To Boil or Not to Boil? The Essential Role Critical Power Plays in Water Treatment to Ensure Community Safety

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This is a cautionary tale about quality issues, escalating costs in a crisis, and the essential role of critical power for the water and wastewater industry. Our story begins when 300,000 people, living and working in the county of Lancashire in the UK, were advised to start boiling the water they normally drink straight from the tap because the water had been contaminated with the poisonous parasite cryptosporidium.

Fresh, clean drinking water straight from the tap is one of the things that people from the UK take for granted. So any utility supplier which falls short of that mark is bound to incur the wrath of the press, and the press did not disappoint. The story was quickly splashed across national television news with updates that ran for weeks during the summer of 2015.

Although the actual cause of the contamination has not yet been shared by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, there has been an interesting development: the utility that was involved has subsequently installed a brand new ultraviolet rig to replace the temporary equipment set-up during the crisis to kill off all traces of the bug, which is immune to chemicals like chlorine. The effectiveness of germicidal UV depends on the length of time the parasite is exposed to the UV light, as well as the intensity and wavelength of the radiation.

UV processes are often the last phase in the treatment train, therefore the potential risk to the consumer is that much closer in proximity and demands greater resilience. Which leads us to our first important lesson to be learned from this situation: it is vital that the power supply to essential water treatment equipment is robust and continuous. This power is required to drive everything from the sensors that create the data which is used to improve the efficiency of operations, to the equipment that ensures the safety of the water itself. As this UV equipment illustrates, the requirement for critical power is present throughout the entire water and wastewater cycle, from pumping and recovery stations, to water treatment plants, desalination and distribution networks.

Most important to remember is that the water treatment facility created a threat to human health; potentially causing damage to those they were trying hardest to protect. Now that the danger has passed and the situation has been corrected, there is time to consider a second important business lesson. Even a single crisis can have a tremendous impact on the financial viability of a company.

Aside from the damage that was done to the water provider’s reputation, the direct financial repercussions of this event will likely be substantial through customer claims for compensation and the prospect of punitive fines levied by Ofwat – the water services regulation authority in the UK.

Worsening the financial burden of the crisis are the added costs associated with communicating with households and businesses in the affected area. In this case, the outreach included television, radio and press advisory announcements. All of these factors have a direct impact on the confidence of both the community being served and the company’s shareholders. One has to wonder if a crisis of this proportion was ever considered when determining which equipment and infrastructure is needed for the facility to perform its function?

As a leader in energy management, Schneider Electric is helping companies consider and prepare for challenges that some could not even imagine. For more perspective on the role that critical power plays in the water and wastewater industry please visit Schneider Electric’s dedicated water industry web pages. If you are aware of a water treatment situation which could have been prevented by a critical power solution, please share it in the comments below.


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