.

As the effect of climate change starts to increasingly impact the UK, algae is becoming more prevalent with different ecosystem pressures resulting in different algae being present & requiring removal e.g. MIB, Geosmin, toxins, etc.

There are many pre-treatment offerings, but issues also occur through process clogging channels & blacking launders.  Filtration rates & sludge systems can also be impacted.


Water Quality Events Database - continuation of service.

Project Status - Project Commenced


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.


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.


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.


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.


BQ04-B03b-Controlling water chemistry to improve drinking water quality and minimising disinfection by-products - Nitrogenated DBPs.

Project Status - Project Commenced


BQ04-B04c Potable Water Risks from per-fluorinated compounds.

Project Status - Project Commenced

There is increasing pressure on the Water Industry due to interest in the risk of significant levels of pre-fluorinated organics – eg PFOS/PFOA – in drinking water.

There is a request for UKWIR to join in a collaborative group of projects with DWI & EA to build capacity and understanding of the significance of this issue.


BQ04-B07: Catchments as the first stage of treatment.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Drinking water quality is of key importance to public health. The current systems of delivering safe water to consumers in the UK is based upon significant investment in infrastructure and performs at an excellent standard at a very low cost.  However, the ongoing and future challenges of climate change, net zero carbon, population growth and aging infrastructure mean that traditional ways of providing safe water may need to change. 

To support the innovation needs in drinking water quality there is a requirement to consider and implement catchments as the first stage of treatment including nature based, sustainable solutions in addition to behavioural changes within catchment owners / users to drive improvements in water quality and offset the need for infrastructure investment. The latter is well developed through current catchment management approaches / techniques however there is less experience on using catchments as a treatment stage particularly for more diffuse sources of water quality parameters that cannot be readily addressed at their source/point of origin. This proposal looks to advance the research into catchments as a treatment stage to supplement the already well developed and implemented catchment management approaches within the UK and Ireland that successfully reduce the input of compounds into source waters.

The following are just some examples of where there is a need to consider and develop catchment based solutions as a first stage of treatment to close the current knowledge gap:
•    With climate change more water companies are experiencing taste and odour events linked to algal growth within source waters. Catchment characteristics and activities can contribute to this and often require additional infrastructure to be installed at Water Treatment Works.  
•    Organic carbon in source waters can be heavily influenced by catchment characteristics and activities and the main. Although many water companies undertake peatland restoration and other catchment management activities many WTWs now have (or will require) advanced treatment process to remove the organic carbon to minimise formation of disinfection by-products.  These processes can be energy intensive and expensive to operate and maintain.  There is a need to consider ways to allow more DOC processing to occur before entering source water bodies. 
•    Dissolved metals in source water bodies can also lead to requirements for additional treatment processes. 
•    With the recast Drinking Water Directive additional parameters are being added to regulations with another two being added to a watch list. Of particular importance are emerging pollutants and the impact of personal care products on water quality. This strengthens the need to fully explore and utilise catchments as the first stage of treatment to offset investment in infrastructure in line with the net zero emissions targets. 

There is also a need to use catchments to provide early warnings to water utilities on issues that may impact on treatment and resultant water quality rather than the WTW instrumentation and performance picking up on a water quality event. The use of online monitoring (of water quality and weather) can provide improved intelligence to support the implementation of catchments as treatment stages. 

Like research on traditional catchment management, research on catchments as a first stage of treatment is a challenging area as often options are specific to locations. Despite this there is a need to identify and assess opportunities for utilising catchments as the first stage of treatment calling out what would need to be assessed prior to implementation in specific catchments. Previous research including the Freedom project has shown that in surface water systems some water bodies act as a net source of organic carbon, and therefore reduce the overall benefits of catchment interventions such as peatland restoration. Therefore research in to catchments as the first stage of treatment needs to holistically consider the catchment system (catchment and water body). 

Building on previous UKWIR Research into remote sensing for catchment management (15/DW/14/12) and other modelling and mapping techniques there are opportunities to utilise these techniques to identify areas where catchments as a treatment stage are likely to deliver the greatest benefits. 

There is a need to: 
•    Identify suitable catchment-based treatment stages and how these can be implemented and the expected performance for the different types of catchments across the UK and Ireland. 
•    Determine where catchments as the first stage of treatment will offer improved source water quality, support the drive to 100% compliance and provide overall value to customers. 
•    Take a holistic view of the catchment system (e.g. combination of catchment and water body) to ensure that full benefits of catchment based interventions are realised. 
•    Identify how catchment based treatment stages will be maintained and protected without loss of biodiversity or public amenity value. 
•    Understand impact of climate change on catchments – need to develop resilient processes. 
•    Create a decision support tool to enable Water Utilities to identify opportunities for implementing catchments as the first stage of treatment, expected performance and value and benefits. 
•    Understand the interface with the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) and equivalent across the UK and Ireland.  

Unless we can utilise catchments as the first stage of treatment there will continue to be a need for investment in WTW infrastructure to provide 100% compliant water by 2050 and this will potentially hinder the progress to achieve net zero. 
If we can fully understand catchments as a treatment stage, we can look to offset infrastructure investment, offset carbon emissions and improve biodiversity in catchments. This will also help ensure a resilient water system for the next few decades and beyond. 

