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I work for a water company, AMA
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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 16:15

Given all the news reports about hosepipe bans at the moment I thought people might be interested to know what it's like to actually work in water production. I've been in the industry for 10 years and worked for two of the big suppliers - ask me anything!

NC for this as could be outing when linked to my other posts.

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saddowizca · 05/08/2022 16:20

Are you happy to drink tap water? I always drink eau de tap but I'm always suprised by the amount of people taking large numbers of bottled water through the tills at Sainsburys...

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 16:25

saddowizca · 05/08/2022 16:20

Are you happy to drink tap water? I always drink eau de tap but I'm always suprised by the amount of people taking large numbers of bottled water through the tills at Sainsburys...

Definitely! I always drink tap water - apart from being cheaper it's also much more heavily regulated than bottled water in terms of water quality testing and monitoring required to ensure it's wholesome. Depending on where people live they are quite often drinking "natural spring water" from the tap anyway.

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Anothernamechangeplease · 05/08/2022 16:29

Do you think that it's fair for water companies to impose hosepipe bans when they have not done enough to sort out frequent leaks?

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saddowizca · 05/08/2022 16:30

One other question, in an ideal world - how would you like the way our water is processed to be changed?

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awonderfuladventure · 05/08/2022 16:30

Why don't they fix the leaks?

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DobbyTheHouseElk · 05/08/2022 16:31

sometimes my water tastes and smells of chlorine . DH says it’s because of an outbreak of a water borne disease. Is it?

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 16:45

Anothernamechangeplease · 05/08/2022 16:29

Do you think that it's fair for water companies to impose hosepipe bans when they have not done enough to sort out frequent leaks?

Bit of a hard one to say yes or no to! Some companies have a great track record on leakage, others definitely could do more. Some things that don't get mentioned when the news outlets are shouting about leaky pipes though are a) leaks can't always be fixed straight away. For example if it's a minor leak that requires a road closure the company will need to apply for a permit from the Highways team. b) The amount that companies can spend on improving the network is set by OFWAT who give each company a cap on what they can charge customers so they also take responsibility for the amount of mains renewals that are done. c) leakage stats are also affected by the weather - the company I work for has seen a big increase in bursts because the ground is moving as it dries out so much so the repair gangs are working at full capacity to try to keep up. d) Finding leaks can be hard! The ones you see running down the road are the tip of the iceberg - but there are an awful lot more that never show up above ground and have to be traced using flow data, listening sticks, data loggers and ultimately leakage technicians walking miles along pipelines.

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 16:48

saddowizca · 05/08/2022 16:30

One other question, in an ideal world - how would you like the way our water is processed to be changed?

Nice question! I think the industry as a whole can be slow to adopt new technology. Partly due to cost and partly due to no one wanting to be the first to try something in case it doesn't work! There are some really radical suggestions I've seen that water could be partially treated at source and then disinfection could be done by fitting little UV units at customer taps. Maybe one day!

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 16:54

DobbyTheHouseElk · 05/08/2022 16:31

sometimes my water tastes and smells of chlorine . DH says it’s because of an outbreak of a water borne disease. Is it?

No, don't worry! Chlorine is used by all the companies in the UK either to disinfect the water or to ensure that it remains disinfected as it travels through the network. Generally if you notice a sudden chlorine taste or smell it's because the residual has changed slightly - this may be because the company have done valve operations in the network so you are receiving water from a different source to usual. Chlorine slowly dies off over time though and this is quicker in hot weather so you might also notice more chlorine on a cold day for instance. Conversely you might notice more on a hot day if people are using it quicker so it's travelling faster through the network. The amounts that are put are tightly controlled though and far below the health limits advised by the World Health Organisation so you don't need to worry. If you don't like the taste putting a jug in the fridge for a bit will get rid of it!

As a side note if there is ever any suspicion that water hasn't been disinfected properly and could be harmful to health then you will be notified by the company and told to boil the water, or not to use it for a set period of time.

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starcatfish · 05/08/2022 16:56

How is it possible that a company like Thames Water lose 24% of their water to leaks?

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TwoLeftSocksWithHoles · 05/08/2022 16:59

Occasionally there is talk of a 'national water grid' (a bit like the national power grid) to distribute water from wetter areas to dryer areas.

Is this really feasible? Electricity can go over hills on pylons whilst water would have to be pumped through pipes.
Do you think it will ever happen, could the old canal system be used as a conduit?

Last question - are we really drinking the same water as the dinosaurs did?

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GuyMontag · 05/08/2022 17:04

When are you going to fix the leaks and can we have a 24% rebate until you do? It seems crazy to charge people money for water that disappears out of one of your leaky pipes before it ever reaches your customers.

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MrsMoastyToasty · 05/08/2022 17:08

What's it been like working through Covid?

I was working in the water and sewerage industry when we had major flooding in the early 2000's; during the fuel crisis (had to carry a letter in my car saying I was an essential worker as I was on call for the control room) and also during the foot and mouth outbreak (made life difficult when our patch was essentially rural).

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Yazoop · 05/08/2022 17:08

Interested in your views on the recent report that recommended certain water company CEOs should be prosecuted for negligence in preventing sewerage pollution of our waterways? To me it has been an ongoing national disgrace.

Water company bosses should face jail time

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 17:08

starcatfish · 05/08/2022 16:56

How is it possible that a company like Thames Water lose 24% of their water to leaks?

