Earlier this year I found myself pitching a new innovation to an audience of water industry experts in a real life version of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den. Although equal parts nerve-racking and exciting, it must have gone well as the audience picked our pitch as the winning idea.

Our innovation uses ultra-high resolution aerial surveys to identify misconnected wastewater pipes.

Significant investment by water utilities in water treatment has resulted in major improvements in water quality in many UK rivers. However, misconnected water pipes on domestic and industrial properties still present a challenge in some areas.

Pitching our innovation was part of the Institute of Water’s (IOW) annual Innovation Awards for the North area and was a highlight of a half-day conference dedicated to innovation and incident management in the water sector.

It was an enjoyable and rewarding event, hosted at the impressive new Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths centre at Middlesbrough College. It included an insight into incident management at the college’s plant control centre as well as a presentation from Northumbrian Water about a large loss-of-supply incident.

APEM receives the IOW North area innovation award in 2017

APEM’s Dr Stuart Clough (left) receives the innovation trophy from Richard Sears, director of communications at Yorkshire Water.


The IOW Innovation awards have never been more apt.

Ever since privatisation over 25 years ago the water industry has been in a near constant state of change. Today, as we move into a more challenging regulatory regime and shift from capex to totex investment, innovation is more than ever the vital element driving the industry’s continued transformation.

The awards are a great way to bring innovative products and services not only to a wider audience, but also to an audience of decision makers.

Along with our commitment to scientific integrity, innovation is at the heart of APEM’s history as a company. So it’s no surprise that we have entered the IOW Innovation awards for the last four years. We have been shortlisted in many of the regional competitions around the country and we were delighted to reach the national final both this year and in 2015.

Saving time and money on misconnections

Misconnections are widespread in the UK and are a potentially costly challenge for water companies and local authorities. They happen when domestic wastewater pipes are connected to the wrong sewer network, often due to property modifications. This can lead to dirty water – such as from sinks and toilets – being routed to join with rainwater from roofs and flowing directly into watercourses.

Misconnections increasingly need to be identified in order to meet water quality standards. But estimates by water industry body UKWIR put the cost of using traditional methods to identify the roughly 130,000 UK homes with misconnections at about £190 million.

So APEM developed a way to quickly and cost-effectively find misconnections across a whole town or city, by taking to the skies in our specialist survey aircraft and using ultra-high resolution aerial photography.

We estimate that our technique offers water companies savings of about 95 per cent compared to ground-based surveys, as well as saving considerable time and reducing potential disturbance to customers.

Our unique and innovative approach has now been adopted by several different water utilities and I am looking forward to representing the Northern region of the IOW at the national Innovation Awards finals in Manchester in just a few days’ time.

If you have any queries, please contact Dr Stuart Clough, director.
Alternatively you can email us here. Or call 0161 442 8938.