Spending summer getting ready for winter. That’s what the Severn Trent Services team has been doing to ensure private water and wastewater assets are in good shape to avoid customer supply interruptions.
Chris Gilbert, Network Optimisation Manager, said: “The asset infrastructure we manage for our customers must be resilient to deal with more frequent and intense weather extremes that climate change brings. And if things do go wrong, we should be ready and able to deploy alternative water supplies.”
The problem with the weather
Sudden and extreme changes in temperature can cause the ground to move, leading to pipes and joints splitting. Frozen water expands to put pressure on the pipes. As temperatures rise and ice melts, water can leak from the damaged pipes or, in the case of a quick thaw, cause a burst.
Chris adds: “From an end customer’s perspective, they might notice a dip in pressure or have no water at all. Sometimes, their water will be discoloured.
“Our teams will work around the clock to fix things, but they might be hindered by the weather too. That’s why we try and get ahead of the weather by ensuring assets are in good health before temperatures plummet.”
To prepare for this, Severn Trent Services teams proactively repair and replace pipework, as well as deploy pipework lagging. They’ve also enhanced their ability to offer alternative water supplies through investments in more tankers, overland pumps, mains injection techniques, and bottled water stations – all of which can be quickly deployed when water supplies aren’t available.
Helping farmers to weather the storm
One of the sectors Severn Trent Services has been proactively working in is agriculture. Farms in isolated areas can suffer from harsh winters – and reaching them during adverse weather conditions is challenging.
Mike Killingbeck, Regional Service Delivery Manager for the North, said: “It’s notoriously hard to find leaks on the network in the winter when you might be ploughing through heavy snow.
“That’s why our strategy has been to solve problems in the summer before they become issues in the winter. So, where farmers were having repeat problems on their own networks, we’ve identified the root cause and sorted it out.
“Doing this earlier in the year frees us up to deal with the unpredictable events that winter might bring.”
A proactive approach pays off
Winter planning activities help reduce repeat occurrences of flooding, bursts, and leakage.
Chris explained: “Despite climate change, our proactive approach is paying off. This is reflected in the numbers. For example, our 17% leakage performance across our customer networks is industry-leading.
“I put this down to our core skillset: getting to the root cause of repeats and, as Mike said, fixing problems before they become issues. We’re cognisant of seasonal changes and the needs of our customers and their assets. And so we plan our work around that.”
Preparing for Christmas
Last December, while many of us were in the throes of Christmas shopping and festivities, the Severn Trent Services team was getting ready for Christmas in their own way.
Mike explains: “A week before Christmas, parts of the north of England experienced an extreme freeze-thaw event which threatened to scupper Christmas Day for many households connected to our customer’s private network.
“The team worked in bitterly cold conditions, proactively looking for leaks, physically thawing out pipes, and rebuilding above-ground pipework. All while recovering from flu bugs or coronavirus – yet with smiles on their faces because they genuinely care about what they do.
“Despite everything, we found and fixed 49 bursts – even though many of the issues lay with supply pipes that homeowners are responsible for. One householder was so pleased their water supply was restored they were shedding happy tears. “Without being as prepared as we could be – months in advance – it could have spoilt Christmas Day for a whole community.”