Such a project could be supported via WIRe CDT or similar, looking at defining catchment based treatment stages, the impact of different catchment-based processes, development of decision support tool to facilitate identification of opportunities to implement catchments as the first stage of treatment and assess the potential value and benefits. 

The project will improve our understanding of utilising catchments as the first stage of treatment using more sustainable processes and may help support a future transition to chemical free water treatment.  


BQ04-F01 - Horizon scan – Update of current knowledge of threats and mitigations.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Category - Microbiological studies

In 2016, UKWIR commissioned a thorough review of knowledge across all areas that, at the time, were considered to be potential threats to the UK Water Industry reaching the BQ04 vision of achieving 100% drinking water compliance. A global literature review was complemented by extensive stakeholder engagement to set the scope of the study, to collate relevant knowledge and, most importantly, to tap into the insights of industry subject matter experts to best understand the likely risk posed by any identified gaps in knowledge. This valuable work has served to shape the BQ04 programme since then, helping to structure the research into a logical and deliverable project, with a clear strategic direction.

However, the world has changed surprisingly quickly over the last six years: the water industry is now facing calls for action in areas that were not identified as significant risks in the initial work, for example micro plastics, micro fibres, and PFAS/PFOS. Such contaminants, whether scientifically warranted or not, are high on the agenda of not only water quality regulators, but also the environmental lobby, the media and thus the public and politicians.

The world has also moved on in terms of the collective knowledge around the risks that were identified at the time, not least thanks to UKWIR’s efforts. It is now the right time to revisit this work, to update our knowledge with the latest research in this area, and to evaluate how the BQ04 programme is helping to address some of the gaps in knowledge identified in the original research.


BQ4-B03b Controlling water chemistry to improve drinking water quality and minimising brominated disinfection by-products .

Project Status - Project Commenced


Understanding DBP formation: Interpretation of laboratory experiments to operational conditions.

Project Status - Project Completed

Category - Drinking Water Quality & Health

No Further Information Available.


BQ - Achieving 100% compliance with drinking water standards at point of use by 2050? Protecting water quality in the home (domestic fixtures & fittings).

Project Status - Project Completed


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.


BQ04-D04-Achieving biologically stable / low AOC water in the UK.

Project Status - Project Commenced


Real time monitoring of bacteria downstream of WTWs.

Project Status - Project Completed

Category - Drinking Water Quality & Health

No Further Information Available.


Understanding somatic coliphage results and viral risk in relation to treatment competence .

Project Status - Project Commenced

Drinking water quality is of key importance to public health. The Industry has largely lost visibility of viral risks to DWQ with the lack of laboratory capacity. UKWIR BQ04 project D01, currently active at Cranfield University is developing a new approach to water virology, and undertaking initial work to identify the links between viruses and somatic coliphage – the indicator organism specified in the revised Drinking Water Directive (DWD). This project will make use of the analytical methods developed in the pathfinder project to facilitate a clear understanding of risk to public health when treatment processes are under challenge.  


Using the UKCRIC Water Treatment Pilot Facility there is a need to:

  • Undertake a series of challenge trials using suitable virus(es) and somatic coliphage
  • Identify the removal capability of individual treatment processes to align with the revised DWD approach to risk reduction
  • Identify the correlation, or lack of, between routine treatment indicators, such as turbidity or particle counts, with the passage of coliphage and viruses through treatment processes

Unless we can re-build the Industry’s knowledge around virus risk we are unable to demonstrate the optimal management of risk to health. There is a heightened regulatory expectation to reduce risk, driven by the research underpinning the new DWD, and support realistic Drinking Water Safety Planning.


Biological Routes to the Removal of Pesticides and other Organics (BQ4-E3).

Project Status - Project Commenced


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

Project Status - Project Completed

Category - Drinking Water Quality & Health

No Further Information Available.


BQ04-E05 Sustainable and resilient alternatives to traditional water treatment.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Category - Drinking Water Quality & Health

A significant proportion of surface water is treated by means of direct filtration. While catchment management solutions have, and continue to be deployed, there is still an observable trend in most raw water systems of continued deterioration.

For works that don't already have clarification processes in place, new process stages may need to be retro-fitted. For sites that already have clarification stages a greater reliance of more coagulant dosing or supplementary coagulants such as PAC may be required.

Traditional clarification processes require significant land to deploy, and are energy and chemically intensive. This could limit retrofit deployment at existing works and be counter effective in meeting Net Zero ambitions.

For water treatment more generally there can be an over reliance on chemicals in the sector (especially for flocculation requirements). These chemicals can be expensive to buy, vulnerable to supply chain disruption, subject to competition from other industrial sectors, and subject to price volatility. Exposing water companies to interdependent resilience concerns.

Ever tightening WQ standards and deteriorating raw WQ are likely to drive retrofit clarification stages and greater chemical consumption to meet standards.

Alternative solutions to water treatment (including clarification) need to be understood and evaluated that serve to reduce or completely remove the dependency on chemicals for water treatment.


Maximising the safe return of recovered process water (BQ4-E4).

Project Status - Project Completed

If we are to halve our abstractions by 2050 water treatment plant efficiencies will need to be improved. At present industry best practice dictates that wash water return flow is maintained at less than 10 % by volume and with a turbidity of less than 10 NTU. However, with the improved treatment technology over the past two decades are these limits still a reflection of the risk of cryptosporidium oocyst breakthrough or can these limits be risk based on treatment technologies and incoming water quality.