Rain on driveway

Having access to clean, safe water is something most people take for granted, and few people think about what happens to the water when they flush the loo or empty the bath. However, every day billions of litres of water are constantly travelling through hundreds of thousands of miles of pipes, being treated and returned to the environment. 

The 21st Century Drainage Programme report, released today, highlights the need to ensure the nation’s sewerage systems are fit for purpose with the added pressures they’ll need to withstand in the future. For instance, a growing population which is bringing more homes, urban creep, and a higher risk of misconnections that pollute the environment, juxtaposed with climate change which is bringing more frequent, unpredictable extremes of weather like flooding.

As well as investing hundreds of millions of pounds each year in its own drainage systems, Anglian Water is already leading the way with initiatives such as its Keep It Clear campaign. This is designed to change customer behaviour to help alleviate some of the unnecessary pressures placed on the sewerage infrastructure, as well as helping to save resources and protect the environment.

“There needs to be better working collaboration across the UK to address the challenges of population growth and climate change and make sure the nation’s drainage infrastructure can withstand the tests of time. We also need to raise awareness of the problems where individuals can play a part to help too,” said Rachel Dyson who leads one of the work areas looking at the misuse of sewers and is Anglian Water’s Keep It Clear programme manager.

“From talking to thousands of customers through our Keep It Clear campaign, we have found most people want to do their bit, but they are generally unaware how the system works and out of sight is often out of mind. We’re trying to change that.
The 21st Century Drainage programme, has already generated a huge amount of positive work and debate within the industry, and billions of pounds have been invested to bring the formerly public-owned systems up to today’s standards.

• Anglian Water has already pioneered the concept of ‘what not to put down the drain’ with its Keep It Clear campaign aimed at reducing the 30,000 avoidable blockages a year caused by an accumulation of fat, oils and grease and unflushable such as wipes, cotton buds and sanitary products.
• It is also leading the charge on tackling misconnections where a home’s foul drain is wrongly connected to the rainwater sewer leading to pollution - a common problem in old or redeveloped properties.
• 150 years after the first public sewers and drains were built, there remains a complex system of ownership around sewers, highways drainage and flood protection infrastructure, and to tackle this Anglian Water has set aside a pot of £9million to fund joint flood schemes.
• With one of the longest coastlines of all water companies, it has also invested £350million in improving bathing water quality and has almost a quarter of Britain’s best beaches in the region, underpinning the East of England’s thriving tourism economy.

“Unlike drinking water networks, sewerage systems are completely open in order to allow rainwater to run in. This means they are also open to potential misuse – through deliberate fly-tipping or where people unknowingly put the wrong things down the sink and loo. Cooking fats should be put in the bin not rinsed down the sink, and wipes and other toiletry items should be binned too rather than flushed down the loo.

“80 per cent of external flooding problems are down to one-off blockages from cooking fats or unflushable wipes. Our Keep It Clear campaign aims to point out the problems cooking fat and wipes cause and cut these blockages.

“Keep it Clear is having a positive impact with a marked reduction in blockages where we have promoted it, and as well as reducing flooding and preventing pollution of the environment, the £15million a year price tag to clear blockages could be better spent elsewhere. But there’s still further to go. And this is just one of the issues the sewer network faces, which is why this report and encouraging customer debate is the next step.”

The water industry is inviting people to read the report and have a say in this important debate by contacting comms@water.org.uk, or on Twitter, using the hashtag #21CDrainage.