COOCH Memorial Lecture
This lecture, to commemorate H. Cooch, who founded our association in 1951, was held in the Lecture Theatre of Worthing Library at 2.30 p.m. on Friday 26th November, 1993. The subject of the lecture was Southern Water and was be given by the group Technical Director, F.N. Midmer, M.I.C.E.
The speaker was introduced by last years’ president, D.J. Fuller, in the absence of both the the president and vice-president, due to illness.
In his introduction, the speaker listed the main uses of water, including its necessity to plant life and agriculture, transport (including sewage), industry, drinking, leisure and the environment. Until recently it had been taken for granted in the U.K. and he would illustrate the administrative and engineering changes by his own 44 years’ experience. ADMINISTRATION
1950’s: River, Water and Sewage had mainly been dealt with by small units under the control of Local Authorities. However, increasing awareness of environmental needs led to the control by River Boards of pollution from discharges, throughout their own larger areas.
1960’s: Interest in water resources on a larger and less local scale resulted in the formation of River Authorities who were given the control of abstraction of water from rivers and underground sources. At the same time some water companies were amalgamated to form larger and more efficient units, e.g. on the Isle of Wight companies were joined together.
1970’s: Emphasis upon the complete water cycle led to the formation of the ten Regional Water Authorities in 1974 who, in addition to Land Drainage and Sea Defence, were responsible for all aspects of the cycle, including abstractions, water supply, sewerage and discharges to river and sea, their boundaries being generally fixed by catchments. The Southern Water Authority thus took over water and sewage from some 68 local authorities. Public awareness and cost-consciousness was increased due to Direct Billing from the R.W.A.’s, particularly as the government grant to L.A.’s of 50% of the cost of sewerage was abandoned.
1980’s: Introduction of executive members appointed by the government reduced L.A. involvement and eventually political considerations led to privatisation. At the same time interest in drinking water standards enabled the Green movement to exploit their publicity, especially vis-à-vis pesticides, unfortunately reducing public appreciation of what had been done.
Finance: Technical progress depends upon finances which, prior to privatisation, were controlled by the Treasury, whose charges were unrelated to the R.W.A. needs. The erratic nature of these charges necessitated slowing down of capital works and, on occasion, reductions in operating costs.
The setting up of Southern Water, p.l.c. and other Water Companies entailed the establishment of three strong regulators, but it had the advantage of allowing proper financial planning. The Land Drainage functions were handed over to the newly set-up National Rivers Authority, along with about 15% of the R.W.A. staff.
The Drinking Water Inspectorate deals with the laid-down standards, involving about 275,000 samples of water per year and the monitoring of all related activities. The N.R.A. are concerned with all matters relating to abstraction and discharge. The Director General controls the P.L.C.’s finances, particularly in respect of an agreed ten year programme and also represents the customer, with regard to standard of service. ENGINEERING
The speaker started his career in land drainage and sea defence, the emphasis of which has now moved from drainage for intensive agricultural production to preservation of wetlands, although still remaining important for the flood protection of urban areas. He was involved in the early days of Beach Feeding for sea defence, which is now widely used, e.g. in 1987 at Seaford. (He, of course, later covered the wider aspects of Water).
Demand increased by 2% per annum in the 70’s and 80’s, and this required the development of further sources, including reservoirs, river abstraction and boreholes, e.g. Bewl, Ardingly and Hardham. Smaller works were closed as larger ones were developed with appropriate treatment works, mainly complicated automated chemical installations. Later there was public pressure to restrict demand, rather than to build reservoirs, e.g. Broad Oak near Canterbury is still in abeyance. Cross-connections were increased, e.g. across the Solent to the I.o.W., and other measures were taken also, to maximize the use of existing sources, e.g. the use of micro-filtration for otherwise doubtful water.
Thousands of miles of pipes are in use in the S.W. Company area, very largely of ductile iron, but the use of plastics has increased. With these there have been difficulties, including bursts in UPC, due to pressure variations. Leakage is being much reduced with modern improved detection equipment, mainly used at night. Distribution losses have, so far, been cut from 20% to 11%. The aim is to reduce demand by 4.5% by 1997.
The extensive testing, referred to previously, include samples from domestic premises, as well as those from sources, treatment works, distribution systems, etc. 99.5% have been found to comply with E.C. standards.
These present a major problem in the S.W. Company area, with 240 miles of coastline. Two E.C. directives apply, i.e. Bathing Water Directive and the Municipal Waste Water Directive. The first applies to the bacterial content of water on bathing beaches and the second to the sewage from towns and villages, and its treatment.
Most coastal towns have old collecting sewers, running behind and along the sea front, with one fairly short outfall. Urban development means that new long outfalls are required, together with more intensive treatment, conveniently near the outfall. For example, at Worthing a new outfall, 2.75 km in length, is being constructed. Similar problems have arisen at Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Shoreham, etc., with Folkestone and Dover presenting a particularly difficult case with regard to the treatment works, and the solution is likely to cost £120 million.
The intensive treatment will mean production of much more sludge, with difficulties in disposal.
Privatisation has meant that standards are fixed by the three regulators, and costs will have to increase to meet these standards, particularly those which originate from E.C. directives.
A new charging system is to be fixed by the year 2000, but this depends upon decision by the government, who are considering metering, against some opposition.
The S.W. p.l.c. works to the laid-down standards and to a fixed programme and, in the view of the speaker, gives good value for money.
After the lecture, the speaker answered a number of questions. These included the subject of water transfer from the wetter regions of the U.K., the use of meters, etc., as well as more domestic and local matters. All of these were dealt with in an efficient and informative manner.