APEM director Dr Stuart Clough shaking hands with Richard Sears, director of communications at Yorkshire Water and holding a glass trophy from the Institute of Water

APEM director Dr Stuart Clough (left) receives the innovation trophy from Richard Sears, director of communications at Yorkshire Water

Netting APEM an Institute of Water (IOW) Innovation Award for the North in 2017 was Dr Stuart Clough, who presented the innovation as part of the IOW’s half-day conference dedicated to innovation and incident management in the water sector.

At the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths centre at Middlesbrough College, Stuart pitched a new way to identify misconnected wastewater pipes using ultra-high resolution aerial surveys from specialist aircraft.

Traditional ground-based surveys to detect misconnections were seen as time- and cost-inefficient to undertake across whole towns and cities. So APEM developed a new initiative, taking to the skies in specialist survey aircraft and using bespoke technology.

An aerial survey can survey a town of 100,000 homes in around two to three hours, meaning water companies can save time by just targeting buildings with misconnections. Ground teams are then free to undertake visits and leaflet drops, allowing water companies to educate and support customers to reduce pollution and improve water quality in local streams and coastal waters.

Aerial surveys offer an estimated 95% cost saving to water companies compared to ground-based surveys, as well as saving considerable time and reducing potential disturbance to customers.

Five years later…

In the five years since we won the IOW Innovation Award for the North, APEM have worked with five water companies on aerial surveys to map sewage misconnections. But they remain a widespread challenge.

A misconnection occurs when domestic wastewater pipes (for instance, from dishwashers, sinks and toilets) are not connected to a wastewater sewer, but are instead routed to the surface water drainage system, joining with rainwater from roofs and flowing directly into watercourses. Misconnections usually happen during property modifications, which have increased in the post-lockdown DIY boom.

And our innovations are still causing a stir. APEM have been shortlisted for three Water Industry Awards: for Consultancy of the Year, Natural Capital Initiative of the Year and Digitalisation Project of the Year, where our innovative H2OVER® service made us finalists along with South East Water.

H2OVER®: digital innovation

Faced with low river flows and a decline in raw water quality, South East Water needed to forensically identify and assess abstractors and pollution sources in catchments totalling 300km2. As some of the area was inaccessible by foot, they needed a fast and reliable way to look at the whole picture.

Enter H2OVER® by APEM: ultra-high resolution surveys at an industry-leading resolution of 3cm GSD (ground sampling distance). In just two days, APEM were able to give South East Water a comprehensive risk assessment and the basis for a pollution risk map of critical sources that they could use again and again without needless disruption to landowners and stakeholders.

This use of digital innovation goes above and beyond existing best practice for the water industry. The ultra-high resolution images identified multiple features with unrivalled clarity, quality and detail that could not have been seen from the ground. Altogether, 351 pollution sources were identified across the catchments, 100 of which were deemed high risk.

The super-sized survey was used by APEM to create a user-friendly virtual fly through of the region, which was accessible to the team at South East Water via any desktop using web-based software. 3D models allowed South East Water to identify solutions prior to engaging with stakeholders, landowners and customers, making for more positive and productive engagement.

We anticipate that our H2OVER® approach will be applied extensively across the water industry in the coming years. Water abstractors will be able to maximise water efficiency and better understand how their catchments might resist the impacts of climate change.

Innovation at the heart of APEM

With a challenging regulatory regime and shifts in investment, the water industry is constantly seeking new ways to tackle pollution, leaks, drought, increasing demand and scarcity. And along with our commitment to scientific integrity, we are always looking at innovative ways to improve our services and offer new ones.

To find out more about mapping, surveying and image analysis, contact us or register for updates and industry newsletters here.

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APEM are a global environmental consultancy providing independent advice and guidance to support government and environmental regulatory guidelines.