A world beyond your tap

Often the mundane, regular services are the easiest to take for granted.

It feels like these days everyone’s expectations of receiving a five star service is increasing – and that includes the service of their water supply.

Even though when it was first created Bristol Water was a marvel of modern engineering, it soon (like many other services), became a basic social expectation.

Now, we’ll hold our hands up here. We’re fairly happy ticking along behind the scenes, and usually we don’t like making a big song and dance – but there’s a whole other world living just beyond your taps.

Not only is the provision of a regular, clean supply of water way more interesting than you might think; you may not even realise how much work actually goes into your icy glass of water, or warm relaxing bath. In fact, I’m reminded of a letter I received quite a while back, which read: What we are paying for is not exactly cutting edge technology; a large puddle, a few pipes & pumpers. Bingo!’  so I thought I’d revisit this statement as a means to explain a little about unseen complexity and relentless focus to maintain and improve.

‘A large puddle’?

A puddle needs rain to fill it and here, at least, there is a passing resemblance to our lakes.  The largest of our 14 ‘puddles’, or raw water reservoirs, is the vast Chew Valley Lake. It alone can hold 20,460 million litres. Together with its older sister Blagdon, the two lakes took us a total of 15 years and a huge investment of money and labour to complete. Lakes are only part of the sources story for we have over 60 sources – apart from the reservoirs, we also use rivers, springs, wells and boreholes.  Their use has to be carefully monitored and balanced to ensure we always have enough water to meet demand, without damaging the environment.

‘A few pipes’?

Our water mains network is nearly 6,600 kilometres (over 4000 miles) long. That’s more than 15 times the size of the London Underground. In fact, our pipelines would stretch from Bristol to London and back 17 times. We are constantly working to maintain and improve them and today the network is highly connected  allowing us to move water from different works and sources to all parts of our region. 

‘A few pumpers’?

It takes over 160 fully-automated pumping stations to supply an average of around 275 million litres of water a day around our supply area. Every single day, they are moving what it would take around 10,000 road tankers to deliver.

Treatment

Eighteen treatment works, the biggest of which can deliver 165 million litres a day. And all of it has to meet the most rigorous water quality standards in the world. 139 covered storage reservoirs, holding treated water ready for use where it is needed. If you have ever wondered what the tower on Durham Down is for it is a service reservoir holding clean water at a height that ensure homes get enough water and at a good level of  pressure.

Monitoring

Keeping the taps flowing for over 1.2 million people is not simple. Ensuring our complex network runs smoothly 24 hours a day, delivering high quality water and services, demands the latest technology and sophisticated IT systems.

A team of staff criss-cross our supply area daily  taking hundreds of samples for laboratory water quality testing.  They sample at all our sites on a strict regime of visits and they go to customer homes using randomly generated street addresses, so don’t be surprised if one visits you. 

Leaks

If you are up and about in the early hours, especially in built up areas you can expect to see some of our highly trained staff on the hunt of leaks. We monitor water through our network 24 hrs a day. Across our 6500 km of pipes network we have remote data enabled loggers that collect and transmit flow information across hundreds of discrete supply areas. These start as large areas that decrease in size and volume to almost street level. This allows us to see the flow and detect anomalies.  This is especially useful at night when we can track typical night time expected flows and get our staff out to investigate when we see new or unusual patterns.

You and your water

All of this means we can ensure we get you the water you need and you can go about your daily business without the need to give it much thought.

Although, and here’s the rub, we’d like you to take a minute to consider how you use water and see where and if any waste can be cut out.  It’ll be obvious from the above that using less water has a direct benefit on the environment simply because it means taking less water from nature. Equally, it has an indirect impact by lowering the amount of carbon emissions produced in storing, treating and delivering this heavy resource to customers. And lastly, the more efficient we become with the work that goes on beyond your tap, the longer we can defer the need to go back to nature and develop and build new sources.