See my comments on leakage above for some insight. Apologies, it's not my specific area of expertise so I can't specifically answer this question but here's some more things to think about:

One thing that Thames do struggle with is having to deal with London. It has a huge network of pipes and many of them are very old. Plus finding leaks that aren't visible is usually done at night when it's really quiet because road noise etc can make it really difficult to hear them and in London it's not necessarily quiet even at night.

One other point I forgot to mention on leakage earlier is that it isn't actually measured. It's a calculated figure that is the difference between the amount of water that the company puts out from it's treatment works and the amount of water that is actually used by customers. The theory is that whatever the difference is was 'leaked' but for companies that don't have many customers on a water meter this calculation is based on an estimate of usage so very theoretical.

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FlatBottomedGirl · 05/08/2022 17:12

How would you feel about water companies being renationalised? I am in Scotland, and feeling particularly grateful at the moment for Scottish Water. I cannot get my head around such a vital network giving out share dividends when it seems in need of such investment. Would you rather water companies were public?

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GuyMontag · 05/08/2022 17:13

@Yazoop it's a shame it's so difficult to make these people take responsibility for the mess they create.

OP it's not just rivers but seas as well. Which do you think is worse : sewage in rivers or sewage on beaches?

www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/warning-not-swim-yorkshire-beach-24183701

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 17:15

TwoLeftSocksWithHoles · 05/08/2022 16:59

Occasionally there is talk of a 'national water grid' (a bit like the national power grid) to distribute water from wetter areas to dryer areas.

Is this really feasible? Electricity can go over hills on pylons whilst water would have to be pumped through pipes.
Do you think it will ever happen, could the old canal system be used as a conduit?

Last question - are we really drinking the same water as the dinosaurs did?

Good question! There is a bit of a grid already as neighbouring companies often have bulk supply agreements in place so will buy treated water from each other in specific places where their pipes join up. There are also a couple of major raw water transfers (e.g. Haweswater in the Lake District has a feed to Manchester) but these are done under gravity.

As you say, water has to be pumped to get it over hills and it's extremely heavy so the cost in terms of energy and ££ in doing so is huge. Also as you'll have seen from the recent photos of reservoirs in Yorkshire, it's not always the case that traditional 'wet areas' have more water than dry areas like the south - during a proper drought they will often struggle as much as southern companies.

The canal system would be an interesting idea but the practicalities could be tricky as for water to get from one place to another it needs to flow at a decent speed, whereas canals currently have barely any flow at all. Realistically I think we'll see a bit more connectivity between neighbouring companies, not sure about anything else.

And I have heard the dinosaur thing too and can only assume it's true because the amount of water is finite!

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 17:18

GuyMontag · 05/08/2022 17:04

When are you going to fix the leaks and can we have a 24% rebate until you do? It seems crazy to charge people money for water that disappears out of one of your leaky pipes before it ever reaches your customers.

This is a bit above my pay grade I'm afraid 😂Don't forget I am a customer too! I definitely want my supplying company to sort out their leakage, but hope that some of the info I've given here demonstrates why it's not always as simple as it sounds.

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Elieza · 05/08/2022 17:20

Why does black gunky stuff come out if my taps, shower etc? What is it, how did it get into my water, and can I prevent it?

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Clariana · 05/08/2022 17:23

Why do water companies think it is acceptable to pump untreated sewage out into rivers and coastal waterways? I understand it is cheaper to just pump it out untreated than it is to treat it, so more profitable for the company, but why do they think this is environmentally acceptable? Or is it as I suspect that they are only interested in profit and could not care less about the pollution they cause?

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 17:24

MrsMoastyToasty · 05/08/2022 17:08

What's it been like working through Covid?

I was working in the water and sewerage industry when we had major flooding in the early 2000's; during the fuel crisis (had to carry a letter in my car saying I was an essential worker as I was on call for the control room) and also during the foot and mouth outbreak (made life difficult when our patch was essentially rural).

It was overall quite stressful. Demand for water shot up once people were told to stay at home, so we had to have all our production sites running at full capacity and react really quickly to any issues.

I work in frontline operations so we kept going into work during the pandemic, which was worrying during the pre-vaccine days. Especially as I was pregnant at the time! It was also a nightmare trying to keep everyone apart as if one person got Covid you could easily end up with a whole team self isolating and no one left to run the plant.

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 17:26

Yazoop · 05/08/2022 17:08

Interested in your views on the recent report that recommended certain water company CEOs should be prosecuted for negligence in preventing sewerage pollution of our waterways? To me it has been an ongoing national disgrace.

Water company bosses should face jail time

I have never worked in wastewater so only hear rumours, but certainly some of the revelations that have come out in recent years have been pretty shocking and imply people high up in the companies concerned must have some questions to answer.

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clarrylove · 05/08/2022 17:30

Why don't they build more reservoirs? I've read that there have been a new one built for decades in the UK.

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HotSummer22 · 05/08/2022 17:32

FlatBottomedGirl · 05/08/2022 17:12

How would you feel about water companies being renationalised? I am in Scotland, and feeling particularly grateful at the moment for Scottish Water. I cannot get my head around such a vital network giving out share dividends when it seems in need of such investment. Would you rather water companies were public?

I think Welsh Water have a good model as they are a not-for-profit. My personal feeling is that being nationalised would probably be bad for the industry and for customers as we would then end up in a fight for government funding and attention with other vital services (like the NHS and the police). One of the reasons the English companies were nationalised in the first place was a chronic lack of investment in the assets, and being privatised meant they could go and get funding elsewhere.

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