What are the alternatives?

We believe that Southern Water should be investigating, prioritising and investing in other more environmentally friendly solutions that work with climate change, not against it.

Since this is a detailed page covering a number of topics, the following table of contents might help you home in on a particular area of interest or concern. Click the headings to move to the relevant content.

  1. Alternatives to effluent recycling
    1. More challenging targets for leakage and mains renewal
    2. Storing water in winter when river levels are high
    3. Moving river abstractions closer to the tidal limit
    4. Transferring water from areas where there is an excess supply
    5. Progressive delivery, starting with a short/medium term strategy
    6. Diverting industrial supply to public supply
    7. Re-evaluation of the 2021 Options
  2. Better alternatives if effluent recycling cannot be avoided
    1. Effluent recycling from Peel Common
    2. Discharging recycled effluent to underground aquifers
  3. Water resource management planning
    1. Adopt environmentally focused water resource management planning now

Alternatives to effluent recycling

More challenging targets for leakage and mains renewal

Over the last 5 years Southern Water has only replaced 0.1% per annum of water mains. This shocking statistics means that a water main is unrealistically expected to last for 1000 years, which is ridiculous. They will never get the appalling level of leakage under control unless they dramatically improve their performance on mains replacement, as any future action on leakage will be undermined by the ongoing deterioration of water mains. The statistics below speak for themselves and demonstrate a clear lack of commitment to addressing leakage.

In the Southern Water supply area more than 92 million litres per day of treated water is currently lost to leakage (SW Consultation Summary page 29). By 2050 they only propose to reduce this by 50%, but even then they will still be losing 46 million litres per day, water which customers have paid to abstract and treat. The company must set itself and deliver more ambitious targets for target mains replacement and leakage.

To put the current poor performance into perspective we have compared the statistics sourced from DiscoverWater for Southern Water with those of Portsmouth Water, a company operating in an area with largely the same soil conditions and climate.

Target to reduce leakage Target to reduce the average time water supply lost
Southern Water Target -6.0%,  achieved  – 5.0% (failed)   Southern Water Target 6.08  minutes, achieved 9.22 minutes (failed)
Portsmouth Water Target  -6.2%,  achieved  -12.0%   Portsmouth Water – Target 6.08 minutes, achieved 2.21 minutes
Number of repairs due to bursts / kmMains renewal rate (over last 5 years)   
Southern Water – 102 per kmSouthern Water – 0.1% per annum (1000 year life)
Portsmouth Water – 47 per kmPortsmouth Water – 0.5-1.0 % per annum (max 100 year life)

In addition to educating domestic customers to use water more wisely, water companies also need to do more work with non-household customers such as schools, gyms, community buildings, shops and business to reduce their consumption. For example, fitting more water efficient taps & cisterns, utilising rain water collection when drinking water is not required.

Storing water in winter when river levels are high

In Hampshire we get plenty of rainfall and our rivers flood in the winter. The climate models tell us that we will get wetter winters and more extreme flooding events, Southern Water should be taking action now to design / implement schemes that collect and store that additional rain water for the longer drier summers that are predicted.  This will then have the double benefit of reducing flood risk to our communities. Alternatives that should be pursued include collecting water in winter when river levels are high and storing it in;

  • Confined aquifers where the water can remain underground until it is needed and is not subject to evaporation losses. There are a number of such aquifers across the region that could be topped up in the winter. The volume of each would be relatively small, but together they could make a significant contribution at times of drought. The infrastructure needed would be comparatively small, there would be no daily costs and the water would be stored across the region closer to where it is needed, reducing the energy and carbon costs of moving water, and only moving / treating the water when it is actually needed.

Sadly there has been inadequate investigation of Aquifer Storage Options. Incredibly no Managed Aquifer Storage Schemes (MARS) are selected in the period 2025 to 2035 in the Southern Water nor Regional Plans. Only 3 schemes are selected across the entire region from 2035 to 2075, with just one selected in the Hampshire & Sussex area. MARS should be cheaper and quicker to develop than effluent recycling, as it requires less infrastructure. Given the lower cost to construct & operate, lower environmental impact, customer preference for aquifer storage (which is seen as a more natural solution), MARS options should be considered first, before effluent recycling.

