SussexWorld was taken on a tour around Southern Water’s headquarters in Yeoman Road, Worthing last week, to see the pressures the company faces and how it ensures residents in the South East have water in their taps.
Dominic Hallett, operational control manager, said: “We are seeing a huge transformation.
"There’s a huge amount we want to do as an organisation to improve our perception, output, environment and customer communication.
“We are running various programmes and projects to improve; environment performances, customer performance and reputation. They are the top drivers for us.”
‘Tens of thousands reactive faults a day’
Mr Hallett said the control centre is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year.
He praised the work of water production controllers who look at the running of sites and response management. They respond to ‘tens of thousands reactive faults a day’ – ranging from someone breaking into a site to a leak.
A colour system, which automatically refreshes, has been put in place to show if the operating level of reservoirs’ – including Ditchling Road in Brighton and Mile Oak – is what it should be.
"We are are really heavily regulated industry,” he added.
"We have to take reservoirs out of supply and clean and disinfect them and we have a programme that does that.”
‘We have the impact to cause a disaster if we are not doing our jobs properly’
Paul Riordan, logistics operation manager, said most of the networks are built in the Victorian times – when ‘massive pumps’ would have been undesirable.
He said: “They were built in the most effective and efficient way possible.
"There are varying sizes, some the size of the a swimming pool and some are even smaller.
"One, near Pulborough, is the size of a bath tub.
"We used to have 20 people running a site but, these days, things are much more automated.
“The water you get out of the tap is far more regulated than anything you can buy in a bottle. We have to meet far tighter standard, in the interests of public health.
“The reservoirs are cleaned every year but are assessed and sampled everyday.
"Most of that water doesn’t stay in the reservoirs much more than a day. It probably gets turned over within 24 hours.”
Southern Water serves around 2.6million people in Sussex, which equates to around a million properties.
"But that increases every day,” Mr Hallett said. “We have densely populated areas in Crawley, Horsham, Brighton.
“The level of sampling to make sure people have got good quality drinking water is super important.
"All we are trying to do, day in day out, is try to keep water in peoples taps.
“We have the impact to cause a disaster if we are not doing our jobs properly.”
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‘Our job is for you to never know we’re there’
Mr Hallett said that, ‘inevitably’, things do not always go to plan.
He added: “Things do get interrupted but we do have a very clear set of escalation triggers.
“The intent always is to make sure we have good quality water for our customers. That’s the number one objective, caveated by making sure to keep our people safe.
"A lot is going down to technological advances in every centre, across the world
“We have got a brand new established proactive analysis centre. They are the people that are going to stop my team dealing with a reactive fault.
"They pick up anything before it becomes an asset fault and triggers an alarm. They are literal superheroes.”
Mr Hallett is in charge of a live weather radar as part of the risk management programme.
He pointed to lightning as one of the major problems staff have to deal with.
“At this time of year, summer storms form,” he said.
“Cloud to cloud activity doesn’t really impact our asset base but when it strikes the ground, it creates an electrical surge.
"In this building, if there’s lighting activity nearby, the lights will flicker and within about 10 minutes, I will have lost about 20 sites in Sussex.
“My team are always reviewing potential risks.
"They are silent heroes. Our job is for you to never know we’re there.”
‘Very exciting’ project
As part of the transformation programme, Southern Water has bought a fleet of new tankers. They are capable of carrying up to 30,000 litres of water around the county in the event of an emergency and keep customers in supply.
Mr Riordan said this is a ‘very exciting’ project, which has been under development for the last two years.
“We are very close to delivering it and going live,” he said.
"Hopefully by the end of the month.
“We are also bringing in new warehousing capability.
"Until now, we’ve run things very locally. Moving forward, we are looking to centralise that and have better control over our parts.
"We will be better and quicker at responding when fixing sites, with better support functions.”
Currently, tankers are provided through a third-party company when environmental emergencies occur.
This includes the West Beach estate in Lancing, which has faced multiple sewage leaks – the most recent being this week.
This was the sixth time since October, 2021, the same 2km stretch of pipe has burst in three different places. See pictures from the scene here.
In events like these, a ‘raft of vehicles’ are brought in to collect the wastewater and ‘take it somewhere else’.
Mr Riordan said this is done to ‘reduce pollution’ and the ‘impact on customers' properties and the environment’.
Click here to read more about the ongoing repair works.