How can we tackle combined sewer overflows and optimise current water infrastructure with digital solutions to make the industry climate-resilient? We caught up with Phil Tomlinson, Commercial Director at METASPHERE on the biggest roadblocks, opportunities and strategies for providing effective, practical and weather-proof solutions.

Phil Tomlinson, Commercial Director, Metasphere

Metasphere is an expert in targeting and reducing combined sewer overflows. But how big a problem are Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO’s) for the water sector?
The reduction of the use of CSO’s is a huge problem, and are a safety valve against hydraulic overload – spilling is what they are designed to do. When thought about in this way the complexity starts to become obvious. UK networks were simply not designed for either the current number of connections (people/properties) or today’s weather patterns, without even getting into the challenges around the right to connect, illegal connections or misuse, so not only is it a big problem but the challenge is ratcheting.

Getting visibility of these issues and building real-time operational behaviours of the networks is critical in order to mitigate the problems we are now seeing as common place.

What are the biggest causes of CSOs? And how does Metasphere help water utilities reduce their CSOs?
Metasphere provide solutions that work in one of two ways.

Historically, it’s about the implementation of  monitoring solutions to alert utilities when their CSO’s have been or are approaching use, whilst this is still very much part of the utilities arsenal, this can only ever have limited impact preventing a spill happening. We are now at the point as has been reported in the past couple of weeks that all such sites in England are now monitored and data will be provided to the environment agency on an annual basis for retrospective performance (EPA) reporting. With some major changes in primary and secondary legislation over the past couple of years coupled with an ever increasing public awareness (and continued mainstream media attention) of the impact of these failures is increasingly understood but tolerance for their existence let alone usage has disappeared.

So with a total shift away from their usage comes the significant challenge of prevention! Some of the hurdles here are also much greater than say 20 years ago and whilst the supporting technology (and the skills to utilise it) has moved forward enormously so has the demand on the network through population growth, demographic changes, climate change and an aging asset base. When all this is considered alongside appetite for investment,  the increasing  zero tolerance to failure and all the other factors at play in this area it is certainly coming a wicked problem.

Are Internet of Things (IoT) solutions the way to achieve ‘zero escapes’? How does robust data collection and monitoring give utilities the tools they need to achieve their targets around CSOs?
For many years utility companies have utilised telemetry systems to act as their ‘eyes and ears’ into their remote operations. If you take a starting point the sheer number of assets these companies have and then consider how dispersed they are, the criticality of their operation and often the difficulty of accessing them then the investment in this seems like a no-brainer. Whilst the collection of reliable data from the field still forms the first layer on top of the physical field assets themselves, the Internet of Things has changed this in a number of ways whether the complexity of data capable of being collected from the field or even the timeliness of that data coupled with huge advances in cloud computing and analytics skills mean that we have/are finally moving past the data silos that have existed for many years. This broader integration of data sources is already incredibly powerful, for a direct example of this around CSO’s consider the integration of Pump Station flow data with hyper localised rainfall forecasts, viewing this data as a ‘mirror’ to the collective network rather than isolated assets or data streams gives a much richer picture of not only current operational performance, but can importantly predict the capability of the network to manage incoming weather events without the need to utilise the CSO.

In what ways are these kinds of partnerships driving forward innovation across the water sector? What are the biggest catalysts for forming these crucial relationships?
Utilities have proven themselves capable for many years of maintaining both transactional and partnership relationships with supply chains. What is often more challenging although recently becoming more visible is partnerships being independently formed both vertically and horizontally in the supply chain.

The concept of partnership can be stretched further here, when wastewater is considered as a resource rather than a problem to be dealt with the mentality will significantly shift towards how it is managed. Whilst we aren’t yet seeing the direct driver yet in the UK for this, other areas of the world are leading the way and there is so much to do that it’s a little unfeasible to do this without at least aligned delivery and more realistically a partnership approach to the delivery.

Hear more from Phil hosting a dedicated roundtable discussion on ‘Building Infrastructure That Can Weather Changing Climate’ on Tuesday February 20. He will also share further insights in a session, ‘Accelerating Digitalisation for Stormwater Management and Overflow Reduction’ on Wednesday February 21. Plus, you can find out even more by visiting Metasphere’s exhibition booth. 

See the full delegate programme here: