At last - a smarter focus on wastewater flows and levels

Andy Godley is an expert in Flows and Metering

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Spills from wastewater system storm overflows have attracted much media attention, and the UK Government has just concluded its consultation on developing a Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan (SORP). Andy Godley, Principal Consultant in Flow Measurement and Metering at WRc, looks at the latest developments in wastewater flows and levels.

It is difficult to argue with the sentiments behind the consultation and there is no doubt that some overflows have been spilling for longer and/or more frequently than their designers intended. The reasons for this are various, including an increase in paved surfaces in urban areas causing more surface water run-off, increases in local populations unmatched by increasing sewer capacity and lack of maintenance leading to blockages and higher infiltration. However, some of the ideas presented in the consultation are over-simplistic - for example an arbitrary target of 10 spills per year – and all carry a cost as identified in the accompanying Storm Evidence Overflows Project report (1)

The consultation acknowledges the efforts being put into increased monitoring of CSOs; by the end of 2023, all should be fitted with an event duration monitor (EDM).

Reliable and accurate monitoring relies on choosing the most appropriate sensors for the application, ensuring good installation, and commissioning practice and maintenance. It is important to note that this does not just apply to the sensor itself, but the whole data chain from the sensor to data storage and processing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many existing EDMs are not installed to best practice and data from 2021 (2) shows that 13% of installed EDMs had less than 90% operability.

The Environment Agency has stated that it is about to publish its long-awaited guidance on the use of EDMs for monitoring those spills closest to treatment works to demonstrate compliance with works’ permits. This is being incorporated into the MCERTS self-monitoring and inspection schemes. Together with the supporting MCERTS product standard to demonstrate the fitness for purpose of EDM instruments, this will improve the accuracy with which these spills are monitored. 

However, if we are to get serious about spills wherever they occur in the network, these same standards should be required for all EDMs to ensure reliable and consistent monitoring.

Radar based level sensors are now challenging ultrasonic level sensors on price and beginning to take market share for EDM and open channel flow applications. WRc’s experience in testing radar level sensors for MCERTS product certification shows that performance is very good, with the sensors currently certified achieving the best performance level of MCERTS Class 1 with a combined performance characteristic less than 0.2%.

Whilst it is clearly time for a close look at overflows, this needs to be in the overall context of the wastewater system from collection to treatment. 

Application of smart technology in the wastewater system has lagged behind its use in the clean water network but is beginning to catch up; companies such as United Utilities, Severn Trent and Southern Water installing networks of sewer level monitoring equipment and working with suppliers such as Detectronic to apply AI and data analytics to turn that data into actionable information.

This enables more rapid detection of developing blockages and increasing infiltration and helps reduce spills. WRc has also explored the potential of linking in other data, such as rainfall, to help manage capacity at works to deal with incoming surges – the so-called “first flush” during a storm that can contain high levels of solids picked up by the sudden surge in flow.

Wastewater level is reasonably straightforward, however flow measurement presents different measurement challenges in that much is in channels and sewers that have free surface flows and the fluid contains fats and debris that will foul many sensors. Non-contact sensors are an attractive option to deal with fouling. Various non-contact sensors are now available that use radar or laser techniques to obtain a water velocity reading. Used together with a level sensor, such sensors can provide volumetric flow. However, these sensors typically measure velocity at, or near, the surface and this needs to be converted to a mean velocity taking account of the through depth and cross-channel velocity profiles.

WRc has been using advanced computational modelling (CFD) techniques to explore in more detail how free surface flows behave, and from that how such devices should be used to meet accuracy required by the regulator. 

This CFD modelling by WRc is showing complex flow patterns where secondary flows due to local turbulence have a significant impact on the relationship between surface and mean velocities, even in long straight channels. When disturbances are present, this further affects the predictability of that relationship. This is borne out by the testing we have carried out on such devices where the response to a given flow condition is not always as expected. Testing and the modelling are pointing towards the need for on site calibration to allow for site-specific flow conditions. This will be further explored as our project progresses.

In conclusion, flows and levels in the wastewater network are at last receiving the attention needed to improve wastewater management. This is spurring innovation in sensors and data analytics to turn that data into useful information. However, as with all measurements, the benefits will only be fully realised by remembering the basics of right equipment, good installation and commissioning, and maintenance.

(1) Storm Evidence Overflow project Report. Gill E et al. November 2021 Water UK
(2) Event Duration Monitoring - Storm Overflows - Annual Returns - 2021

    Water Industry Journal June 2022

    Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

    Water technology evaluation facilities

    WRc's Swindon site houses a range of large scale facilities which our various clients use in the development and testing of technologies for MCERTS and our WRc Approved scheme. These include a flow loop rig, an open channel flume, a level sensor rig, and more.

    More on our facilities and services
    Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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    Andy Godley

    Principal Consultant (Flow Measurement & Metering)

    Andy's expertise covers all technologies of flow measurement (both open channel and closed pipe) across clean and wastewater applications. He manages WRc's flow test facilities and has experience in designing and performing test and evaluation exercises against standards or client-specific requirements on meters and associated equipment, including verification and AMR (automatic meter reading) systems. Andy has also developed tools for assessing meter uncertainty, whole life costs of meters, meter right sizing and long term meter performance models. He has been closely involved with the Environment Agency’s MCERTS scheme for water monitoring.

    2022-07-01 14:44:00