For example; The Test MARS scheme should be brought forward. This aquifer storage scheme has been included in the SW & WRSE Regional Plans for delivery in 2042. Why is this environmentally friendly scheme that could be protecting the internationally renowned River Test much sooner not been brought forward as quickly as possible?

– SW already have the treatment infrastructure in place.
– SW already own the land needed for the scheme.
– The scheme would use excess river water in winter, which could help to reduce flood risk, providing multiple benefits.
– It must be cheaper to develop, only requiring the construction of 5 boreholes, interconnecting pipework and pumps.
– It is located exactly where the water is needed close to Southampton.
– The aquifer can be topped up in winter and used to augment supplies in the summer reducing the need for river abstraction in the summer, and potentially stopping the need for drought orders more quickly.
– The Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) screening indicated that the aquifer is deeply confined and there are no pathways to impact European protected sites.
– The HRA screening indicated that up to 15 Ml/day could be provided by the scheme, yet the SW public reports only refer to the scheme delivering 5.5 Ml/day.
– SW Annex 13 option fact file indicated it will take 6 years to investigate, this seems excessive, but would still enable the scheme to be available in 2030 if selected now.

Implementation and trial pumping for the Test MAR scheme should be commenced immediately as part of WRMP24, with delivery no later than 2030.

  • Creating new storage reservoirs closer to the rivers, to avoid the need for long pipelines and pumping costs which require a lot of energy and carbon throughout their operational life. If designed appropriately such water bodies could provide biodiversity benefits to help offset any initial environmental impacts of construction.

For example; The River Adur new offline reservoir –  Southern Water are planning a new storage reservoir filled  with water from River Adur which could supply 19.5Ml/day. Southern Water’s own customer research has shown a preference for more natural solutions including reservoirs, rather than effluent recycling, as reservoirs are seen as providing multiple benefits to society.

This new reservoir is not scheduled to be delivered until 2045. However, the SW Technical Note confirms at Section 7.4.4 that it could be selected for 2041. Why can reservoirs like this not be delivered sooner?

Such smaller solutions can be located around the region, where the water is actually needed. Which would be a much more sensible solution than pumping water 40km from Havant to Otterbourne. To keep the 40km pipeline in a good operational condition Southern Water propose to treat effluent and pump more than 7.5Ml/d (3 Olympic size swimming pools) of water through it every day of the year, even when we don’t need the water. Customers will be paying for these unnecessary very expensive treatment and pumping costs every day, the planet will be paying for the carbon impact. This energy intensive effluent recycling solution is proposed at a time when energy costs are rising rapidly, and the water industry has a target to achieve net zero operational carbon by 2030. Customers will then have to be pay for the energy, treatment, pumping, carbon off-setting and/ or development of alternative energy sources. This effluent recycling solution makes no sense for customers or the planet.


Moving river abstractions closer to the tidal limit

If existing river abstraction points were moved closer to the tidal limit this would have an immediate environmental benefit, allowing freshwater to stay in the river for longer.

This solution is supported by a former Managing Director from Southern Water. He has written to Defra condemning the proposal to move to effluent recycling indicating the proposals in the plan are a serious mistake. Instead, he has proposed simply moving existing river abstractions (including those on the River Itchen and Test) to the tidal limit, allowing the water to stay in the freshwater environment for the longest time possible. A solution that would allow reduced upper catchment abstractions, allowing immediate environmental improvements and the recovery of the rivers that everyone seeks.


Transferring water from areas where there is an excess supply

A further alternative is to transfer water via existing water courses in areas where there is an excess of water. For example, Severn Trent Water has proposed a scheme to transfer water via the Grand Union Canal to the South East of England. This has been by identified by the water company as having a number of environmental and recreational benefits.

