Cutting the cost of water consumption

Source: NHE May/June 15

Paul Wharram, assistant sustainability manager at Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, explains how it cut its water bill by £110,000.

Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust was commended recently at the NHS Sustainability Awards for a project that helped the Castle Hill Hospital (CHH) site reduce its water consumption by 28%. 

The trust had long been concerned about the relatively high water consumption rate at CHH, which is supplied by a single water supply that is delivered to break tanks on site. 

Paul Wharram, assistant sustainability manager at the trust, told NHE: “CHH also has an underground water system which, despite efforts to maintain it, has had underlying issues where on certain amounts of pipework we found we had problems with leaks on joints, either on the main line itself or lines coming off to feed buildings. 

“Following a number of larger leaks identified more recently, we decided to step up our work on installing meters to more closely monitor, and more quickly identify, problems as they arose.” 

The trust carried out a ‘water balance’ to indicate the level of water the site required. To identify areas where higher-than-expected consumption was occurring, the estates department valved off sections of the distribution system and monitored the ‘night lines’. 

“By knocking off and opening up certain valves, we could identify where there was more or less water,” said Wharram. This programme indicated that when some sections were closed off, the night lines for consumption could drop as low as two litres per second. A specialist water contractor was then brought in to pinpoint and repair any leaks on the various sections. 

Since the repair work, the trust night lines for water consumption have now fallen to less than 0.9 litres per second and are monitored by the site’s building management system (BMS). 

“As well as installing meters on site, we also introduced an alarm system, so if usage goes above a certain threshold during the day or night, an alert is raised which triggers a rapid response from our estates team,” NHE was told. 

“This work has resulted in significant improvements to our water consumption, with a 30% reduction in the amount of water used at CHH in the first year alone.” 

Wharram added that the estates team now investigates and are more proactive rather than reactive about potential leaks. “For instance, we look at what is going on, we check to see if anything is running. [We ask] is there a piece of kit malfunctioning that is on bypass, so it is using cold water?” he said. 

“We can investigate that very quickly, within the day, to ascertain whether it is malfunctioning or a probable leak. If it is a probable leak we can then, that very night, do pipeline testing and the following day we can pinpoint where we want to be in terms of a leak.” 

Since implementing the changes, the trust has gone from using just over 165,000 cubic metres (one cubic metre of water is the equivalent of 1,759 pints or 1,000 litres) in 2012-13 to just over 108,000 in 2013-14. On top of this, in the same financial year it managed to reduce its water cost by £110,000. 

Asked what this means for the future of the trust and whether lessons could be learned by other NHS organisations, Wharram told NHE: “Hull Royal Infirmary is a slightly different site, but we are looking at this as a point to put this system in. If we do have this problem, which we appear to have at the moment, then we need to have that speed of response in days rather than weeks.” 

He added that CHH is an old site, which had its water mains upgraded in the late 1980s. But the places where the trust have had the most trouble have been on new plastic pipes. 

“The majority of issues we have had have been in newer pipe and this has been harder to find,” he said, adding: “We are looking at introducing a district metering system as a development from this current single meter set-up so that we can pinpoint areas quicker around the CHH. 

“This is something we picked up in conversation with Yorkshire Water, our supplier. This would entail fitting three more meters across the site.  It has to be budgeted for, but we are looking towards doing that.” 

Offering advice to other trusts on reducing water consumption, Wharram said that people need to understand their estate, and need to understand their pipeline to allow this to happen. You need a handle on what you would expect for usage in your buildings to allow you to pinpoint areas, he said. 

Speaking about being commended at the NHS Sustainability Awards for the team’s efforts, Warrham added that it has raised the trust’s profile but has also lifted the people in the workshops and offices who are dealing with water consumption and its monitoring on a day-to-day basis.

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