Water experts will tackle the economic and environmental impacts of groundwater infiltration on urban infrastructure in the UK, which is estimated to cost tens of millions of pounds annually, at a new Centre for Research and Innovation.

For the first two years the centre, launched by experts at consultancy firm Atkins along with the University of Birmingham, Imperial College London, and the British Geological Survey, will be focused on sewerage infrastructure where water seeping through cracked pipes is estimated to account for 40 per cent of flow in the network.

This reduces sewer capacity, damages infrastructure, poses a serious challenge for operations, and deteriorates the quality of the receiving waters and ecosystem services.

It is believed the issue costs the water industry millions of pounds every year. In 2013/14, three water companies in the UK spent an additional £80 million in responding to the impacts of infiltration. The centre will undertake research with academia, researchers and industry to bring innovative and practicable outcomes, so that significant financial and environmental benefits can be brought to this longstanding industry problem.

The long-term aim of the centre is to develop preventative techniques that will reduce ongoing asset management costs as well as improve environmental standards and customer service for the industry. At times of increased wet weather and flooding across the UK, like over the 2013/14 winter, these techniques will also directly reduce the risk of flooding experienced in towns and cities including schools, homes, and local businesses.

Adam Cambridge, technical authority for urban stormwater management at Atkins, said: “For decades infiltration has been a long standing infrastructure challenge for our industry. Local communities are often the ones most affected by the problem. This is the first time we’ve taken a co-ordinated approach to tackle the impacts of infiltration facing our infrastructure head on.

“Over the next five years, the centre will bring together academics, researchers and industry to build an integrated approach in managing the environmental risk and economic impact to our sewerage network across the UK, hopefully freeing up capacity, reducing the overspills and saving millions of pounds in the process.”

Dr Chris Jackson, a principal scientist at the British Geological Survey, said: “This new collaborative centre is an exciting opportunity to build on our NERC-funded environmental modelling and groundwater research. The centre brings together a wide range of expertise from industry and academia. By working together, and by collaborating with a range of stakeholders, we hope to realise significant benefits not only for the water industry but also for local communities.”

Dr Ana Mijic, lecturer in urban water management at the Imperial College London, added: “The centre presents a great platform for translating the scientific knowledge into innovative and end-users informed approaches and tools for addressing an important issue of groundwater impacts on urban infrastructure. We are hoping to deliver a wide range of environmental and economic benefits, and identify stakeholder-relevant research themes and projects.”

A version of this story first appeared on wwtonline.

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