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Escalating concerns over sewer flooding in the UK could be alleviated with the arrival of new technology designed to save water companies millions of pounds.

With water companies forecasting dramatic rises in the cost of tackling the most severe cases of sewer flooding to £1.1 billion over the next five years, leading management and technical consultancy to the utilities Ewan Group is about to launch a solution that could eliminate the uncertainty and drive down the cost of planned flood relief schemes by £50 million.

Ewan’s new software, FastNett, is the result of an innovative collaboration with a number of leading water companies including Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, Severn Trent Water, Thames Water, United Utilities and Yorkshire Water.

Describing it as the most exciting career project he has been involved with, Richard Long, Technical Director at Ewan considers it totally relevant to the immediate needs of the water industry today.

“Flooding has become such a high profile issue in recent years. We explored a number of options, one of which was supporting a PhD project at Exeter University Centre for Water Systems. This prompted us to believe there was a market for FastNett, but at the same time we recognised that significant further development was required,” explained Long.

“We felt a collaborative approach with direct involvement from water companies was the most logical means of developing the idea and coming up with an effective solution. It works both with existing industry-standard sewer modelling software and reduces the time consuming trial and error procedures that rarely, if ever, yield the most cost-effective outcome.

“FastNett is designed to automate this process, driving down costs and delivering best value for money.”

FastNett comprises three key modules. The first is a sewer network simulator designed to work far faster than existing industry products. This is necessary because thousands of simulations are required to identify the most cost-effective flooding solution.

The second establishes how successful each option is, based on operational effectiveness and cost, while the third model uses this information to adjust the options to improve performance further and reduce cost. By repeating this simulation assessment adjustment many times, FastNett, determines the most appropriate solution to the problem set.

This enables engineers to develop and compare a much wider range of solutions than time would normally allow and find the most economical scheme that achieves the desired design objectives. Companies are therefore able to deliver their capital programmes more efficiently and at lower cost.

The software requires engineers to set up a range of possible options in the model and Ewan's Technical Director is quick to point out that the software is particularly pragmatic and intuitive to the sewer network planner.

Ewan claims that FastNett sizes the schemes automatically before rapidly identifying the most cost-effective combination of alternative options, for example new pipes, up-sized pipes, underground storage or controlled spills.

It doesn’t just work at scheme level either. For the first time, its speed enables it to compare projects across an entire region which means water companies can now prioritise their flooding schemes and devise programmes of work that deliver the maximum benefit to customers at minimum cost in a manner that can readily be demonstrated to the regulator.

Fastnett is due to reach the market next month and the technology will continue to be developed to incorporate further features. Pilot projects are due to get underway with four collaborating water companies. Each also receives a licence to use the software themselves or consultants working on their behalf with an option to purchase further licences at discounted rates in the future.

“Each of these companies also has the opportunity to steer and become involved in further development so it benefits everyone concerned. At this stage it’s difficult to estimate exact savings, but it could be as much as 5%. For a programme of £1 billion of planned expenditure, that equates to up to £50 million, but my belief is that the potential could be even greater, concluded Long.

Mary Dhonau, Community Groups Director for the National Flood Forum said: "Last year alone there were more than 7,000 reported cases of internal sewer flooding causing great misery. It’s widely agreed there’s no worse form of flooding than that from sewers. I welcome any new initiative to reduce the impact of sewer flooding, particularly one that’s cost effective and reliable.” ENDS

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