The QT

Tuesday 23 July 2024

Smart tech to revolutionise sewer control

Northumbrian Water is leading the way with a ground-breaking sensor scheme designed to manage storm overflows and protect rivers and our coastline. Simon Rushworth reports
  • Five-year investment starts with £20m pilot on Tyneside
  • US trial saw overflows reduced by 80 per cent over 10-year period
  • AI technology and smart sensors will provide real time information

A UK-first smart sewer project is set to protect communities across Tyneside from potentially damaging spills.

Northumbrian Water is pumping £20m into a scheme trialled in the US and proven to reduce overflows by 80 per cent.

And the latest move to limit spills is part of a five-year, £947m investment intended to improve storm overflows across the whole of the Northumbrian Water area.

Nigel Watson, information services director at Northumbrian Water, said: “This is an exciting and innovative project which is set to completely revolutionise the way that our network operates, and maybe even how our industry works as a whole. 

“We are determined to be at the forefront when it comes to using clever new technology to protect our rivers and coasts as much as possible. This could be a massive step for us towards reducing how we use storm overflows. 

“We know that we, like all water companies, need to do better when it comes to managing how storm overflows operate.

“This, along with other innovations and projects we are working on, is set to be a huge step forward in protecting our environment, whilst continuing to protect homes and businesses from flooding.” 

The project will see a combination of new technology, sensors and AI analytics used to lower the risk of overflows happening.

In South Bend, Indiana, the proven smart sewer technology was installed in a section of wastewater network with the aim of reducing the number of spills from storm overflows.

During a 10 year period, there was an 80% reduction in the amount of spills as a result of a combination of smart controls and targeted investment. 

The smart sewer project will allow Northumbrian Water to make changes to the flow and direction of wastewater (which contains a dilute mix of sewage, rainwater, run-off from roads and fields, and water from sinks, showers and appliances) moving it around the sewer network and making spills less likely to happen.  

Using a mix of AI technology and hundreds of smart sensors placed along sewer pipes, it will predict when and where rain is about to hit in the region and when and where the sewer networks are more likely to reach capacity and spill.

It will then automatically balance the flows of the network, diverting this wastewater to the emptier parts of the network, managing capacity and reducing the likelihood of spills taking place.

The technology will also identify areas where additional capacity is needed, allowing further targeted investments to be made to build alternative storage for rainwater where it is needed most. 

Luis Montestruque, principal at Northumbrian Water’s project partner HydroDigital, added: “With two decades of exclusive experience building smart sewer systems, we’re proud to be working on this ground-breaking project.

“This initiative is pioneering in its use of AI for design, advanced hybrid digital twin technology, innovative stress avoidance routing control and use of probabilistic weather forecasting.

“It stands out for its large number of sensors and globally coordinated control points and one of the most aggressive implementation timelines in the industry.  

“This project will set a global standard in how water companies use smart sewer technology to reduce spills at a fraction of the cost and time needed by traditional engineering solutions.”

The real-time decision support system will be powered by a digital twin — a virtual version of the physical sewer network which runs ahead of time and gives Northumbrian Water more control over the system and the chance to make changes before spills happen.  

It is hoped the new investment will help to reduce the impact of storm overflows on the North East’s rivers and maintain the high standards of the region’s bathing waters.

Thirty-two of the region’s 34 bathing waters meet Defra’s top two standards of Excellent and Good. 


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