United Utilities has embarked on an innovative trial to better understand the issues facing the North West’s waters. Collaborating with Graythwaite Estate, the North West’s water provider has deployed cutting-edge water quality sensors in locations along one of the water bodies that flows into Windermere, signifying a step toward a more technological way of working.

Real-time monitoring: Sondes and thorough insights

The initiative involves four advanced Sondes, a technology provided by RS Hydro. Strategically positioned in Esthwaite Water and Cunsey Beck, these devices serve the critical function of enabling real-time tracking of water quality. Their simultaneous measurement of key factors such as organic material, bacteria, ammonia, nutrients, water temperature, and oxygen levels provides an immediate and comprehensive snapshot of the health of lakes and rivers.

Sion Platts-Kilburn, Catchment Manager at United Utilities, said: “There are a range of factors that can affect water quality, including wastewater and land run-off, and these new devices will give us a level of insight that we’ve never had before.”

The purpose of the projects is to test the technology in a live catchment environment, with the scale of multiple locations enabling real time comparative data gathering to “sample” the water across the catchment and as the flow progresses from upstream to down.

The new sondes have been configured with multiple sensors to target a number of important characteristics (known as determinants) that were agreed with the collaborative Love Windermere steering group as the key indicators of water quality.

Essential collaboration

The success of this initiative hinges on the collaborative partnership with Graythwaite Estate. This collaboration extends beyond the installation of sensors. It signifies a joint effort to understand the complicated environmental landscape more widely. By combining expertise and resources, United Utilities and Graythwaite Estate are mutually contributing to a more robust understanding of the factors influencing water quality.

Ed Sandys, from the Graythwaite Estate, said: “We are delighted to host United Utilities on Esthwaite Water and the Cunsey Beck for the purposes of monitoring and recording data. We all have a responsibility to clean up our rivers and lakes and this is a positive step in the right direction.”

Sion Platts Kilburn added, “Only by working together can we build up a picture of what’s going on along the entire lake and river, so we are really pleased to be working with the Graythwaite Estate team. We are looking forward to sharing the data more broadly.”

The collaborative aspect of this project highlights the necessity of shared responsibility in protecting water courses. As challenges become more complex, partnerships become necessary to wholly address them.

Efficiency in action

With real-time results delivered through these innovative Sondes, United Utilities can respond swiftly to arising water quality issues. This speed is critical in resolving potential environmental harm and highlights the transformative power that technology can play within environmental management processes.

The technology reshapes the process of water quality monitoring, minimising the need for manual sample taking and lab analysis. Traditional, water sampling is either a manual task with United Utilities employees and volunteers taking samples before they go to a lab often many miles away. Or requiring a significant physical installation to capture samples for testing. This technology mitigates both of these scenarios – removing the need for people entering the water courses, whilst providing a small scale minimal disruption installation – relying on smart probes to gather the data. Speeding up the whole process with real time results 24/7.

Investment in a holistic approach

Beyond the immediate project, United Utilities reiterates its commitment to a broader vision for water management in the North West. The £13.7 billion investment plan involves a range of initiatives aimed at improving water quality across the region. From nurturing cleaner rivers to ensuring reliable water supplies and providing critical support to customers facing financial challenges, this comprehensive plan underscores a commitment to a holistic approach.

This significant investment represents more than a financial commitment. Acknowledging the role they play in the health of the region’s waters, United Utilities are committed to working with all parties who impact water quality, leading a strategic programme of change to address the multiple elements affecting the waterways.

Monitoring beyond Windermere

Water quality monitoring is no new thing to Windermere. The Big Windermere Survey is a community research initiative led by The Freshwater Biological Association and Lancaster University who have recruited a team of local volunteer citizen scientists to help assess the environmental health of Windermere. The Big Windermere Survey has completed four rounds of surveys representing a full year’s worth of data spanning the four seasons. We’re part of Love Windermere, a partnership made up of organisations from a wide range of sectors. The survey findings will underpin our collective understanding of the lake’s water quality with data and evidence and prioritise effective solutions to improve the condition of the lake.

The use of technology offers innovative solutions right across water quality management. Advanced sensors and data analytics enable real-time tracking of water quality, helping identify and address issues promptly, while smart technologies can enhance the efficiency of water distribution systems, reducing waste and promoting sustainable use. The integration of technology throughout the work we do has the potential to contribute to resource conservation, environmental protection, and the creation of resilient and adaptive systems to address any upcoming challenges.