Thames Water is building on achievements made in the industry’s current five-year cycle by setting out ground-breaking plans for vital infrastructure and all-round service improvements for 2015-2020.

Britain’s largest water and wastewater services company delivered industry-leading, near-perfect (99.99 percent) drinking water quality for its customers last year along with notable upgrades to dated sewage systems across its London and Thames Valley territory.

Now the £1.81 billion revenue company continues to focus on delivering best value for its 15 million customers, as well as getting the biggest wastewater project in the UK for decades off, or in this case under, the ground.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a scheme which will tackle the problem of untreated sewage overflows to the tidal Thames for at least the next 100 years and is six times bigger than the company’s Lee Tunnel, which is currently the biggest-ever single project in the privatised water sector's history.

Also in place for the 2015-2020 Asset Management Plan (AMP) is a revolution in the way that capital and operating work will be carried out in the form of the eight2O alliance, combining expertise from technology, management and construction fields to create a formidable team for the future.

Currently, Thames Water ploughs a record £1 billion a year into improvements to a network which contains 20,000 miles of water pipes, 26 reservoirs, 350 sewage works, 68,000 miles of sewers and a staggering 1.2 million manholes.

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Ensuring that it stays ahead of the tide through AMP6 and beyond is a drive for technical innovation and employee excellence, supported admirably by its graduate scheme, a programme which Operations Director Bob Collington OBE embraced himself before reaching the upper echelons of the company.

AMP5’s notable success

Current capital expenditure is higher at Thames Water than at any other water company since privatisation in 1989 and the outcomes seen to date during AMP5 (2010-2015) show this.

Collington said: “A lot of London’s water and sewerage infrastructure dates from Victorian times. It has served us well, but this infrastructure inevitably needs upgrading and continued investment.

“Our customers rely on us to provide what is an essential service. This means we need to maintain consistent levels of work to upgrade our networks over the long term and not store problems for the future. Our plans will deliver value for money on the things our customers have told us matter most.”

Not only is the company delivering outstanding quality drinking water, it also hit its leakage reduction target for eight years on the spin and committed strongly in the wastewater arena during this five-year cycle. This was demonstrated by a £140 million upgrade of the Mogden sewage treatment works in West London, which extended its capacity by 50 percent. 

The tunnelling phase of the £635 million Lee Tunnel in Stratford was completed on time and on budget earlier this year, and when in full operation will combine with the Thames Tideway Tunnel to collectively capture an average 39 million tonnes of sewage a year from the most polluting combined sewer overflows (CSOs) built by the Victorians.

Collington also pointed to improvements of the Victorian water mains, many over 100 years old. “We’ve replaced more than 1,600 miles of worn-out mains since 2004 with new plastic ones, which are stronger and more flexible, significantly reducing the amount of leaks and bursts,” he said.

Turning the tide

The final, most challenging piece in the puzzle to tackling sewage discharge into the capital’s iconic river is the Thames Tideway Tunnel, something which is marked to kick off in the next AMP cycle and is “a must-do project”, subject to planning consent. 

“London in particular has outgrown its sewer system,” Collington said. “It was designed for two million people and now it is used by more than six million.

“It will stop tens of millions of tonnes of untreated sewage flowing into the Thames every year, has cross-party support, and is part of the national infrastructure plan. We can’t keep using the river as a sewer.”

The tunnel will be 16 miles (25km) in length and will broadly run underneath the river, vastly improving its water quality and bringing benefits to consumers and the surrounding environment.

Revolutionising AMP 6

Another notable initiative taking off in the 2015-2020 plan is Thames Water’s AMP6 alliance, eight2O, a team of industry-leading firms who will combine to deliver £2-3 billion worth of work during the cycle.

The alliance is made up of two ‘design and build’ consortia, Costain, Veolia Water and Atkins (CVA), and Skanska, MWH and Balfour Beatty (SMB), programme manager MWH and technology and innovation provider IBM. 

“The idea behind it is to revolutionise the way we deliver capital projects during 2015-2020,” Collington added. “In February we started planning to meet the challenges of the AMP6 work programme, which starts in April next year, and currently things are moving forward very well.”

Such a formidable collaboration of expertise will no doubt allow Thames Water to deliver the highest quality large capital projects, however the company is also responding to its customers’ number one concern: leakage.

“We are a customer service business first and foremost, and want to ensure that if customers had a choice, they would choose Thames Water,” Collington said.

“In AMP6 we have committed ourselves to reducing leakage levels by an additional 59 million litres per day, having reduced leakage by 20 percent since we were acquired by the current owners, Kemble Water Limited, in December 2006.

