Sewer cleaning team targets record for customers and planet
Water utility and drainage specialist Lanes Group plc has been challenged with setting a new UK record for planned sewer cleaning to protect millions of people and the environment against flooding.
It has been tasked by Thames Water, the UK’s largest water company, with carrying out the planned cleaning of 2,000km of sewer pipe over 12 months from April 1st 2021.
The enormous task is equivalent to cleaning a sewer pipe stretching from London to Rome and represents the largest sewer maintenance programme of its kind in the UK, if not the world.
Lanes teams, supported by Thames Water colleagues, must clean an average of 167km of sewer pipe every month, the distance from London to Birmingham, if they are to achieve the target.
Lanes Director Andy Brierley said: “Thames Water has set us a hugely challenging and exciting target that we’re 100% up for achieving. Nothing has been attempted on this scale before.
“Data shows the benefits for Thames Water’s 15 million wastewater customers of our planned sewer cleaning programme are massive and crucial as weather becomes more volatile due to climate change.”
The 2021-22 planned sewer cleaning target represents a 66% increase on the 1200km achieved in 2020-2021. Thames Water has committed £18.6m to the programme, an uplift of 61%, indicating the value for money Lanes is also delivering.
In areas where planned cleaning was carried out in 2020 there was a 32% reduction in emergency blockage clearances, a 53% reduction in internal sewer floods and a 56% reduction in pollution incidents.
These figures translate into reduced costs for Thames Water and a higher quality, more sustainable wastewater service for customers, measured against targets set by the regulator, Ofwat.
Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks, called on public support for the sewer clean-up.
“Some of the things we find in our pipes highlight just how important it is to ensure nothing gets in there that shouldn’t do,” he said. “We urge all our customers to only flush the three Ps – pee, poo and toilet paper – as well as binning fats and oils rather than pouring them down the sink.”
Lanes is Thames Water’s wastewater network services partner, providing a range of services, including emergency blockage removal, sewer lining and tankering, as well as planned sewer cleaning.
Working in partnership with Thames Water, it has ramped up planned sewer cleaning every year since the programme began in 2017-18 with a target of just 300km.
The 2020-21 target of 1200km was achieved ahead of schedule despite severe operational difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tasked with achieving the new target will be 138 wastewater engineers and 41 support staff, deploying a fleet of 27 recycler jet vac tankers, 15 CityFlex mini jet vac tankers, and 27 main line CCTV survey vans.
The team is led by Planned Maintenance Delivery Manager Kirsty James, who has just been shortlisted for Woman of the Year in the Water Industry Awards 2021 for her achievements in delivering the programme.
She said: “We can’t wait to get started. Every year, we enter unchartered territory in terms of the effort needed to achieve target but we’re very motivated to succeed.
“Thames Water is fully supporting us. This is an integrated team effort that’s delivering fantastic results for customers.”
The planned sewer cleaning programme is underpinned by industry-leading computer modelling capability developed by Thames Water to analyse the sewer network and identify problem hotspots.
These can then be incorporated in the planned cleaning programme to ensure it has the biggest impact in priority areas.
Kirsty James has also led a process of continuously developing working practices. This has included changing shift patterns, improving data use, a dedicated recruitment and training programme, and team and individual awards for hitting targets.
Technical Specialist Chris Ford, responsible for providing technical support for teams in the Thames Valley, said: “Our success is based on great communication. We all understand what we have to do and we have the resources to achieve it.”
CCTV engineer Mark Philpott said: “Every year our targets go up, but because we’re also working smarter, we can still cope. We know every extra metre we clean is helping the communities we work in.”