Farmers could soon be reimbursed for creating water storage ponds or water “batteries” as part of an innovative drought-prevention project that has today received funding from Ofwat’s Innovation Fund. With droughts affecting the UK for much of last summer, the project, from Westcountry Rivers Trust and South West Water, will not only contribute to better hydrated wetlands, woodlands and fields, but can help farms manage water demand through dry weather, as well as boost aquatic biodiversity.

The project is one of 16 solutions being awarded a share of £40 million today in the water regulator’s latest innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge.

The initiative will work with farmers to create stores of water – both in soil “sponges” as well as lakes and ponds – that can be “re-charged” through wet weather, then drawn on through ever-more common dry seasons, to the benefit of either the farmers themselves, or local communities. These water “batteries” could form the basis of a smart water grid, improving the resilience of the water supply in the wake of climate change – in the same way solar batteries in homes store excess electricity that can be sold back to the National Grid.

The competition is also recognising a solution that adapts ground-stability monitoring technology to tackle leakage across England and Wales – a challenge which currently equates to the loss of over three billion litres of water a day. The project will use the existing network of fibre-optic cables (like those that host broadband) to report on minute changes in vibration patterns. This process, which is already used to monitor ground stability as part of the rail network, can also indicate even the smallest loss of water to catch leaks early. This technique is cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than current monitoring practices.

A project to deliver water neutrality solutions on new developments is also among the winners.

The winners also include the creation of the UK’s first ever, full-scale, carbon-neutral wastewater works. This state-of-the-art experiment from Severn Trent will bring together cutting-edge carbon-reduction technology for wastewater and test it at scale, pushing the limits to prove how the sector can slash its environmental impact – one of the core goals of this pocket of Ofwat’s funding. The project will integrate several promising retrofittable technologies in an existing urban wastewater treatment plant and create a data copy of all processes (‘digital twin’) to monitor impact.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge aimed to encourage initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society.

Previous rounds of the competition have already seen numerous innovative projects win funding for their potential to benefit customers, society and the environment through solutions that introduce rainwater storage systems to local communities and minimise water demand in new building projects.

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