“This will be possible through the replacement of 881 kilometres of water mains as well as the number of leaks we will be able to detect thanks to metering.

“In London we are water stressed, with less rainfall than Istanbul and only half as much as Sydney, so we need to be more efficient. People on meters are usually more careful, and on average use around 12 percent less, so by 2030 we are looking at getting 100 percent of our customers metered.”

Smart meters allow customers to view data online and have full control over their water usage. The data will also allow Thames Water to find and fix leaks faster.

Ahead of the flow

All short and long term strategies will be managed under one roof thanks to an operational hub in Reading, allowing the whole network to be overseen from one vantage point.

The Reading base will also house important developments for Thames Water in the technological field, allowing the company to keep ahead of trends and innovate the latest solutions to the problems of today and further down the line.

One such innovation is a reactor which removes phosphorus from sewage, the first of its kind in Europe and in operation at Slough, Berkshire. With scarcer supplies of this finite nutrient, vital for all living organisms, the reactor can not only unclog pipes but also reverse the trend and treat phosphorus as a valued resource. 

The reactor is producing high-grade fertiliser from waste, from which phosphorous can be recovered using Ostara’s nutrient recovery facility in Berkshire.

Another area of innovation which Thames Water is channeling investment into is THP (thermal hydrolysis process), which involves the heating of leftover waste sludge to 160 degrees Celsius at high pressure. This is then fed into anaerobic digesters where ‘good bacteria’ breaks down organic material to produce bio-methane gas that is burned to generate renewable electricity.

“We are investing £250 million to treat future sludge volumes and hit our renewable energy target by 2015,” Collington added, claiming the company is the biggest self-generator inside London’s M25 motorway.

“THP plants will be switched on at Beckton and Riverside sewage works in Essex, Crossness in Thamesmead, Long Reach in Dartford, Oxford and Crawley sewage works by next year.

“Together they will process up to 400 tonnes dry solids of sludge per day and help generate 278GWh of electricity every year.”

Utilising the supply chain

As with the collaboration with Ostara for phosphorous extraction, Thames Water works closely with many innovative companies in the water industry supply chain to make sure the latest and most promising ideas make it to the front line of service delivery and improve the sector’s efficiency.

One such partner company is Boulting Group, specialist consultants who have been influential in the development of pumping site efficiencies. This involved developing vital understanding through thermodynamic surveys, highlighting areas where energy savings could be made.

“Boulting understand the high level energy targets and commitments that Thames Water has signed up to and this helps develop a robust programme of large station upgrade projects as well as small simple projects with a quick return,” Collington said.

“The partnership has been a learning process for both parties which has proved highly successful and mutually beneficial. The proof is that it has attracted additional investment at the back of the latest AMP cycle, where there is typically a lull in investment, creating a solid platform from which to leap into AMP6.”

Another innovative collaboration involves US-based IDEXX, experts in water testing and suppliers to Thames Water of several important products.

One of these is Colilert, used for the detection of coliforms and ecoli. “IDEXX developed this analysis and are a sole supplier to a global market,” Collington added. “It provides a fast and reliable way of detecting coliforms and ecoli in drinking water.”

Thames Water also uses a variable of Colilert from the US supplier which detects ecoli in sludge, as well as equipment for Cryptosporidium analysis. 

Best in the business

Equally important as the technological processes are the people employed to make use of them.

Thames Water employs around 4,500 people along with thousands of contractors, and seeks to develop excellence and recognise and reward company loyalty through a number of industry-leading schemes.

The company holds annual employee recognition awards and events to mark long service milestones, and health and safety is its number one value.

Key to developing in-house talent is the apprenticeship programme, a long-running initiative with 46 apprentices currently on the books. The company plans to take on another 30 in 2014/15 and also has 18 employees on its graduate programme, an initiative which facilitated Collington’s rise through the company ranks. 

He said: “I feel really privileged to have been given the opportunity to grow and develop throughout my career in Thames via a range of diverse roles both in the UK and USA.

“As such I am committed to ensuring we continue to build our talent pipeline for the future and as Operations Director continue to be a big supporter of our in house development programmes for both graduate and apprentices.

“Thames continues to be an exciting place to work, with some great challenges and opportunities for the people here.”

Ultimately, by having the right people on board with years’ of experience both on the ground and at board level, Thames Water can continue to innovate and develop a sustainable water supply for the long term.

Collington concluded: “Our business revolves around a precious natural resource, essential to all life, and our new company vision encapsulates this.”

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