John Hernon from Thames Water explains the process of installing a new connection to a water main. He also outlines the role of water services company that delivers clean water and takes away waste water.
Interview with John Hernon
John is a strategic development manager for Thames Water. He has been working in the business for nearly 20 years, with much of that time spent dealing with developers and working on connections.
Thames Water provides clean and waste-water to millions of customers
Thames Water is the largest of the water companies in the United Kingdom, with 9 million clean-water customers, and around 50 million waste-water customers. Their role is to provide clean water to households, and take their waste away.
They have a network of over 30,000 kilometres to service and maintain, made up of the strategic network, which is the massive pipes that transport water across the region, and the local distribution network.
They also have 350 sewage treatment works. Once the sewage has been collected through the network, it has to be treated to a stage where it can be put back into the water course.
Solids are separated from liquids before being dried, with some of the by-products being sold on to farmers. Liquids go through a process of treatment and screening before being put back out into the environment.
Much of the network is over 100 years old
Being such an aged network, much of it is made up of cast iron pipes. There is a massive project underway to replace and upgrade the aging network, but as this brings about inevitable disruption, it has to be managed carefully.
Booster stations help control water pressure
Providing clean water uses a pressurised system in order to guarantee a certain amount of pressure to each customer. And where gravity can't be used, such as when water needs to be taken to properties on a hill, booster stations can boost that supply.
The guaranteed minimum at the boundary of a property is 1 bar of pressure, but much of the network operates at a higher pressure. One bar of pressure is, if you were to put a nail through that water main, water would spray ten metres in the air.
Contact them as early as possible
John suggests that anyone wanting a new connection, whether for a large or small development, should get in contact with them as soon as possible, and ideally even before the planning stage.
“By getting early visibility and someone saying, ‘we want to build a new house and it’s somewhere where we haven’t got a water network’, we might have to do significant reinforcement to our mains network to supply that. So, we would want to speak to that person as soon as possible to understand the constraints that we need to face and whether we’d need to cross a third party’s land and so on.”
He says there's usually a solution, but it can get costly if the new build is in a remote area which has a long run to the nearest connection point. Their pre-development process can offer the customer an estimate about what they'll need to do to their network, even before it goes for planning approval, so it's always advisable to get in touch early.
John says that Thames Water have upgraded their website with a focus on their single-build / smaller customers to try and help them through what could be a confusing process for a novice.
Once an application has been received, a quotation will be sent out within 14 days. When the quote has been paid it will be valid for 180 days.
Things that will impact on the cost will be the distance from their nearest assets, any traffic management, lane rental charges etc.
The most significant thing to potentially impact on the schedule is local authority restrictions, which is why it's so important to contact the water company as soon as possible. Digging up a road can cause disruption and traffic management problems, so balancing the needs of the customer with local authority requirements can take a number of weeks to resolve.
Their responsibility is to provide the water supply to the boundary
Once the supply has been installed, their responsibility continues to that customer. They have to ensure that the meter is installed and logged onto their network and that the account is setup so the customer can be charged for the services. They also have a duty of care to ensure that what has been built and connected to the water network is fully compliant, and will carry out inspections to make sure it is.
The self-builder should appoint an approved plumber
This plumber will run the pipework from the inside stop valve out to the boundary. They would need to lay a run of 25mm or 32mm pipework out to the boundary, at a depth of one metre, and leave a little extra pipe there. This helps with frost protection and summer heat gain, and will enable them to link up with the existing assets in the street.
Thames Water would then carry out an inspection to make sure it is to the right location and using the right material. Occasionally a protective pipe / barrier supply will be needed if it is deemed to be in a contaminated area, but ideally the pipes are just laid onto the soil without sleeves. Sleeves could hamper the chances of identifying a leak if there was an issue.
The meter will generally be installed at the boundary in the footpath. This clearly marks the point at which Thames Water's responsibility ends and the customer's begins.
Thames Water and their contractors would then take over and liaise with the highway authority, to do the final connection of the pipework to the main in the street.
Choose water-efficient products
John recommends that people are careful about the products they buy, and consider that although cheap products might save money upfront, they may not actually be very water efficient. He uses the example of dual flush toilets, where a lot of the cheaper ones fail and end up wasting lots of water. He would encourage people to choose the most efficient products that will save water.
He also advises people to be especially careful to avoid misconnections on the waste side of things. It's important that the waste isn't accidentally connected to a drain, which could potentially pollute a watercourse. In order to avoid this, consent from Thames Water to connect to their waste system must be obtained. They will arrange an inspection to make sure that a proper connection to the sewage system has been carried out.
Thames Water have plans for improving the network
John says that Thames Water are looking to install a network of smart meters across the region which will aid their understanding of what customers are using and where there are issues with supply. It could also identify a supply that's running 24/7, which would mean there's probably a leak somewhere between the meter and the property.
They are also actively looking into ways of introducing grey water systems for flushing toilets, which don't need to be done with the clean water they currently use.
Most of the network across London is a combined network, which is where the rainwater and sewage are combined. This puts a lot of pressure on the aged network, because when there is heavy rain the sewers become inundated. So, they're looking at how they might be able to separate the surface and foul networks to ensure that surface can be sent to a water course, and the foul can be taken back to the treatment works.
Leakage is a big issue for Thames Water so they have set a massive target to deliver on within five years, to drive down the amount of water being wasted.
And finally, improving the customer experience is a focus for the next five years too. There is work going on to upgrade their website so that if a customer has a query they should be able to find the answers online without having to join a queue in a call centre.
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