There was also a scheme which would have involved transferring 16Ml/d of spring water stored in a reservoir from Bristol Water via north Dorset to Southern Waters Testwood Water Treatment Works at times of drought. Southern Water rejected this scheme because it could not be delivered by 2027, but neither can the Budds Farm/ Havant Thicket Reservoir Water Recycling transfer. As a result Bristol Water have now made alternative arrangements to provide the water to Wessex Water.

Alternative water resource schemes have been rejected at an early stage by Southern Water on the basis that they cannot be delivered by 2027, but then nor can effluent recycling which is selected. Or that the schemes cannot deliver, or be expanded at a later date, to deliver 60Ml/d to meet a 1 in 500 drought event. This does not provide a sound basis for planning.


Progressive delivery, starting with a short/medium term strategy

Southern Water actually only needs to deliver an extra 15Ml/d for a 1 in 200 drought event, which is the current water industry planning criteria. A number of smaller environmentally friendly solutions could be developed to meet that need. However, Southern Water have chosen to plan for a scheme that can deliver 60Ml/d or more. This is driving the selection of effluent recycling.


Why do we need to plan for a 1 in 500 year drought (allowing for extra capacity of 60Ml/day) all in one scheme now, when more environmentally friendly solutions could be found and delivered in a more phased approach?

The 1 in 500 planning scenario is only coming forward in emerging policy guidance to the water industry, it is not yet a mandatory requirement for plan delivery at this point (with the priority rightly being to reduce the use of drought permits in sensitive areas) so there is time to look for better more phased environmentally friendly solutions. There is a danger with the current planning philosophy that we end up with a white elephant like the Thames Desalination plant, which also uses Reverse Osmosis, which is too expensive to run to produce drinking water, but they have to run it every day to keep the membranes sweet using energy, carbon and chemicals when Thames Water really just want to shut it down.


Do we need to develop a solution for a 1 in 500 year drought now?

Why are we not educating consumers to expect to have restrictions on what water they can expect to have available to use in a 1 in 500 year very extreme drought? Having restrictions, or the threat of restrictions, helps to educate consumers as to the true value of water to their families health and everyday lives. Ask yourself, do you want your water bill increased now to pay for something that may not be needed in your lifetime, your children’s or grandchildren’s lifetime? Would you support paying for such an expensive and environmentally unfriendly solution now, or just prefer to accept the risk that for ‘X’ weeks at some point you may have to restrict your water use at home or work? While in the meantime Southern Water could be investigating and developing more environmentally friendly solutions. If the water recycling plant is built to meet the needs of a 1 in 500 year drought, it may be redundant and have to be replaced before it is actually needed. In the meantime, customers will be paying for the very expensive infrastructure needed and the operational costs (as well as the environmental cost) to treat and pump more than 7.5Ml of water every day of the year to keep the membrane plant and pipelines ‘sweet’.


Diverting industrial supply to public supply

Diverting water which Southern Water currently supply to a large industrial complex near Southampton to the public water supply at times of drought, and instead provide the industrial process with an alternative supply, for example recycled effluent.


Re-evaluation of the 2021 Options

In what is now called the ‘first round’ of consultation, the 2021 ‘Water for Life Hampshire’ options focussed on Desalination as its ‘Base Case’. Click on the image below to open the 2021 Consultation brochure since we’ll refer to some of the 2021 options further down this page.

Click the image to open the 2021 Consultation Brochure in a separate browser tab

Desalination had been preselected by Southern Water before the consultation opened, from a shortlist of two other options. The first of those was ‘Water Transfer’, which in 2021 terminology meant ‘bringing water in from other regions which expected to have excess capacity within the same planning horizon. ‘Water Transfer’ in 2021 terms was a joint proposal with Wessex Water and Bristol Water for a regional water transfer scheme called ‘West Country North Sources and Transfer’. This scheme was not considered an alternative to Desalination since it had been moved to a different delivery schedule in line with the standard timeline with the rest of the water industry. As such, Southern Water dismissed the option as not being able to deliver water supplies to address our forecast deficit by 2027.”

