More than 1,400 households in West Cumbria are the first to receive their water from a brand new £300m pipeline and treatment works.

Since 2015, United Utilities has been constructing a 100km pipeline to provide 80,000 households and businesses in West Cumbria with a more sustainable source of water from Thirlmere reservoir. At the time construction started it was the largest project of its kind in the UK.

A new treatment works and two service reservoirs have also been built.   The works at Williamsgate is capable of treating up to 80 million litres of high quality water every day and features the latest technology.

The water treatment works will also be able to harness its own green energy from the force of the water arriving at the plant after it has travelled 30km from Thirlmere Reservoir. The site has been installed with a hydro turbine which can generate 80kW of renewable hydroelectricity – enough to meet 40% of the site’s needs or the equivalent of 175 homes.

The project has provided employment for more than 50 Cumbrian firms and injected over £52m into the local economy. United Utilities has also provided placements for eight young people who were not in employment, education or training and jobs for three apprentices.

As well as facing a global pandemic, United Utilities and its contractors had to work through parts of a national park and take into account environmentally designated sites, archaeological sites and urban areas.

During construction more than 400,000 tonnes of earth was moved at Williamsgate.  The excavated earth was retained on site and has now been used to help with the landscaping of the area.  The site was designed to merge into the natural contours of the surrounding environment and incorporates a living green roof to mitigate against any visual impact on the landscape.

John Hilton, Project Director at United Utilities, said: “To have the first customers receiving water through their taps from the new treatment works is a fantastic achievement for us. This is one of the largest feats of engineering we’ve ever undertaken at United Utilities and I’m incredibly proud of the work that has been done by all our teams and contractors to deliver it.

“Throughout the project we’ve thought about the local environment we’re working in and have embraced the latest technology to ensure we’ve delivered a treatment works and network that will provide West Cumbria with a more sustainable water supply.”

Previously, this part of Cumbria received their water from Ennerdale and other local sources.  Ennerdale, its lake and the River Ehen, are host to protected species and along with a growing population it was decided a more sustainable source was needed and a number of options were reviewed.

All other customers who will be moving onto Thirlmere water are expected to be connected to the new supply by the end of autumn and will receive advance notification of the change.

Better rivers will help bring about a better North West.  That’s the message from the region’s water company which has today published a series of commitments to kick start a river revival over the next three years.

The four-point plan sets out that United Utilities will:

  • make sure the company’s operations progressively reduce impact to river health
  • be open and transparent about its performance and plans
  • make rivers beautiful, supporting others to improve and care for them and
  • create more opportunities for everyone to enjoy rivers and waterways

Most of these pledges will be delivered over the next three years, including investment in wastewater systems, enhanced data monitoring and sharing, greater innovation and more use of nature-based solutions.

For example, at Southwaite in Cumbria a new wetland area is being created which will be able to treat any excess storm water that has to bypass the wastewater treatment works during heavy rainfall. As well as improving the local watercourse, a tributary of the River Eden, the wetland will improve wildlife habitat and create a more beautiful environment for local people.

United Utilities has committed to reduce the number of spills from storm overflows by at least a third, between 2020 and 2025. This will be supported through a £230m investment programme at sites across the region, leading to 184km of improved waterways. The company will also make sure that all storm overflows are monitored by 2023 and real time data on their operation is made available to the general public.

Jo Harrison, Environment, Planning and Innovation Director at United Utilities, said:  “As more people have come to appreciate the environment since the pandemic, there’s a real drive to improve our rivers and waterways. People want to swim, to enjoy riverside walks and get back to nature, and we have an important role to play by upgrading the sewerage infrastructure in the region.

“It’s a long term ambition, but we believe we can make some major improvements over the course of this decade, building upon the latest data that shows sewer spills have reduced by 28% between 2020 and 2021.

“But that’s only part of the solution; we can’t do this on our own. River health is affected by many factors so we’ve published this route map to show how we will get our own house in order and help others to get involved and work collaboratively. Ultimately, better rivers are better for everyone across the North West.”

Members of the public will be able to get involved with the plans that are promised. United Utilities will support local groups and authorities with new applications for inland bathing waters, and will also create further recreational clubs at its reservoirs. A community fund will be launched to support local river health initiatives and, working alongside The Rivers Trust, there will be the opportunity for people to volunteer as citizen scientists to collect data on river health which will help inform further improvement work.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “We welcome United Utilities’ focus on driving long term improvements in river health, creating new recreational opportunities and reducing the operation of combined storm overflows.

“United Utilities has been leading the industry with its approach to working in river catchments over the last 20 years and through our strategic partnership we hope to strengthen this significantly over the coming years, to ensure that real improvements in the North West’s rivers are delivered for everyone to enjoy.

“Our joint initiative with the help of citizen scientists to collate better data, provide transparency to the public and monitor progress is vital to success.”

United Utilities is also championing legislation to ban wet wipes that contain plastic and lobbying for a ban on all wet wipes that are not ‘Fine to Flush’.  Wet wipes are the scourge of sewer systems because they persist and build up to form blockages which reduce sewer capacity and increase the risk of spills into watercourses.

For further details about United Utilities’ commitments to improve river health in the North West visit: