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| 1 minute read

AI dives into wastewater (so that you don’t have to)

I am certainly not the only person concerned about the state of our waterways but a recent Rapid Unscheduled Dip (RUD) in Lake Windermere after toppling from a paddleboard, and subsequent discovery of its sewage overflow history, has given me a very visceral interest in wastewater management.

I was therefore delighted to read about Northumbrian Water's groundbreaking £20 million AI-driven project, which could help the water industry get on top of this growing problem. This innovative "smart-sewer" system aims to significantly reduce the storm overflows that have long plagued our rivers and lakes.

£20 million is pocket change compared to traditional engineering solutions (i.e. bigger pipes).  London's Thames Tideway super sewer is a fantastic bit of civil engineering but has been planned since the early 2000s and will cost a massive £5 billion. I’m not convinced that massive infrastructure projects like this can be deployed quickly enough to address the problems faced both in the UK and globally. Where the Tideway tunnel aims to intercept and store overflow sewage, Northumbrian Water's approach aims to use artificial intelligence to predict and prevent overflows in the first place.  The plan is to deploy AI and hundreds of sensors across Tyneside to forecast rainfall and sewer capacity. By automatically redirecting wastewater to underutilized parts of the network, it aims to significantly reduce overflow incidents at a fraction of the cost of traditional engineering solutions.

While inspired by a successful implementation in South Bend, Indiana, the scale and specific applications in Tyneside will likely require a number of innovations before the project is complete. These could range from unique AI algorithms to novel sensor designs and control systems.  As both a patent attorney and occasional involuntary swimmer, I'm excited by the potential of this approach. It promises both cleaner waterways and a wealth of innovation in the water management sector. 

The success of this project could spark a paradigm shift in how we address sewage overflow issues, moving from costly physical infrastructure (or worse, inaction) to more flexible, intelligent systems.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will be used by Northumbrian Water in its sewers across Tyneside to assess the locations of variable capacity to inform flows and lower the chances of storm overflows in its network.


AI, wastewater, innovation, artificial intelligence, energy & environment, patents, sustainability, yes