That last sentence is significant. Southern Water didn’t pursue ‘region to region’ Water Transfer because it didn’t meet the 2027 schedule for delivery placed on the company by the regulator. Having dismissed the Desalination option following last year’s consultation, it’s important to realise that Southern Water’s own delivery schedule has now been compromised by their own new preference for Water Recycling in combination with the Havant Thicket reservoir. The reservoir is not due to enter service until 2029!

Having dismissed Water Transfer themselves, and having now had Desalination dismissed for them by the outcome of last year’s consultation and the environmental impact assessments, Southern Water’s latest consultation offering, HWTWRP, the one we’re now looking at, assumed right up front that the only option was Water Recycling – with its new definition of energy intensive reverse osmosis effluent recycling – and further assumed that the configuration that they would take as the default for consultation would be Budds Farm with the Havant Thicket Reservoir.


Better alternatives if effluent recycling cannot be avoided

There are further alternatives which should be reviewed or revisited. This chart is taken from the 2021 ‘First round’ of consultation. The chart shows various different ‘configurations’, termed B.1, B2, etc., of which only one, B.4, has been selected for this current consultation. In fact, all are still valid options, and each should be reassessed on its merits giving the changed delivery timescales.

Effluent recycling from Peel Common

Even if effluent recycling were the only solution that could meet the immediate need for water there is a more environmentally friendly solution than the Budds Farm Sewage Treatment Works/ Havant Thicket Reservoir/ 40km pipeline transfer. Southern Water could recycle 15ml/day of effluent from the Peel Common Sewage Treatment Works and discharge it to the lower River Itchen close to the tidal limit.

This scheme would have many benefits over the Budds Farm recycling scheme, including:

  • Shorter pipelines would be needed from Peel Common STW to get the water to where it is needed in Southampton, with less construction cost, as well as less carbon and energy costs during construction and operation to pump the water.
  • Southern Water acknowledge in their own reports that there is more environmental benefit delivered by a scheme at Peel Common discharging via the long sea outfall there, rather than via the Budds Farm/ Eastney long sea outfall.
  • You can avoid the need for an environmental buffer lake altogether because the Peel Common STW does not have the salt problem that Budds Farm STW has and as a result the recycled effluent can be discharged to a river. For example, this means that it can be discharged to the lower River Itchen close to the tidal limit, allowing the existing Gaters Mill Water Treatment works to abstract an equivalent extra volume of water at times of drought, with no adverse impact on river flow. As the river is in constant flow there would be less risk associated with bioaccumulation. Consumers would then still receive to drink the same water they are used to getting now.

It is the Itchen abstraction reductions which have caused the supply problems for Southern Water and this solution returns water to the River Itchen which is cleaner than that already discharged from their Chickenhall STW. A win-win situation for the river. Plus the Gaters Mill WTW is close to where Southern Water need the drinking water, and a pipe connection has already been made to Southampton under the motorway.

(Note: Southern Water did have this scheme in their draft plan, but seem to have rejected it because it could not deliver 60Ml/day. But it does not need to. There just needs to be the capacity to expand to meet that need, as for the Budds Farm scheme, and there is. Instead, they have proposed pumping Peel Common Effluent east from Fareham to Havant, treat it, then pump it back west again. That is madness!)

  • The pipeline route options look potentially easier from Peel Common STW alongside the Stubbington by-pass, as it is less urban and there is no need to impact the South Downs National Park.
  • If the water recycling technology becomes more widely accepted for drinking water in the UK and demand / further environmental restrictions on abstraction licences do increase drought demand to require up to 60Ml/day, then effluent from Budds Farm STW can later be piped over from Havant to wherever the recycling plant has been located in the Fareham area. Looking ahead, by the time this additional capacity is actually needed there may be more environmentally friendly treatment technologies and trenchless tunnelling techniques available to reduce the environmental impacts further.
  • There is more suitable land available close to Peel Common STW and north of Fareham to accommodate the footprint needed for future expansion. This would avoid the additional risks of building the proposed Water Recycling Plant on the dilute & disperse landfill at Broadmarsh in Havant, adjacent to Langstone Harbour.
  • Treating effluent from Peel Common STW and discharging it to an environmental buffer lake (Southern Water option B5)

Southern Water’s Scheme Development Summary (pg.38 of the consultation) says the best value plan gives overall benefit to the customers and wider environment, if this is the case, why are Southern Water not prioritising the Peel Common option first, ahead of Budds Farm?

Or better still investigating and pursuing more environmentally sustainable solutions that work with climate change, not against it.


Discharging recycled effluent to underground aquifers

A further option that could be considered if recycling effluent has to be pursued by Southern Water, would be to treat effluent to meet the drinking water standards and then discharge the recycled water into underground aquifer(s) which have a long retention time. Rather than building a dedicated environmental buffer lake, or discharging the recycled effluent into Havant Thicket Reservoir, where the potential adverse impacts on the reservoir and downstream Langstone Harbour are raising significant concerns. In drought stricken parts of the world where effluent recycling is used storing the water in underground aquifers for long periods before use is the more established solution.  

Southern Water have provided a list of 8 drought-stricken regions of the world where effluent recycling is used to supply drinking water. Just 5 use the Reverse Osmosis treatment process proposed for Havant, only one of which discharges the treated water to a storage reservoir, instead many schemes discharge to an underground aquifer with a long retention time. Given this experience in other parts of the world, if effluent recycling must go ahead in Hampshire, why does the water need to be discharged into the unique chalk spring water fed Havant Thicket reservoir? Why cannot it not be discharged into an aquifer much nearer to where the water is actually needed? This would remove the significant concerns about the impact of discharging recycled effluent into the reservoir, which Southern Water have confirmed they have not investigated or modelled.

It is worth noting that the case studies from drought-stricken areas of the world stress the need to have stringent controls over what is discharged to the sewer by local industries. Do the water company have adequate control over what is discharged into the sewers in Hampshire?


Water resource management planning

Adopt environmentally focused water resource management planning now

A key concern is that Southern Water do not want to deliver smaller localised environmentally friendly solutions, as larger schemes requiring more infrastructure provide better profit margins. The way the industry is currently funded encourages water companies to look for solutions that require a lot of infrastructure (treatment works, pipelines and pumping stations), as that puts assets on their books and allows them to justify larger water bills to Ofwat (their financial regulator) to build and maintain those assets over the next 70 years. Ofwat have recognised that this is a problem and from 2024 there will be a new funding mechanism to try and help drive more environmentally friendly schemes which have multiple benefits to society. It seems likely that Southern Water want to push through a very large infrastructure scheme before the funding mechanism changes.

Southern Water do not have a good track record on forward planning. They rejected including the sustainably spring fed Havant Thicket Reservoir in their plan for more than 10 years, claiming that it could not be delivered. They have already wasted 5 years pursuing desalination at Fawley which is now rejected on environmental grounds, when it should have been clear from the off-set that this was not an environmentally acceptable solution. Multiple stakeholders certainly pointed this out to Southern Water. Now they are proposing effluent recycling which utilises the same Reverse Osmosis technology as desalination, so it still uses huge amounts of energy, carbon and chemical, it still produces an enriched brine waste stream that must be pumped out to sea. Their main argument for selecting effluent recycling is that given the time they have wasted on the non-viable desalination scheme, no other solution can now be delivered in time to meet the need!

  • How long should customers continue to be expected to pay the price of poor planning?
  • Instead, we should be responding to Southern Water’s consultation encouraging them to think again and take a much more sustainable approach to their water resource management planning?

Now is the time for us to be asking Southern Water to step back, to properly investigate and deliver more environmentally friendly solutions which work with climate change, not against it.

Southern Water should lead the water industry by adopting the principle of the new Ofwat funding mechanism now to deliver more environmentally friendly water resource solutions that work with climate change.